A Loving Look Back At The Madness That Was Short Stack
For a moment there, Short Stack were the biggest band in the country. So what happened?
It’s early in the morning on October 10, 2009, and it’s becoming rapidly clear that Sunrise’s security guard is way out of his depth.
Pop punk trio Short Stack have just turned up at the show’s Sydney studios to perform their new single ‘Sweet December’, but they’ve barely taken one step out of their black SUV before they’re swamped by hundreds of teenage girls.
Sunrise’s one security guard battles to get the band — made up of singer Shaun Diviney, bassist Andy Clemmensen, and drummer Bradie Webb — through the crush unscathed, and the one camera Sunrise have placed outside to capture the moment is quickly overwhelmed by the throng of fans.
Diviney, Clemmensen, and Webb are just distinguishable in the middle of all the flailing arms, mostly due to their signature hairspray-encrusted locks, which spike up at the back of their heads like the nests of a particularly emo bird.
After 30 seconds of quick photos and girls launching themselves into their arms, the band finally take refuge within the studio. The fans hang around, and when the band take the stage a few minutes later for ‘Sweet December’ they press themselves against the studio’s glass, enthusiastically waving homemade posters.
During the post-song interview, hosts Kochie and Mel Doyle told the band their fans were waiting dutifully outside the studio from 4am — some had apparently taken an overnight bus from Albury.
The band don’t look surprised at all — and why would they? This situation was totally normal for them.
In the late 2000s, Short Stack were the hottest property in the Australian music industry, with legions of devoted fans and gold-selling records. So where did they come from? And where did they go?
There Once Was A Band From Budgewoi
A few years before they landed on Sunrise as Short Stack, Clemmensen, Diviney, and Webb were just three friends attending the Hunter School of Performing Arts.
“We all grew up listening to the same music,” the now 27-year-old Diviney tells Music Junkee down the line from his home on the Central Coast, where he now works as a real estate agent. “We’d been jamming together since we were about 15-years-old, and then one thing kind of lead to another and when we got a little bit older we started playing pubs in Newcastle and just lining up gig after gig.”
The boys’ friends would pretend to be their older guardians so they could play in pubs around Newcastle, as they were still well underage. Diviney says their biggest dream at the time was to play the (now closed) Palais Royale.
In 2005 the band got a hold of some software called CakeWalk (“It was like a really primitive version of ProTools,” Diviney says) and proceeded to pull together their first album, One Size Fits All, in their bedrooms.
“It sounded horrible,” Diviney laughs. “We used drum machines and stuff like that cause we didn’t know what we were doing. One day we borrowed a whole bunch of microphones and tried to mic up a drum kit so we could have live drums on one of the tracks. It wasn’t great. We mailed it to some record labels and they basically told us to fuck off.”
But eventually, a label didn’t tell them to fuck off. In 2007 they were noticed at a local battle of the bands by Sunday Morning Records’ Trevor Steel and Chris Johns, who promptly signed them.
The band were just 17-years-old when they rocked up to a studio in Sydney’s Kings Cross to make their debut label record, Stack Is The New Black.
“It was a huge learning experience,” says Diviney. “We actually had a proper mic’d up drum kit [laughs] and recording techniques, we basically just learned how to do things properly. That was always the fun thing for thing for us, we loved studying everything music from every angle — to be able to be constantly learning from people was something we were very appreciative of.”
Toto, We’re Not In Budgewoi Any More
With the release of Stack is the New Black — and more specifically, the singles ‘Sway Sway Baby!’ and ‘Sweet December’, which both landed in the ARIA Top Ten — Short Stack evolved from an online sensation into one of Australia’s biggest bands.
Their online presence was a key part of Stack’s initial success: they had amassed a massive audience across their YouTube and MySpace pages over the years, endearing themselves to fans by posting ridiculous skits and vlogs. The online traction translated into album sales, and Stack is the New Black debuted at #2 on the ARIA charts, eventually climbing to #1 and achieving gold certification.
Their live shows quickly developed a rep for being barely restrained riots — during one show with Good Charlotte at Sydney’s Entertainment Centre, Diviney accidentally fell off the front of the stage (“That was a long way down,” he says, before adding that he actually fell off the stage at every show on that tour.) Around this time they also notched up support slots with Simple Plan and pop duo The Veronicas.
Just 14 months after releasing Stack is the New Black, the band released their second record, This Is Bat Country. The band pulled out all the stops for the album — even recording the orchestral parts live at the Sydney Opera House.
“We did the first album on a shoestring budget,” says Diviney. “It also only took two or three months to make — Bat Country probably took about five or six. Production-wise it was way beyond Stack is the New Black, everything about it was. The whole experience was gnarly.”
The album hit #6 on the charts and went gold, and the band landed on the cover of the Rolling Stone:
“That was probably the coolest thing that happened to us,” Diviney says. “It’s like the craziest thing ever because it’s one of those things that’s so ridiculous, you don’t ever dream of it because you don’t think it would actually happen.
“I remember the anticipation of what they were gonna say, like ‘oh fuck these guys might completely trash us. That would be the worst day of my life.’ But the article was pretty cool. I remember some kid got it early and they scanned it and sent it to me on Tumblr.”
But at the same time Short Stack were on the cover of Rolling Stone, they were also being mercilessly ridiculed by the indie music press. As with any commercially successful pop act in the time before Carly Rae Jepsen’s E•MO•TION (that is, the time before male music critics realised that listening to pop wouldn’t cause you to break out in hives), Short Stack were generally regarded as a bad joke intended for silly teenage girls.
“The only talent Short Stack have is the ability to apply make-up better then most girls, and to squeeze themselves into their little sisters skinny-leg jeans,” Kill Your Stereo wrote in 2009 about Stack Is The New Black. “They are hollow, lack actual musical talent, and have altered their ‘sound’ to the ‘tween’ market — 14-year-old girls who have convinced themselves that each of the members is their ‘true love’ and have no idea what real music is. Although at least this means they won’t be around for long when those girls finally grow up.”
Short Stack didn’t exactly help themselves all the time either: in 2010 Clemmensen was skewered by the local music press (by way of the scalding Mess + Noise forums, no less) after his Channel V review of Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was found to be a blatant copy/paste job. He then claimed the review was actually put together by his friend as he was too tired to write it himself after coming back from a promo tour.
The Beginning Of The End
The tour for Bat Country kicked off in July 2011 and lasted months, completely wearing the band out. Finally, the night before they were due to play at a festival in Tasmania, Diviney told Clemmensen and Webb he wanted out. His bandmates replied that they felt the same.
“We just got over it,” Diviney says now. “It’s like we been doing it since we were 15. We were just over it, we weren’t enjoying it — and we just thought if we were no longer enjoying it, then let’s just not do it.”
So on March 30, 2012, Short Stack announced on their Facebook that they were no more.
“Our record label loved that one. They sank like 80 grand into our record and then we were like ‘oh we’re over it.'”
“To everyone who has supported the band in any way, I cannot thank you enough,” Diviney wrote to fans. “From the ones who told their friends about us to the ones who camped out before shows. The greatest feeling was you singing my words back at a show, living with the albums and letting something I created be a part of your lives. But the show must go on. If you try to recapture yesterday you will only lose tomorrow. See you on the road soon.”
The band pulled the plug right in the middle of recording their third record, Art Vandelay — a move which Diviney says didn’t really impress their record label. “Yeah our record label loved that one,” he laughs. “They sank like 80 grand into our record and then we were like ‘oh we’re over it.'”
Vandelay ended up being released 18 months after the band split — against the band’s wishes.
“We didn’t even really want it to get released but then someone released it,” Diviney explains. “We didn’t really have a direction with it. We just didn’t dig it. It didn’t feel like ours. It sounded like what it was — which was three dudes that were kind of over it.”
But, Of Course, It Wasn’t Really The End
For two years the band went their separate ways: Diviney put together a solo EP called Sex/Games and toured for a while, and Webb and Clemmensen travelled.
“We were just taking a break, cause we were pretty full on for 10 years,” says Diviney. “Probably the worst thing about being a band is you can’t plan your life, because if an opportunity comes up, you have to grab it.”
Diviney was working on a follow up to Sex/Games, but eventually noticed that all the songs he’d written sounded like Short Stack tracks. A few phone calls later and the group had reunited and were in talks with their old label to record a new album.
They were flown out to London to work with producer Chris Kinsey on new music, which would make up an EP, called Dance With Me, and also their third record, Homecoming. In early 2014 they dropped their new single ‘Television’ — much to the surprise of their neglected and loyal fans. Their subsequent comeback tour sold out almost immediately.
Their Comeback Didn’t Exactly Go To Plan
In January 2015, Short Stack were enlisted as the support act for British boy band The Vamps’ Australian tour. To put it lightly: it didn’t go well.
As Diviney tells it, the band began clashing with the Vamps’ management after they repeatedly cut the length of their set. “They kept moving the goal posts for us,” he told radio host Ash London at the time. “We accidentally went over our set time by two minutes…and we got a call from their management telling us to leave the venue.”
“They just didn’t click with us,” Diviney says now. “A lot of their crew were really mean to our crew — and our crew aren’t hired people, they’re our mates and our friends. So that didn’t go down with us, it wasn’t on.”
Stack were officially kicked off the tour in Adelaide — although the Vamps’ management didn’t allow them to announce this for two days after they were booted.
“We accidentally went over our set time by two minutes…and we got a call from their management telling us to leave the venue.”
“We got kicked off in Adelaide, but they still wanted to play Perth — so they didn’t let us announce it because they still wanted to sell tickets…like come on,” Diviney says. “They were so dishonest. They’re so manufactured.
“They were so desperately trying to be 5 Seconds of Summer and trying to recreate that hype, it was like ‘come on…it ain’t there boys.'”
Diviney also claims the Vamps never paid them for a couple of shows on the tour: “They still owe me $10,000!” Diviney laughs over the phone. “Like, get fucked. It’s so shitty.”
Music Junkee reached out to the Vamps for confirmation — they have yet to respond.
Homecoming, And The Actual (Kind Of) End Of Short Stack
Homecoming arrived in August 2015, hitting #5 on the ARIA charts.
They hit the road in support of the record, playing a massive tour around the country. But as the shows wrapped up, once again the band was faced with the decision to either stay together, or split.
“We just sat down and realised we’d sort of done everything we wanted to do, we felt like we were just going around in circles again,” Diviney admits. “And we just wanted to have a break. We’d been doing music for like 12 years, I think full-time at that point. We all wanted to do different things. Andy wanted to travel. Bradie opened his own drum studio and then I sort of was doing my own thing so we just wanted to take a break.”
This time, no big announcement was made — and Short Stack have simply faded from the spotlight. Diviney says the band currently have no plans to return — although he flags a tour would be on the horizon if My Chemical Romance were to ever come back to Australia.
“I said to my booking agent: ‘If My Chemical Romance ever reunite, we’ll play with them. Apart from that, maybe we’ll do the RSL tour when we’re 50.”
Before Diviney jumps off the phone (he has a newborn child to attend to) we put one last question to him: how the fuck did they get their hair like that?
“Well Andy just woke up like that,” Diviney laughs. “I have pretty curly hair naturally so it was a mission to straighten it. We used so much hairspray, and we bought the cheapest one — like the big dollar can of hairspray. So I think we’ve contributed our fair bit to global warming.”
Jules LeFevre is Junkee’s Music Writer. She is on Twitter.