Bristle on their new EP, the recording process and what the future holds: Music: Smile Politely

Richard Desantis, better known as the Sticks since he was a scrawny freshman in high school, was active in the Boston rock and roll scene in the 1980s, writing music and touring with his bands. The Kozmetix and King Moon Razer. Along the way, he’s shared stages with the likes of Melodious Lemonheads and Mighty Mighty Bosstones.

Image by Ben Tschetter.

After moving to the West Coast in the late ’80s for a fresh start, his bands Creeps in Exile and the White Trash Debutantes opened for artists such as Frank Black, Green Day, The Cramps and the Circle Jerks.

Being surrounded by all this underground but commercially booming talent and honing his own innate musical skills led, many years later, Sticks to form the great Champaign-Urbana-based band Bristle, which is described on his Spotify bio page as “a power pop rock trio”. colorful with alternative grungy punk styles” – that pretty much sums it up.

The group’s new EP, Invitation, is a nice mix of straight-up punk rock – check out the catchy “Sally Joe” video below, for example – and the aforementioned musical styles. Sticks plays bass and sings, sounding a bit like Judas Priest’s Rob Halford (Halford’s non-screaming version) and Ozzy Osbourne at the start of Black Sabbath. His bandmates, Don King and Dan Powell, play guitar and drums respectively. The band’s EP comes and goes way too fast, so it’s good to hear that Bristle has a lot going on in the months ahead.

Smile politely: Tell me how Bristle formed.

The sticks: I first met Don when I saw him perform with Terminus Victor in 2014 at Cowboy Monkey, and I was blown away. Don and I have become good friends by going to local shows. The first time I saw Don play, I was hoping to get the chance to work with him in a band, and it finally happened!

Dan is an amazing drummer who also plays with Painted Canyon. Don and Dan are friends and have worked together in the past. We invited Dan to try out the drums and the first session went really well. Dan agreed to join Bristle and we started collaborating in early 2019. I had a few songs that we reworked with updated guitar and drum arrangements, and we wrote new songs together. The energy, sound, styles and feel captured on the Bristle Invitation EP is the culmination of styles and chemistry of this group of musicians.

SP: What brought you to Champaign-Urbana?

The sticks: While living in San Francisco, I met a woman who became a serious girlfriend. We got pregnant, but we didn’t get married. She decided to move back close to her family’s home in central Illinois with our son, Reis, and wanted to live close enough to be a part of her life. I decided to move to Champaign. For a while, his mother and I shared time between us raising our son. Reis finally moved in with me and I became a proud single father. As Reis grew into his teens, I felt truly fortunate to discover a thriving music scene in Champaign-Urbana. After Reis started to become more independent, I started writing songs and the desire to play in a band again grew. It was then that I decided to form Bristle.

SP: The song “Write Me” on your EP is a super melodic and instantly adorable song. Tell me about the lyrics “Send him to my humble house, I’m at 61820”, which many locals will be able to identify with thanks to the postal code.

The sticks: I was able to work in my zip code home at Song. The way I write music, the idea kind of came out while I was creating the song ideas and melodies. I was thrilled that it worked so well in the song. The song references modern forms of communication like email and texting. I was happy to be able to reference what I feel like a nostalgic period of intense anticipation while waiting for a reply letter in the mail from a potential love interest.

Cover of Bristle’s Bandcamp EP.

SP: Are you the main songwriter for Bristle or does the trio collaborate?

The sticks: It’s fair to say that I’m the main songwriter of the band. I had written several songs before Don and Dan joined Bristle which we reworked with updated guitar and drum arrangements. Soon after Don and Dan joined, we started collaborating on new song ideas. I present a song and melody idea and we work together to arrange, edit, add, deconstruct and reconstruct a song until we are really happy with it. I have several new song ideas to work on, and Don is starting to write song ideas based on guitar chords and riffs. He tends to ask me to create melodies inspired by the guitar ideas, and we finalize the song together from there.

SP: Tell me about the recording process of Invitation and where and how you saved it.

The sticks: Boombox Studios is owned and operated by Caleb Means and Aaron McCallister. The band records the songs with the intention of capturing the drum tracks first. Guitars, bass and vocals are rough reference tracks only. Then we re-record the guitar, bass and vocal tracks on the drums. After all track recordings are complete, we go through a mix production process to create a final stereo mix for each song.

We hired Paul Chastain to master the final mixes and create the files for online streaming and CD production. Caleb and Aaron did a fantastic job of engineering and capturing the drum and room sounds from Dan’s kit. Caleb helped us capture the vocal, guitar and bass retracks in his basement. It has very good pickups and placements. We mixed the tracks with Caleb in his new studio near Mahomet.

Caleb, Don and I worked together on the production during the mixing process. Don worked closely with Paul Chastain during the final mastering process. This is where the final energy, feel, and sonic enhancements are integrated for the final product. We are thrilled with the songs and the EP! It’s exciting to share this music with people who appreciate it as much as we do.

SP: What future plans for Bristle can fans expect?

The sticks: We book shows and festivals, share our music video, produce a six-song live video performance with Nap House Studios, sell CDs on Bandcamp, sell T-shirts online, and write new music to record for another disc starting later this year. Watch our schedule of shows starting this spring and beyond – we have a passion for performing live. It’s a fun show full of energy, positivity and fun. Fan feedback was great for our CD release show at the Rose Bowl Tavern on December 28, 2021. We also created our music video for the song “Sally Joe”, which was produced by Claire Daly. Back in January, we had a blast recording a live video of six Bristle songs with Nap House Studios. The audio and video of this session are currently in production and will be released in the coming months. After recording the Invitation EP, we wrote two new songs that we are really excited about. We plan to continue writing new songs and will start recording another album at the end of this year. The music video, music, CDs and t-shirts are readily available on Bristle’s website.

Image by Ben Tschetter.

SP: Is there anything else you would like to mention?

The sticks: I beat throat cancer in 2012 with the help of Carle Foundation Hospital. It’s lucky that I can still sing after all the treatment I went through. After a long musical career, I feel lucky to have a second chance in life and I can continue with Bristle. I appreciate every opportunity I have to play and create music with Don and Dan, who are close friends and great musicians. We are grateful for the opportunities and support from venues and our fans. We look forward to creating and sharing more amazing moments together through recorded music, videos and live broadcasts.

Group photos by Ben Tschetter.