Alex Stickels
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Alex Stickels

Los Angeles, California, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2016 | SELF | AFTRA

Los Angeles, California, United States | SELF | AFTRA
Established on Jan, 2016
Band Rock Alternative




"Profile of a Hustler| Alex Stickels"

I met Alex Stickels at a shitty nightclub underneath some overdone hotel near Union Square. I was new to the city and was out to find everything the city had to offer me, to suck the life out of whatever was available on a Thursday night, to be deliberately unconcerned about my preset alarm clock, and namely, to leave my Tinder date, who I could tell almost immediately was a bad idea. I was introduced to Alex, a friend of said date, and I was drawn to his energy immediately. We both exchanged a look that said, “Nice to meet you. Now let’s get the fuck out of here.” The night devolved into one of those reckless New York adventures that you see as a montage in so many films, running around like kids in a playground of concrete and skyscrapers, singing Jay-Z karaoke at a dingy bar in the Lower East Side, defacing some seasonal sidewalk debris, and playing charades across the subway platform sometime around 5am, to which the last gesture was simply a wave, delivered and received. “See you sometime, I guess.” He was on tour and leaving the city the next day. I got on the train back to Brooklyn thinking, “What the fuck was that?”

Seven years later I find myself sitting with him at a bar near the Bedford stop in Williamsburg. Over oysters and some overly fancy cocktails, we discussed his latest project and the amazing journey that’s brought him here, to Brooklyn. His work as a professional drummer has taken him all over the world, and his solo performance skills have evolved quite a bit from that karaoke bar in the LES. He’s just released the first single off his solo album, aptly named I Need The Pressure, and that same energy that initially connected us is palpable through every song, every note, and across the table as I began our interview. Alex is one of the most driven, talented, and incredibly energetic souls that I’ve ever known. Tune into his energy and appreciate his hustle below, then get on his wavelength through I Need The Pressure available on Spotify.

Brooklyn, I’m Trying: Why do you think you’ve always been drawn to playing the drums?

Alex Stickels: As a kid who grew up in Rochester, New York, where you’re snowed in 9 months out of the year, you have to find a way to entertain yourself, you have to find a way to not go stir crazy. Mine became playing drums. My mom wouldn’t let me have gaming systems growing up…

BiT: Mine either! And look how well we turned.

AS: Haha yeah, they knew what they were doing, apparently! I was always finding constructive things to do with my time. I displayed at an early age an interest in drumming and my dad, who grew up loving drumming but never got to do it because of his parents decided to buy me a set. So I’m this 8-year-old kid, snowed in and trying to find ways to be productive, and playing music was the greatest creative escape. You can just lose yourself for hours in that thing, and you can invite friends over to lose themselves with you. it’s this wonderful experience where you’re exploring and creating at the same time you’re honing a skill. You could see all sorts of things and you could go places that didn’t exist in real life and you could bend reality to be what you wanted it to be versus what it was, which was sitting in a bedroom snowed in in a town where nothing happens. And I’ve always been drawn to that, and the more that I was drawn to it, the more other people were drawn to it and came into it with me, and it’s just positive reinforcement. I wanted to do that thing that we all connect to!

BiT: So you’ve been playing professionally for nearly 8 years now. In your career so far, was there ever a moment where you said, “Holy shit, I’m actually doing this; I’ve made it,” so to speak?

AS: I think it’s really important to recognize those moments, however fleeting they are. I’m in no way satisfied by what I’ve accomplished but you have to somehow appreciate the moment and also try and keep this perspective and excitement, of holy shit, and never be jaded or think that this lifestyle is normal. So yeah, there have been moments… Recycled Percussion played the Latin Grammys.

BiT: Damn.

AS: Yeah, we played with Carlos Vives and Marc Anthony. They were doing a duet together, so it was us, and this 18-piece latin band with like 4 percussionists, and horn players, and then a whole dance troop with 12-13 dancers, onstage at the MGM arena in Vegas. So it’s 18,000 people, and it’s an awards show and it’s being streamed live on Univision to 9 million people, or however many who are watching. The entire thing started behind this LED screen that lifts up. So you’re standing behind the LED screen, you can’t see anything, but you know the moment’s coming. Then they’re coming from the commercial break, someone is counting down, and you hear them saying 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and then whoever introduces us, and you hear the introduction and then the LED screen starts coming up and you start playing music. To have a screen come up and to have 18,000 people watching you is unreal. You’re just in the moment, you’re overplaying everything and your body is outputting so much energy because it’s so extreme.

BiT: Because it’s taking in so much energy too!

AS: Yeah it’s incredible. It’s such an addiction.

BiT: So in between these insane moments performing, there’s a lot of work. Tell me a little more about your creative process, and how you work through creative ruts.

AS: I think that the greatest and coolest thing that I don’t get to talk about a lot is that my dad is a puzzle writer. So I grew up watching my Dad sit at this desk for hours a day, coming up with critical thinking puzzles and ways to stump people and he would totally create mindbending things and spatial-visual things where you have to solve the puzzle, and perspective is not what you think it is. He would come up with puzzles, and at the same time I’m getting into music and drums and being creative, I’m watching him and I’m not even thinking of it as a process, that’s just what he did. Without me knowing, he had publishers and agents and contracts and he was constantly under deadlines. He was like, we can put the football game on but we gotta put it on mute because I gotta write these puzzles. I didn’t even think about it as a process as a kid until I started writing my own songs and I realized I was doing the same thing. I would just be silent at a desk for hours and work it out. and sometimes working it out is staring at a wall for an hour and banging your head against that wall, and sometimes it’s leaving and going for a walk. I love my neighborhood in LA, which is basically in Studio City, which I guess for the purpose of this interview doesn’t really mean anything…

BiT: …and for Brooklyn, I’m Trying readers we don’t care about LA. Hahaha.

AS: Yeah, yeah. But it’s great to just walk through a neighborhood that you don’t know and just let things come to you. Whatever you’ve been spending the morning working on something or actively trying to break through a wall… sometimes 85-year-old men have it figured out. Just go for an afternoon walk after lunch, you don’t even have to be actively thinking about what you’re working on or what you need to do, just that half hour or hour walk around the block has been the best thing so many times.

BiT: Yeah absolutely, sometimes just that movement is incredibly helpful. If you can recognize what isn’t working, just getting up and walking around, or moving even from this seat to that one can help your brain change directions and help all these ideas that you haven’t been perceiving rush in.

AS: Exactly. I also have all my legos from a kid. Being the son of a puzzle creator, I still have the board and I bring it out and just start building. That type of mindless creation is helpful. I’m still putting things together and connecting dots, which is great for creativity. Putting your concentration on something else that’s not getting on Facebook or Instagram and getting other ideas in your head.

BiT: Agreed. Because that’s inevitably taking your thoughts away.

AS: Exactly. so it’s finding those things and what works for you as a person. I just happen to be a lego kid.

BiT: Nothing wrong with that.

BiT: So after spending so much time playing in bands and performing on stage, how did you gain the confidence to create something on your own?

AS: I started this whole thing almost 2 years ago now. I had been collecting ideas for my entire life in the form of these short compositions and little lyric ideas, thinking one day I’ll get in a band and I’ll be able to contribute these ideas to the band, and somebody more talented than me and more skilled with me will know what to do with these raw ideas. And at a certain point I thought, this is fucking stupid, I haven’t found the band, and the more auditions I go on drumming for other people, the more I’m realizing that the thing I want to create or be creative with just doesn’t exist.

It’s not like there’s a band out there doing what I want to do and I feel like I’ve missed my shot, I just keep thinking, well this isn’t here. I was on tour at the time on cruise ships. We had the greatest gig in the world; we’d be on a cruise for weeks at a time and we would play one show a week. so for the other 6.5 days, we’re in Alaska andI’mm going hiking and playing with bears and running around and that allowed for a lot of freedom and creative space to fail, and so I started going through all these ideas I’d been collecting. In the beginning, it was a game. Take an idea you’ve had, maybe it was a simple five-second idea, or a ten-second idea, and call that an A section. If that’s the A section, you have to come up with a B section. And after that idea, if you still think it’s shit, put it in a folder labeled “things I don’t like” or “things I hate” You don’t get to delete anything.

BiT: So the thought is allowing an idea to at least progress before you give up on it.

AS: Yes, exactly. You can’t give up on it immediately. And then, if you do like the idea and there’s potential there, continue fleshing it out. Two years late, I’m not done fleshing out those initial ideas I’ve been collecting all my life. Say you had 150 ideas. You hated, I don’t know, 100 of them. So there’s 50 left. Out of those, you’re ok with 30 of them. Then there’s the 20 you think are great, or have the potential to be great if you work on them hard enough. I’ve released 3 of those 20. So now there are 17 more from the initial stack, 17 more that I’m bursting at the seams to do things with. And then in the meantime of two years, I’ve also written new shit and had new things added to the pile of things that I haven’t even had the time to get to in the first place. And so the game is ongoing.

BiT: Tell us a bit more about the sound you’re creating on this album.

AS: Sure, obviously I grew up playing drums so I’m a drummer first, but I’m coming from a very rock-band background; I’ve always played in rock bands with real instruments where everything comes from actually playing the notes. Playing drums you have to physically make contact in order for a note to happen, whereas with EDM or synthesizers, you hit one button and 50 sounds happen. So everything I’m making is very rock-alternative based. I’ve been exploring different sounds and colors with keyboards and synthesizers, but it’s all rock.

BiT: I understand you recorded it in Brooklyn. Any reason in particular? (This is your chance to talk about how Brooklyn is a Mecca for creatives and their prowesses)

AS: Haha, this is probably the most important question of the interview, right?

BiT: Yeah, I mean no leading question or anything here, just tell us honestly what you think.

AS: Growing up I always wanted to live in New York, and there was a very real moment in my life where I had to decide between New York and LA, and ultimately LA won out. Still, I have always seen New York, as has the rest of the world, as an entirely creative place, and Brooklyn leading the trend on that. I recorded the first batch of songs in LA and thought, ok you’ve done that, you’ve had that feeling, you need to go somewhere else and see what that brings out of you. And Brooklyn was the logical next step, having always wanted to live here and been drawn to it. I happen to have a buddy I went to school who works in the music industry, and I just happened to reach out to him and say, Hey, I’m coming to New York and I want to record an album, where should I do it? Turns out he has his own studio, which was a crazy coincidence; I just thought he was working as an engineer. So he said, yeah let’s just do the thing together. The studio is in the Hassidic part of Brooklyn, so it was incredible to walk around and see so many different cultures and types of people. You don’t think you’re in America, and that in itself gets you thinking about so many things on your way to the studio so you get there charged creatively and your brain’s working. I know it was just important to come to this sort of place where I have the friends and you know the community supports artists and supports the creative movement and is there for you in that sort of way.

BiT: What are you most excited about from this upcoming project?

AS: The amount of possibilities and the range that exists within longevity. When i was 22 and trying to put it all together, I constantly felt like, oh my god, if it doesn’t come together tomorrow, it’s never going to happen.

BiT: How old are you now?

AS: I’m 28, 29 in May. May 10th. Taurus… but now, you start to appreciate just how long life is, and the amount of things you can do with that time. So many people get locked into 25, staring at the rest of their lives. it was really important to me to realize that just because it hasn’t happened to me yet or I’m not where I want to be yet in no way means that I’ve missed it. I don’t have to be Bruno Mars, So many people are aiming for that, and if you’re trying to be that big, it’s such a game that is out of your control. But if you just put your head down and are genuine about what you’re creating, there are so many middle-ground things that you can end up doing that is a life and is a career and is a way to provide all the things you want to do. There is a way to create the things you want to create and still make a life for yourself.

BiT: What has been the most rewarding part of this whole process?

AS: Honestly, it’s been amazing that as I keep doing this in life, I keep finding people who support me and believe in me. I met you, and here you’re doing your own thing, you’re trying to make your own thing work, and so am I. And to be part of a community where not only can I come to a place and and say, hey I’m making a record, but I get to connect with people who have been so willing to help. I have people in that way continually saying, I believe in you and you’re doing the right thing, and whatever I can offer you, whether that’s a bed or an interview or just a hug to tell you to keep going, that’s amazing. That’s the whole point of doing what we do and constantly outputting energy into the world, hoping that anybody responds to it and that it moves someone.

BiT: Often the best way to do anything is to do it in support of someone else.

AS: Yeah exactly. We exist right now in a place that people want to come to. They want to come to Brooklyn, they want to base themselves here or know people who are based here and be part of that energy and that spirit. We are constantly looking for the wavelength that best supports us, and Brooklyn is certainly a place where people have always come to do that. And so to meet you and to be here, on that wavelength is awesome. - Brooklyn, I'm Trying...


Still working on that hot first release.



After touring the world with several artists as their drummer, Alex Stickels pulled a Phil Collins/Dave Grohl and came home to write and front his own rock songs. He is a one-man band, playing all the instruments, arranging the whole project, and stepping out front to sing all the songs.

Band Members