FORMERLY REMEMBER THE EIGHTIES.COM
SPARKS INTERVIEW [2006]

SPARKS HAVE BEEN GOING STRONG FOR NEARLY FOUR DECADES WITHOUT EVER LOSING THE TOUCH OF ORIGINALITY. DOES IT EVER GET HARD TO CHALLENGE YOURSELVES INTO PUSHING TOWARDS SOMETHING NEW AND FRESH EVERY TIME? WHAT KEEPS YOU MOTIVATED?

Each time we set out to do a new album, we proceed with the unspoken understanding that this recording may be the first time the listener has ever heard Sparks’ music and thus must be approached with the intensity and ambition of the very first recording that we’ve ever done. Unfortunately, we aren’t in the position to sit back and relax. For us it means that more thought and time has to be spent on the recording. Hopefully that translates into fresh and inspired music.

REGARDING THE PREVIOUS QUESTION AND CONSIDERING THAT YOUR POSITION IN MAKING RATHER ECCENTRIC POP MUSIC HAS NEVER REALLY BEEN ENDANGERED, HOW HAVE YOU MANAGED TO AVOID BECOMING A PASTICHE OF YOURSELVES?

Constant re-invention, constant re-invention, constant re-invention.

THE CURRENT MUSIC SCENE SOMETIMES SEEMS TO BE SUFFERING FROM A LACK OF PASSION; EVERYTHING SEEMS TO BE BASED ON SOME PASSED MODEL, WHICH MAKES IT HARD TO FIND ANYTHING ORIGINAL ANYMORE. AND YET, WE HAVE SPARKS WHO DON'T SUBJECT TO ANY OF THAT SENSIBILITY. WHY IS IT THAT MOST BANDS AROUND THESE DAYS ARE SO UNINTERESTING? SHOULD THE PUBLIC BE MORE DEMANDING?

We too scratch our heads in bewilderment. For us the most interesting pop music has always been provocative in some way or another. We’re not hearing much of that provocation in the current climate. There is an incestuousness to lots of popular music that makes the scene less inspired. Yes, by all means, the public should be more demanding. As long as the public is complacent with the status quo, nothing will change.

WITH THE MUSIC CHARTS BEING CONTROLLED BY RATHER GENERIC SONGS, IT WILL BE INTERESTING TO SEE HOW YOUR NEXT SINGLE, 'DICK AROUND', WILL CHART. THE SONG IS A MODEL EXAMPLE FOR A CHALLENGING SINGLE, BUT HAS GOT GREAT POTENTIAL BECAUSE OF ITS ANTHEM-LIKE QUALITIES THAT ARE NOT TOO DISSIMILAR TO THOSE IN ‘THIS TOWN AIN’T BIG ENOUGH FOR THE BOTH OF US’ - DO YOU HAVE HIGH HOPES FOR IT?

Ever the optimists, yes we have high hopes for ‘Dick Around.’ In a perfect world, we feel it’s the type of song that should be Number 1. A song like ‘This Town’ was not an immediate and obvious choice for a single. History has often been re-written when it concerns that song’s commercial path. It took a lot of pounding the pavement to get it heard, but once it did, there proved to be a large audience wanting to embrace a song with a difference. We are naïve enough and optimistic enough to believe that that can happen yet again in 2006.

SPARKS WILL BE TOURING IN SEPTEMBER AND OCTOBER IN THE UK, AND ALSO IN PARIS AND JAPAN. YOU ARE CONTINUING WHAT YOU STARTED WITH YOUR PREVIOUS ALBUM, LIL' BEETHOVEN, AND WILL BE PERFORMING THE WHOLE OF HELLO YOUNG LOVERS IN ITS ENTIRETY DURING THE FIRST HALF OF THE CONCERT. YOU ARE USING SCREEN PROJECTIONS TO ACCOMPANY THE SONGS OF HYL, WHICH MAKES THE CONCERT A VERY THEATRE-LIKE EXPERIENCE. IT MUST BE VERY ENJOYABLE FOR THE ARTIST TO DO IT THIS WAY...

Yes, we very much wanted to create a visual equivalent to the boldness of the music on ‘Hello Young Lovers’ and feel that our projections achieve that goal. As a by-product of approaching the live show in this way, we’ve found that where the music on its own often provides a challenge to the faint of heart, in the context of a live concert, the music gains in accessibility.

AS THE SECOND HALF OF THE CONCERT WILL BE A 'BEST OF' OF OLDER SONGS, CAN THE FANS BE EXPECTING ANY DIFFERENCES IN THE SET LISTS? ANY SURPRISES?

Since this will be our second major tour of the UK with Hello Young Lovers, we did want to keep things as fresh as possible for the 2nd half of the show’s older songs. With that in mind, yes there will be some new old songs in the set. Not to be a party-pooper, but I’d rather not spoil the surprise factor of which songs those will be.

THE VIDEO FOR 'DICK AROUND' HAS BEEN MADE USING MANY OF THE SAME ELEMENTS AS IN THE PROJECTIONS YOU ARE USING DURING THE HELLO YOUNG LOVERS -SONGS IN YOUR CONCERTS. WHY THE CONCEPT OF A CAT AUDIENCE? WAS IT JUST VISUAL CHOICE OR IS IT TRYING TO IMPLY SOMETHING DEEPER THAN THAT?

Though I’d like to say that there is some cosmic rationale beyond the choice of cats as the audience in the ‘Dick Around’ video, the truth is, we just like how they look! A lot of cats going wild at a stylized Sparks concert intrigued us. There will be a half-price ticket coupon for all cats coming to the upcoming Sparks’ concerts.

YOU WERE DOING A BUNCH OF FESTIVAL CONCERTS DURING THE SUMMER IN SPAIN, BRITAIN AND EVEN IN RUSSIA. HOW WAS THE RECEPTION THERE? BEING A FESTIVAL, THERE MUST HAVE BEEN A LOT OF PEOPLE IN THE AUDIENCE WHO WEREN'T FAMILIAR WITH SPARKS FROM BEFORE...

The reception was phenomenal at all of those concerts. In particular, it was heart-warming to be so well-received in Russia where we had only done one previous concert in Moscow earlier in the year. The St. Petersburg audience knew all of the songs just as in any other city that we would come to perform. It was a fantastic experience. Likewise, these were Sparks’ first festival performances in Madrid and Barcelona and we couldn’t have asked for more. For those who were newcomers to Sparks, we know came away with a lot of new fans.

SPARKS FANS ARE KNOWN TO BE LOYAL, FANATIC EVEN - ARE THE FANS DIFFERENT IN DIFFERENT COUNTRIES?

Despite the national differences in the audiences, we find that Sparks’ concerts tend to be a similar experience wherever they are. Sparks’ world seems to transcend the real world….at least for the 2-hour shows in those cities!

THE ROLES BETWEEN YOU AND RON SEEM TO BE VERY BALANCED IN THE BAND. WHEN WORKING ON A NEW ALBUM, IS THERE A CERTAIN METHOD THAT YOU FOLLOW OR DO YOU TEND TO TRY TO AVOID ANY RULES?

Our roles don’t overlap, and perhaps that is why we have a rather amenable working relationship. Ron does more of the initial musical input, while I initially work at the engineering and singing side of things. For the last two albums, we’ve consciously not come into the studio with pre-written songs. We are happy with the outcome of that decision.

SPARKS AREN'T CONSIDERED BEING THE MOST ARTICULATELY POLITICAL BAND AROUND. YET '(BABY BABY) CAN I INVADE YOUR COUNTRY' FROM HELLO YOUNG LOVERS CAN BE INTERPRETED AS EITHER POLITICAL OR SEXUAL. DID YOU FEEL THAT THIS WAS A GOOD TIME FOR SPARKS TO HAVE THEIR SAY ON THE CURRENT STATE OF POLITICS?

Well, I think that anyone who knows Sparks well can decipher our political leanings by the very nature of the music and lyrics. But yes, this is one of the rare instances where we’ve actually been less oblique in stating a political preference. But is it love or is it politics, well yes it’s two songs in one.

DO GIRLS REALLY 'DIG METAPHORS' AS YOU IMPLY ON THE SONG 'METAPHOR', OR ARE YOU JUST HOPING?

From all we read in the newspapers, press, and scientific findings, yes, girls really do dig metaphors!

BOTH KIMONO MY HOUSE (1974) AND NO. 1 IN HEAVEN (1979) ARE WIDELY CONSIDERED BEING THE CORNERSTONE ALBUMS OF YOUR CAREER. YET, KIMONO MY HOUSE WAS RATED HIGHLY ALREADY IN ITS TIME WHEREAS NO. 1 IN HEAVEN AROUSED RATHER MIXED EMOTIONS. ESPECIALLY 'TRYOUTS FOR THE HUMAN RACE' GOT NEARLY CRUCIFIED FOR GOING 'TOO DISCO'. YET IT WAS THE LATTER THAT INFLUENCED A LOT OF THE EARLY EIGHTIES SYNTH POP BANDS. LOOKING BACK AT IT NOW, DO YOU FIND THAT IRONIC?

Yes, we find it totally ironic that very few critics had a vision of what this album represented or would represent in the future. Later on, history was rewritten and reassessed and it was deemed to be a ground-breaking album and very influential for a lot of new bands. Funny what time can do.

YOUR CAREER HAS NEVER FOLLOWED ANY VIEWABLE PATTERN, SO TO SPEAK. IN THE 70S YOU GAINED MOST SUCCESS IN BRITAIN AND EUROPE WHILE AMERICA STAYED VIRTUALLY UNAWARE OF YOU. THE ROLES REVERSED IN THE 80S AND EUROPE STAYED NEARLY OBLIVIOUS TO SPARKS UNTIL 1994'S GRATUITOUS SAX AND SENSELESS VIOLINS. NOW, FINALLY, IT LOOKS LIKE YOUR WORK IS ACKNOWLEDGED ALMOST ON A GLOBAL SCALE. IS THAT DUE TO CONTINUOUSLY REDEFINING AND REINVENTING YOURSELVES, OR IS IT ALL JUST SUM OF TIMES AND COINCIDENCES?

It does seem to us too that most places in the world have now caught up with the whole Sparks oeuvre. There are less regional differences than in the past.

ALSO, SINCE MANY OF YOUR 80S ALBUMS ARE STILL QUITE UNFAMILIAR FOR THE MAJOR EUROPEAN PUBLIC, DOES IT EVER GET FRUSTRATING THAT HERE YOU ARE MAINLY REMEMBERED FOR YOUR 70S AND 90S ALBUMS?

Yes, it does because we very much like the output that we did in the 80s. Those albums had a very strong impact especially in LA during that time. It’s a pity that Europe didn’t attend! Good times.

TOP OF THE POPS PLAYED A CRUCIAL PART IN YOUR CAREER, THERE IS HARDLY ANYONE WHO DOESN'T REMEMBER YOUR PERFORMANCE WITH 'THIS TOWN AIN'T BIG ENOUGH FOR THE BOTH OF US' IN THE 70S. HOW DO YOU FEEL NOW THAT TOP OF THE POPS GOT CANCELLED AFTER 42 YEARS?

Is it a one more nail on the coffin for pop music, since MTV is hardly a music channel anymore? Yes, it’s a sad, sad day that TOTP is no more. Despite the decline in its popularity, the show represented the spirit of pop music in a more naïve time. In the 70s when we did many appearances, TOTP made no distinction between pop bands, soul bands, rock bands. Every genre of pop was treated equally and that was part of its appeal. How did the system go so wrong?

WHAT IS NEXT FOR SPARKS?

We have our thinking caps on.

LASTLY, ANY WORDS OF WISDOM YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE WITH THE READERS OF REMEMBER THE EIGHTIES?

Always cover your synthesizers at night or the dust can wreak havoc with the keys.

AUGUST 2006

INTERVIEW CONDUCTED BY EMMI JOUTSI

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