It’s a little hard to believe that it was a decade ago that three friends from Newcastle released 40 copies of a self-produced EP called One Size Fits All and kick-started a homegrown pop punk revolution that has transfixed Aussie music lovers ever since. Ten years on, Short Stack have had two Top Ten albums – including a Number One with Stack Is The New Black – three Top Ten singles, a breakup, and now, a hugely popular reformation – all by the age of 25.
“It’s really daunting for a band to go away and then come back,” admits frontman Shaun Diviney. “You wonder whether anyone will care about the new material. But so far, the response has been amazing.”
Following on from comeback single “Dance With Me”, Short Stack drop their third official studio album, the fittingly titled Homecoming. It’s a scintillating set of raw rock & roll, an album that distills all the experience the trio have absorbed over the past decade into the sort of album they would have killed to make as teenagers.
“We wrote this for about three years, and it’s the record that we’ve always wanted to make,” says Diviney. “It’s really raw, it’s really live, there’s not much production, and that means that when we play it live, it comes to life, translates.”
The album’s powerful, fresh vibe is not only a new artistic milestone for Diviney and bandmates Andy Clemmensen and Bradie Webb, it also represents the beginning of a new creative process for the trio.
“Usually in the past I’d write a song and give it to the boys two weeks before we were going to record it, and they’d learn it,” explains Diviney. “This time we collaborated much more – we arranged it and put it together as a band, and all had a huge input.”
And while the new collaborative approach wasn’t any sort of pre-requisite for getting the band back together, Diviney admits it has helped the trio really focus on their new material. “The collaboration makes us all care about the project much more, and the boys have these attachments to these songs, just because they’ve been there from the start with them – it’s like the difference between being a real dad and being a step dad.”
The time Diviney, Clemmensen and Webb spent apart has had a massively positive influence on their creative relationship, allowing their next chapter to be every bit as exciting as their last. “We never really had this huge blow out,” says Diviney. “You know, we had the fights and arguments like every band does, but there was never one terminal thing. It just sort of reached a natural end point at that particular time. So when we got back together, it was just a case of reconnecting as friends more than anything, and the band is just an organic development of that. It’s sort of ironic, because if we hadn’t had that time apart, I don’t think we’d be together now.”
There are really two options for a comeback record – try to recapture the past, or forge a new future. For Short Stack, there was never any doubt about which way to go. “We really wanted the record to sound very different to everything we’d done in the past,” states Diviney.
So, rather than simply fall back on the recording process that had worked so well for them on previous albums, this time around Short Stack really pushed themselves, relocating to London to connect with legendary producer Chris Kimsey, who has worked on – among much else – seminal Rolling Stones’ albums Sticky Fingers and Tattoo You.
“Every track on the record comes from our time in London,” says Diviney. “We were there for a little over a month. It was a really cool experience to make an album with Chris, who has just been a part of some of the most amazing albums of all time. You know, he’s worked with the Rolling Stones and stuff, so he obviously brought a lot to the table.”
While Kimsey might seem an odd choice at first glance, Diviney explains that the band’s desire for something rawer, something realer, made the English producer a perfect match. “We grew up with music from the Nineties, and even though Chris is from way further back than that, the stuff he has done had a big influence on those bands. Things on the radio were a lot rawer than they are now, bands like Weezer, and we kind of wanted to go back to that. You know, a lot of those bands from the Nineties, they could have a really catchy song, but they were definitely still a rock band.”
The resulting album is the perfect balance of where Short Stack have come from and where they want to go. Building on the Strokes-esque rock jive of first single “Dance With Me”, Homecoming lays out track after quality track, all of which sound both instantly familiar and startlingly evolved.
The perfect example is second single “Amy”, which finds punk rock a whimsical new mood, as Diviney explores a more narrative approach to his songwriting. “Amy is the middle name of real person, so there’s a bit of sense to it, but songs are never really about particular people, you rely on the metaphor, and sometimes you come up with a phrase that you like that relates to an experience you’ve had, but then that becomes a part of so many other ideas in the song.”
Another album track clearly takes that creative tact as well, as “Bad Religion” name-checks one of punk’s most influential bands on the way to creating an anthem of desire and obsession. “I grew up with all those punk bands,” says Diviney. “Bad Religion, NOFX, Rancid, and that is definitely a nod to that, even though the song is about something else altogether.”
One song not about something else altogether is the title track. “‘Homecoming’ is the one song that we wrote as a statement,” says Diviney. “You know, all the others are about girls and stuff, but that one is for us, and for the fans. It’s really where we came from – hard hitting rock.”
Either side of that, however, lie two of the album’s more esoteric moments – the sparse, post-punk feel of “Gravity” and the startling piano lament of “Parade”.
“‘Gravity’ is one of my favourites,” says Diviney. “I really like the guitar in it – I am definitely no Van Halen, but I am sort of proud of the guitar in that song. And ‘Parade’ is an older song that we were never able to record before, but now we’re ready, and I really love it.”
It’s a sign of how far Short Stack have come that a tune like “Parade” can now sit so comfortably next to the full tilt punk rock of “Surburbia”, which follows it on the album. Importantly, despite the diversity on display, Homecoming flows perfectly as a record, bringing past, present and future together.
“You know, there are bands that you love who don’t change, and you get annoyed that they won’t grow with you. Then there a bands that change, and you get annoyed that they have changed,” laughs Diviney. “You just can’t think about it too much, you just have to go where the music takes you. That’s what we’re doing.”