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Short Stack: “It’s the best thing in the world to be able to play music with people”

Short Stack. Credit: Pat O'Hara
(Image credit: Pat O'Hara)

It’s safe to say by now that if you’re a fan of Short Stack, you’ve probably developed some trust issues. They announced their third album, Art Vandelay, in October of 2011 – only to scrap it and break up some five months later. The record was then shadow-dropped by their old label in 2013, leading fans to believe a reunion was imminent… But alas, that turned out to be a false alarm. They did eventually return the next year, though, making huge news of a comeback tour and album – even going so far as to call it Homecoming – in 2015. But after a sole national tour in support of that record, the band slipped right back into the shadows.

Like clockwork, Short Stack have reemerged for a third shot at bandom – although this time, they’re not making any wild promises about their longevity. The Budgewoi-native pop-rockers have been candid about their plans, admitting that their upcoming album Maybe There’s No Heaven (their fourth “official” full‑length, frontman Shaun Diviney says, as the trio don’t consider Art Vandelay canonical) came about almost by chance. It began with their 2020 reunion, which initially cropped up purely out of a want to play a short run of shows in theatre venues, in part as an official “farewell” after the Homecoming run came to an unexpectedly abrupt end. 

After the shows sold out in minutes and the tour ballooned into their biggest run yet, Diviney and his cohort reconsidered Short Stack’s future. With the tour pushed all the way back to this June, they had plenty of time to hit the studio and bash out a new record: part a celebration of their halcyon days, echoing 2009’s Stack Is The New Black, and part a bold look ahead to an experimental future. And they had to make it count – Diviney tells Australian Guitar that for now, at least, there’s no follow-up to Heaven on the cards.

Let’s start by going back to Homecoming, because I feel like that whole “comeback” lasted… What, like three months? What happened there, and then what drew you all back together this time? 
We were just kind of over it, more than anything else. It’s honestly a very hard thing to do, to be a full-time touring musician. We’ve always said that if we get to the point where we’re not enjoying it, we’ll just stop. And that’s what we did both times [we broke up]. That album did pretty well – I think it was the #1 Australian album for that week, and Top 5 overall – but we just weren’t weren’t feeling it. When you’re touring, you’re away from home for so long, and you just get over it. But we’re definitely not over it at the moment!

Do you feel more confident about Short Stack now, and I guess your path as a musician in general these days? 
Yeah, 100 percent. Despite everything I just said, it’s the best thing in the world to be able to play music with people. And we always get asked, with ‘Sway Sway Baby’ and ‘Princess’ and songs like that – people are like, “Aren’t you sick of playing those songs!?” I’m like, “No! They’re my favorite songs to play!” Because they’re the songs that people grew up with, and they’re the songs that people resonate with. It’s always daunting to throw a new song into the set and go, “Oh man, I hope people like this…”

So how did Heaven start coming to life? Did you have to ease your way back into the songwriting process, or were you all dying to just dive headfirst back in? 
Honestly, we didn’t even want to release an album – or do any new music at all, really. We thought we’d just do the tour, play to a couple hundred people, and then that’d be it. We just did it a bit of fun, more than anything else – but then all the shows sold out, and it ended up turning into one of the biggest tours we’ve ever done. And so we started having a chat with with Jaddan from UNIFIED, and he put us in touch with Caleb and Florian, who look after us at UNFD. It all just kind of happened by accident. We had no intention of making any music, but we were like, “Well, we’ve got this opportunity, let’s make the most of it!”

So where exactly is it that you wanted to take Short Stack on LP4? 
When it first started, we had three songs leftover from when we broke up. We thought those would be a good starting point, but not one of them ended up making the album. We just felt like all the new stuff we were doing was a lot better. I really wanted to start the album with ‘Armageddon’, because that’s quite a pop-punk vibe, and the first songs we wrote were all pop-punk songs. We wanted to make a real throwback, Blink-esque pop-punk kind of album. And then towards the the end of it, we started writing the ones like ‘Burn You Down’ and ‘Live4’ – not so much experimental stuff, but a little more in a direction we’d never really explored before.

I want to riff on some of the gear that went into this record (no pun intended). What guitars were you tearing shit up on? 
Just so you know, I’ve made it very clear to all my bandmates and managers that I am by far the worst guitarist you will ever speak to – let’s just throw that out there before we go into it [laughs]. We did the majority of the album on an old Tele Deluxe that Stevie [Knight] from The Dead Love had – that had a really cool vibe. For the heavier things, like on ‘Burn You Down’, we had a real big Drop D Gibson, and we f***ing monstered the shit out of it. But pretty much every guitar part on every album we’ve put out, I played on the Tele Deluxe.

What is it about that Tele that just makes your heart skip a beat? 
I never want to go back to it, because I’m like “Nah, let’s try something different this time.” But then we put it on just for fun, and we’re like, “Ah f***, this sounds like Short Stack – we’ve gotta go with it.”

What about in the way of things like effects as well? Are you much of a slut for pedals? 
A little bit, but we did a lot of [Heaven] with a good ol’ Tubescreamer, just plugged in through an AC30. Especially for this record, because there’s a lot of synths and stuff like that, it made sense not to overcomplicate the guitar sound. I did all the guitar with Stevie, who mixed the album – he’s doing Stand Atlantic[’s new album], and he’s obviously in The Dead Love as well, so he really knew what he was doing. We just wanted to go for that classic pop-punk sound.Like that, you know, straight up. kind of crunchy, cheap screamer vibe. 

Well that straight-up, kind of crunchy, Tube-y vibe – that’s ‘90s pop-punk in a nutshell. That’s Blink as f***. 
Yeah, and that was exactly what we wanted to do. We were like, “Let’s make a Blink record.” We referenced them a lot in the studio – and Green Day as well, to a certain extent. But yeah, that real crunchy, overdriven tone… It’s controlled distortion, I guess. It’s easy and it’s fun. 

Sometimes less is more – some of the best songs of all time are simple as hell. 
Which is lucky for me, because all the technical stuff is too hard [laughs]. I grew up listening to Blink and NOFX and stuff like that, and it’s like, “Eh, they’re all pretty shitty guitarists, maybe I don’t need to be that good.” But then you start playing festivals with bands like Northlane and you’re like, “Oh f***, they’re actually, like... Good.

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Ellie Robinson
Ellie Robinson

Ellie Robinson is an Australian writer, editor and dog enthusiast with a keen ear for pop-rock and a keen tongue for actual Pop Rocks. Their bylines include music rag staples like NME, BLUNT, Mixdown and, of course, Australian Guitar (on which they also serve as Editor-at-Large), but also less expected fare like TV Soap and Snowboarding Australia. Their go-to guitar is a Fender Player Tele, which, controversially, they only picked up after they’d joined the team at Australian Guitar. Before then, Ellie was a keyboardist – thankfully, the AG crew helped them see the light…

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