Smile Politely

Bristle on their new EP, the recording process, and what the future holds

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

Image by Ben Tschetter.

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

Being around all that underground but commercially burgeoning talent, and honing his own innate musical skills, has led many years later to Sticks forming the great Champaign-Urbana based band Bristle, which is described on its Spotify bio page as “a power pop rock trio colored with alternative grungy punk styles” — that sums it up nicely.

The band’s new EP, Invitation, is a pleasing mix of straight-ahead punk rock—check out the rousing “Sally Joe” video below, for example—and the aforementioned musical styles. Sticks plays bass and sings, sounding a little like Rob Halford of Judas Priest (the non-screaming version of Halford) and Ozzy Osbourne during the early Black Sabbath days. His bandmates, Don King and Dan Powell, play a mean guitar and drums, respectively. The band’s EP comes and goes way too fast, so it’s good to hear that Bristle has much on its agenda in the coming months.

Smile Politely: Tell me how Bristle came together.

Sticks: I first met Don when I saw him play with Terminus Victor in 2014 at Cowboy Monkey, and I was blown away. Don and I became good friends through going to local shows. The first time I saw Don perform, I hoped I would get a chance to work with him in a band, and it finally came to pass! 

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

SP: What brought you to Champaign-Urbana?

Sticks: While I lived in San Francisco, I met a lady that became a serious girlfriend. We got pregnant, but we did not wind up getting married. She decided to move back near her family’s home in central Illinois with our son, Reis, and I wanted to live close enough that I could be a part of his life. I decided to move to Champaign. For a while his mother and I shared time between us to raise our son. Reis eventually moved in with me and I became a proud single dad. As Reis grew into his teenage years, I felt really lucky to discover a thriving music scene in Champaign-Urbana. After Reis started becoming more independent, I started writing songs and the desire grew to play in a band again. That’s when I decided to form Bristle.

SP: The song “Write Me” on your EP is a super-melodic, instantly lovable tune. Tell me about the lyrics “Send it to my modest home, I’m at 61820,” which many local folks will be able to relate to because of the zip code.

Sticks: I was able to work in my home zip code to the song. The way that I write music, the idea sort of came out while I was creating the song and melody ideas. I was excited that it works so well in the song. The song references modern forms of communication like email and text messages. I was glad to be able to reference what I feel is a nostalgic time of intense anticipation while waiting for a response letter in the mail from a potential love interest.

EP cover from Bristle’s Bandcamp.

SP: Are you the primary songwriter in Bristle or does the trio collaborate?

Sticks: It’s fair to say I’m the primary songwriter in the band. I had written several songs before Don and Dan joined Bristle that 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 recorded it.

Sticks: Boombox Studios is owned and operated by Caleb Means and Aaron McCallister. The band records the songs together with the intent of capturing the drum tracks first. Guitars, bass, and vocals are only rough reference tracks. Then we re-record the guitar, bass, and vocal tracks to the drums. Once we have all the track recordings finished, we go through a mixdown 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 engineering and capturing the drum and room sounds from Dan’s kit. Caleb helped us capture the retracks of vocals, guitars, and bass in his basement. He has some really great mics and placements. We mixed the tracks with Caleb at his new studio space near Mahomet. 

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

SP: What are the future plans of Bristle that fans can look forward to?

Sticks: We are booking shows and festivals, sharing our music video, producing a six-song live video performance with Nap House Studios, selling CDs on Bandcamp, selling T-shirts online, and writing new music to record for another record starting later this year. Watch our schedule for shows to start sometime this spring and beyond—we have a passion for playing live. It’s a fun show full of driving energy, positivity, and fun. The feedback from fans was awesome for our CD release show at the Rose Bowl Tavern on Dec 28, 2021. We also premiered our music video for the song “Sally Joe,” which was produced by Claire Daly. This past January we had a blast recording a live video of six Bristle songs with Nap House Studios. The audio and video from that session is currently in production and will be released in the next few months. After we recorded the Invitation EP, we wrote two new songs that we are really excited about. We plan to continue writing more new songs and will start recording another record at the end of this year. The music video, music, CDs, and T-Shirts are easily accessible on the Bristle website.

Image by Ben Tschetter.

SP: Anything else you’d like to mention?

Sticks: I beat throat cancer in 2012 with the help of Carle Foundation Hospital. It is fortunate that I am still able to sing after all the treatment I went through. After an extensive music career, I feel lucky to have a second chance at life and can continue with Bristle. I appreciate each opportunity I get to perform and create music with Don and Dan, who are close friends and great musicians. We are thankful for opportunities and the support of music venues and our fans. We look forward to creating and sharing more amazing times together through recorded music, videos, and live shows.

Band photos by Ben Tschetter.

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