Stickers: Stuck on the Shred

Seattle's no-waviest peel away psychic layers on latest LP, 'Swollen'

"We found a sexual channel for our rage and sadness through Stickers—it makes us light and joyful." Image by Kelton Sears

The chorus from “Swollen Future,” the first track off local band Stickers’ new album Swollen, goes: “Let me slip my dick in your wound/You’ll feel better in no time.”

I ask the band about this.

“Stickers is sex,” lead singer and saxophonist Gabi Page-Fort explains, standing under a tree with her bandmates. “Sex is healing. Sex is the shred. We found a sexual channel for our rage and sadness through Stickers—it makes us light and joyful.”

Such a cheerful disposition is somewhat surprising, given how dissonant and heavy the band’s music is. Stickers, a no-wave group that formed in 2009, is so no-wavy that guitarist Colin Dawson says it possesses “essentially no waves.” According to the band, that chaos is essential to the zen-like state of mind its members seek to achieve on a personal level. “Talking about heavy stuff makes you lighter,” bassist Troy Ayala says.

“You gotta take a shit, or else you don’t levitate,” Page-Fort adds. “You can’t be carrying all those heavy backpacks around.”

Stickers says its early sessions quickly took on a therapeutic quality thanks to the gutsy “play from the balls” mentality the band adopted—an ideology that helped propel the band despite the fact that none of its members initially knew how to play their instruments.

Seeing Stickers live, this sentiment makes sense. Walls of chugging post-punk riffs, formless, skronking sax, and semi-yodeled shouts attack you from onstage. The result sounds like four people taking a spiritual shit, if you will—a visceral, transcendent release of energy both scary and freeing at the same time.

Take “Sacajawea.” “It’s a heavy song, man,” Page-Fort says of Swollen’s dark, standout single: a brilliant, moody, bellowing track that Teenage Jesus & The Jerks probably wish they wrote. “It’s about a mother’s love—all the beauty and purity and trauma of a mother’s love. My mother once gave me a Sacajawea coin as a good luck charm, and [I know] she’d lie fucking down for me. Every time we play that song, I cry a little, it’s intense.”

Notions about the band’s sound and transformative power are neatly tied into Stickers’ take on what it calls “the shred,” an integral concept and guiding philosophy for the band. Normally attributed to surfers, Stickers interprets “shredding” similarly, like riding an ocean current, or in this case, tapping into the current.

“Anytime anyone is in the spirit of the thing they are doing, they are shredding,” Page-Fort says. “It connects with health, it connects with movement, it connects with yoga. It connects with the way you think about yourself so that you can be free. Shredders are free.”

The idea carries over to members’ daily lives. Drummer Emily Denton formed a yoga group, Poseurs, that meets on the roof of her apartment to practice Vinyasa and Nidra yoga regularly in a free and open environment. Denton fell in love with yoga shortly after Stickers was formed.

Photo by Colin Dawson | Animation by Kelton Sears

“Yoga means ‘to unite, to bring together,’” Denton explains. “You don’t need to twist yourself in a pretzel to achieve yoga, I’d already found it in Stickers. I found it in ‘the shred.’ I sit down and I sink into this unification with these other people and it’s this beautiful expression. It’s been marketed in this flexy-bendy, Oprah soccer mom way, but yoga is everywhere. We’re constantly seeking and tapping into it all the time. Stickers is truly yoga, and ‘shred’ is yoga. It’s about tapping into this collective, transformative thing together.”

In its own way, Swollen is another transformation for the band. While the group’s first few EPs delivered their own particular brand of satisfying no-wave chaos, the new album is more polished and constructed, thanks largely in part to the addition of guitarist Colin Dawson, who joined the band two years ago after requesting to do so as his birthday gift. He is one of the band’s only members who says he could play his instrument before joining.

“Having Colin in took this pressure off of me and Troy and Gabi to not have to fuck up,” Denton says, nodding to his significance in the band’s current iteration of “the shred.” “He instantly added this whole new dimension to the songs.” Stickers' Swollen is out now on End of Time Records. Stickers perform live on KEXP August 16th at 6:30pm.

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