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Not Just a Rock Band: The Stabs

From a group of self declared “good-for-nothings” with an appetite for onstage havoc to a constantly gripping live act, The Stabs' story has been enthralling to watch over the past six and a half years. Following the 2003 formation of bass player Mark Nelson, guitarist Brendan Noonan and drummer Matt Gleeson, the Victorian threesome have carved out a well defined and distinctive niche for themselves in Australia’s music scene.

Following three vinyl single releases and two sold out pressings of their much loved 2005 debut album, Dirt, The Stabs have gone on to play support act to the likes of Mudhoney, the late Rowland S Howard, The Scientists and Lubricated Goat. Last year saw them gain further success, taking part in the inaugural Australian All Tomorrow's Parties festival at the request of curators Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, as well as playing to overseas fans in New Zealand and Asia and touring for the first time throughout Malaysia and Taiwan.

Unveiling their latest full length offering, Dead Wood late last year, the bands second album documents a high point of growth and maturity that has seen The Stabs replace much of their impulsive behaviour, such as hurling drums and guitars at one another on stage when songs failed to ignite, in favour of a decidedly more focused approach.

Upon asking Mark whether he could have anticipated the band’s recent success and achievements throughout the last twelve months, I am met with the verbal equivalent of a shoulder shrug: “We just think of ourselves as a rock band.”

It’s an answer characteristic of the conversation ahead- I’m not sure if Mark is truly apathetic, or just unwilling to show cracks in his nonchalant veneer. It should come as no surprise really, this being the same man who upon greeting me describes his day at work as “soul destroying.”

As our conversation continues I come to think that perhaps Mark is not apathetic, but instead wary. Music critics – amongst others – have branded The Stabs as “attitude over ability”, offering little more than a few broken instruments and an outlandish live performance. It’s a cheap jab, and one that has been touted time and time again. They have notoriously gained a reputation as having played more gigs than rehearsals and appear to have mandated an onstage prerequisite of shambolic chaos, but this should be seen as a footnote rather than a statement to undermine The Stabs’ obvious talent. Mark agrees: “I guess we used to be a bit more of a spectacle, a bit more of a joke. Since we’ve been around so long now I think people are beginning to realise that we’re going to keep on playing.”

“Defying our own expectations is the point of what we do,” adds Mark. “We just want to keep making better albums than the last and have already started working on our new record, which we’re pretty excited about. Over the past few weeks we’ve probably written around half the songs for that album.”

Although Mark won’t say too much concerning whether audiences will bear witness to the yet unreleased tracks (“if we do play them, they probably wont sound like the same song when they’re released”) he does assure that The Stabs are very much looking forward to playing up north again. “Sydney has always been good to us. People care about whether we play there or not. It’s nice.”

You can catch The Stabs alongside The Holy Soul and Ivy Street This Friday at The Excelsior Hotel in Surry Hills for a mere $12. With a new album already underway, The Stabs gigs are sure to be few and far between. Tickets are available at the door so get in early to avoid missing out.

words: Jacinda Fermanis


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