Interview #13: Sparrow and the Workshop

 

Sparrow and the Workshop are fabulous.  They really are.  I think I saw them for the first time playing with eagleowl and Broken Records at the Bongo Club in Edinburgh.  I really should remember where my first time with Sparrow occurred.  But I don’t.  But what I do remember is how good they were, how much they grabbed me and how much I have loved watching them develop from a band with “potential” into one of the hottest bands in Scotland at the moment.  2010 is looking like a big year for the guys and good things could not happen to a nicer bunch of people.  Jill O’Sullivan, the groups dynamic frontwoman is a really good egg.  We became good internet friends and she has very kindly agreed to take some time out to answer some questions for this the 13th TSP interview.  Apologies for the red font.  That’s how she sent the answers to me and for some reason WordPress won’t let me sort that out.  But you know what, she’s a lady and it’s just past Valentine day so lets just run with her choice of font colour.  Also I really can’t be bothered spending any more time trying to sort it out and it actually looks quite good on reflection!  Lovely people, lovely band.  Enjoy. 

TSP:  2010 is shaping up to be a big year with a UK tour supporting Idlewild and a European tour supporting the Brian Jonestown Massacre recently announced.  How has the last year changed your lives and what are you most looking forward to in 2o10?

JOS:  We were pretty lucky in 2009.  We signed a contract with our label and put out both our EP’s. We also did two full UK tours (with Edinburgh’s Broken Records and Bath’s Kill it Kid) and a few mini-tours with British Sea Power and Idlewild. I guess that all this changed our lives because the band became everyone’s number one priority. In some ways it felt like a natural progression, but in other ways if was getting really difficult to balance work with music. We realized that we just couldn’t do music and full-time jobs anymore.  So I quit my job and got a flexible waitressing job, and Gregor and Nick drastically cut their hours at work. We also decided to all move into Gregor’s flat. It’s really cheap this way and if we’re out on the road it’s one rent between 3 people rather than 3 separate rents for empty flats. This seems like a mundane thing to talk about, but the decision to share a flat is the main reason we have the flexibility to do what we’re doing.  In the end we’re taking risks but the excitement outweighs any other worries. On that note, we are really looking forward to touring the UK with Idlewild and Europe with the Brian Jonestown Massacre in 2010. We’re also looking forward to the release of the album in April and hope people enjoy it.

TSP:  You have already supported a whole host of big names in 2009 including Idlewild.  How have those experiences prepared you for the coming year?

JOS:  One of the greatest perks of supporting big bands is learning how to overcome the challenge of playing on a variety of big, bigger and ginormous stages.  Sometimes we feel miles away from each other so we have to get comfortable with that (and facing the audience, in my case). Also, the nerves can be a problem so we’re getting better at controlling our nerves and getting comfortable with the idea that we have no idea how the crowd will react. They’re all there to see their favorite band play so we try and bear that in mind and if the crowd like us then it’s a perk! Saying all this, we have never been to Europe so we don’t know what to expect. Nonetheless, we’re probably less nervous about the prospect now that we have played together so much on so many different types of stages.

TSP:  Having seen you live on numerous occasions in the past year it feels like the songs have developed and the band has just got tighter and tighter.  Do you think constantly touring has helped you understand not only how to play the songs live but also how you feel the band should sound?

JOS:  Wow, thanks Euan. I’m glad it sounds like we’re sounding better. We have no way of gauging this because, well, you know, we can’t split ourselves and critique our performance from the crowd. Damn, I wish we could though. We’re very critical. Guaranteed that at least two of us will come off stage after a gig and remember all our mistakes and talk about them. I guess that means we’re improving because we’ll probably try and fix those errors the next gig. Mostly, though, we’re just getting more and more comfortable playing together. I barely need to look at Gregor for cues anymore, and Nick and I follow each other without having to stare at each others hands all the time. The three of us don’t really discuss how we feel we should sound, though. I mean, apart from things like, I think we should pause for a second before this part because otherwise we’ll all get lost or it’ll sound muddy. Or lets crescendo here because it sounds like it should get louder. Boring technical stuff. 

TSP:  The debut album comes off the back of 2 very successful and highly rated EPs.  Will we be seeing some of the tracks from these EPs on the album or will it consist mainly of new tracks?

JOS:  The album consists of both old and new stuff. As I mentioned earlier,  both EP’s came out in 2009 (one just before Christmas), and most of those songs were written that year, so we’d have to be really fast to have an album of entirely new stuff. The deal we struck with our label was that we’d do 2 ep’s and then combine them to make our album, but after we recorded the second EP we wrote three or four new songs so those went on the album too. I see the EP’s more as an introduction to our band and a sample of the album to come. I’m shocked they’ve both gotten such good press.

TSP:  Withered Hand adopted the approach or re-recording and re-arranging some his previously released material for his debut record ‘Good News’.  Are the tracks off the EPs on the album re-recorded/re-arranged or left the way they appeared on the EPs?

JOS:  We’ve also re-recorded some songs and re-mixed everything.  We recorded the first EP ourselves and, while we were happy with the outcome, we weren’t entirely convinced that we captured the emotion of certain songs. The same goes for the second EP. We recorded that with the awesome Marcus Mackay of Diving Bell Lounge, and while we were really happy with “Into the Wild” we had just written some of those songs and then felt we played them better a few months down the line.  We were beginning to work with Paul Savage on some material (which will be on the album), so we asked him if he’s help us re-record some of the older songs and then for the sake of continuity we had everything re-mixed. We’re really really chuffed with the outcome. I noticed on SongbyToad blog that Matthew was saying that the recordings didn’t have the gusto of the live songs. I completely agree with him, we always felt the recordings could go a bit further,  so we tried to get some of that energy on the recordings for the album, which is called “Crystals Fall”, by the way. Hopefully that will come across.

TSP:  Talking of Scottish artists, can you name some of your favourite underground acts doing the rounds at the moment?

JOS:  I don’t have the time to see live music as much as I’d like to lately, but Gregor came back from the Low Miffs the other night and said they were incredible, and Nick is a big fan of the Trembling Bells, both Glasgow Bands. I’ve yet to see the Stormy Seas live but I hear they are tremendous (and I like their recordings) and a quirky band called Foxgang are doing some interesting stuff. Also, I keep banging on about Mitchell Museum because I think they’re awesome. And the Ballad of Mable Wong are personal faves. As well as the John Knox Sex Club! Their singer is totally captivating live….There are so many good bands in Scotland, it’s crazy. And they all have such different sounds. The Kays Lavelle sound nothing like Woodenbox and a Fistful of Fivers sound nothing like the Vars of Litchi and yet they’re all awesome. Washington Irving and Invisible Republic are two bands we’ve done gigs with who are also excellent. And Mike and Solveig…see, now I can’t stop!!!

TSP:  I’ve always found that after listening to certain artists I’ve had to sit down and write music.  What artists, if any, have this impact on you? 

JOS:  Lou Barlow, Deerhoof, Johnny Cash, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Jason Molina…Catpower, Feist, AC Newman, Etta James and Jim Jarmusch’s film soundtracks. These are the first that come to mind but there are many more. So many artists are inspiring.

TSP:  I’m not sure if this is a weird statement or not but I find your music to be heavily influenced by the USA (obviously) yet it remains unquestionably Scottish in tone.  How does the writing process work with you guys?  Do you write the songs individually then develop them together or is there more of a group approach to songwriting?

JOS:  I usually write the basic parts and lyrics and then we flesh them out and put meat on them afterwards. Its easier that way and the songs sound more coherent that way. Having said that, there are songs that began from a guitar riff that Nick was playing incessantly (usually in my ear through his clip-on Marshall Amp while I’m trying to read or do something important) and it’ll stick and I’ll get a melody outta it, or Gregor will be wandering around whistling a nice melody that would make a good vocal melody that I’ll put over a guitar riff. Once the basics are down, however, we all get together and have fun trying to make the songs sound good. As for the Scottish thing, we have no idea where that comes from…Maybe we drink too much Irn Bru.

TSP:  What are your hopes for 2010?

JOS:  In general, I hope the science community comes one step closer to making x-ray vision possible and masters invisibility cloaks once and for all. For the band, I hope we continue to make songs and I really hope that people like them and that we can keep touring as much as possible. Fingers crossed.

TSP:  Finally, you are originally from Chicago.  How does Glasgow compare to Chicago in terms of music, venues and atmosphere?

JOS:  I haven’t lived in Chicago for 4 years, but when I did I was in a band and it was nice but I definitely didn’t feel as though Chicago fostered the same kind of support networks for bands that Glasgow does. Glasgow’s musical atmosphere is amazing. Also, there are a lot of people here who keep the scene alive by organizing gigs all the time for all the new bands. The promoters should be commended for that, really. Last time I went back home I was shocked to find that my friend’s bands (who are excellent) hardly ever played live. And they were shocked to find that there are so many venues and gigs and bands playing live every day over here. I feel really lucky for that and for having two dudes to play with who are so incredibly talented. There’s the cheese. Thanks for the interview, Euan.

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