Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Stiffler (2000-2006)

Stiffler circa 2006
By Rob Carr & Warren Wheeler
It is the year 2000, two years after the film American Pie transformed (or perhaps reinvented) the teen-comedy film genre with sexually-charged American jocks trying to score with band geeks.

Named after one of the most popular characters from the film, Stiffler's sound reached out to the all-ages audience and was popular locally because of the bands’ pop-punk appeal.

Describing your band as porn punk-pop "with a sprinkle of today's modern style emo rock" may never have attracted the respect of critics, but it did manage to target the appropriate audience.

Stiffler invited comparisons to the likes of hugely successful punk-pop crossover acts such as Blink-182 and Good Charlotte. The all-male line-up gained a sizeable following in the youth centre scene and at the Oxford Tavern.

The band held legendary parties on a seemingly weekly basis at Stiffler HQ on Auburn Street – they even had their own corner “reserved” at the end of the bar at the Oxford. It was a rare week that you didn’t see at least half of the band elbowed over the bar with a jug of ‘Doom’ - a Welsh recipe that mixed vodka, house wine, and energy drink.

The members of Stiffler partied, and partied well. But several of the band’s members are also remembered for their generosity to the music scene.

Brothers Stu and Chris Dobell (drums and vocals respectively) were always willing to spot a jug of Doom for anyone who shared their corner at the Oxford. They were also good patrons and supporters of all facets of the music scene.

Through the Dobell brothers’ clothing company Venom Extreme, Stu and Chris sponsored numerous youth bands comps organised at Thirroul Skate Park, Thirroul Neighborhood Centre and Bulli PCYC, as well the Illawarra Regional Youth Services band comp. They were active members of and participants in the Wollongong Music Round Table (WMRT) Inc. and designed and printed WMRT shirts, banners and other materials.

It was in 2000, when Chris and Stu were recovering from the break-up of their former band Elroy, that the Dobell’s set out to establish a new musical partnership. The pair first approached Rod Riley (former guitarist/vocalist for The Jeff Brown Trio) who politely declined their offer.

The Dobell's were overheard ruminating on Riley's rejection at their local watering hole by former Countersunk vocalist/guitarist Anthony Kaslow who nominated himself for a position in the line-up. In the following weeks further pressure was put on Riley and, for a case of beer, he relented and joined the band also.

The Dobell's also recruited former Plunger band-mate Dave Hilzinger (Feldeen, Waik) for a spell, but he left before the band hit the studio in early 2001 to record the The Red Star Sessions demo.

With Paul "Creeper" Ditton on board, the five-piece secured some international supports alongside Mach Pelican and The Groovie Ghoulies, as well as national acts such as The Pictures, Something with Numbers and Kisschasey.

Stiffler caught the attention of Solo Productions in Sydney who funded the band to the tune of about $30,000, getting them significant airplay nationally and in Canada.

With consistently sizeable crowds at the Oxford Tavern as well as the Palm Court Hotel, the band was invited to join the Arrive Alive Festival '04 along with Magic Dirt, Butterfingers and The Hot Lies.

The band broke up “officially” in mid-2006 when Chris and Stu Dobell decided to move their business to Canada. But the story doesn’t end there.

Anthony Kalsow says that the band’s last gig in Wollongong was at the Oxford Tavern in July 06. He added: ‘Ditton and myself [then] met up with the lads in Canada [in] December ‘06 for one last tour. We played 3 shows in British Columbia around Victoria, and snuck in a whirlwind tour to Seattle and New York’.

According to Chris Dobell, Stiffler was most active in the music scene in 2005, a time when ‘there were so many different styles and so many bands up and coming’. This diversity is what, Dobell says, made the Wollongong music scene so unique. He stated that the most prominent music styles in the Wollongong music scene were ‘punk, rock, stoner fuzz, metal … man, it had it all.’

Dobell outlined that the most active bands or acts around this time, and which were doing the most in terms of touring and producing music, included BugGirl and Porcelain. These bands ‘were prob[ably] touring the most … then were some other bands doing more Sydney shows [as well]’.

Dobell states that there were a couple of elements that were central to the music scene, including the Oxford Tavern, which he described as ‘the hub for local tunes’.

When asked if Wollongong was comparable to places like Seattle as an active music scene, Dobell says that ‘we [didn't really have] anything new but if you were going anywhere from a Wednesday to Sunday night it was the "Occy" for live music and to see your mates’.

These days Dave Hilzinger can be seen handling vocals in Earth Mechanics, whilst Kaslow and Ditton's new outfit Crash Tragic have gone on to record independent music and currently have interest from Sony BMG.

In 2010 Stu returned home briefly before moving to Hobart where he remains to this day.

2002: Red Star Studios demo (download)
2003: Studio 1 demo (download)
2005: Falling From The Black Wings of Romance EP (download)

Thanks to Creeper for getting this thing kickin' and Anto for putting the nails in the coffin.

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