Interview with Beachwood Sparks
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Beachwood Sparks Interview 2002 – Will Jenkins


The sparks are seriously about to fly. And if you fancy spoiling the band before they fly back to the States, Beachwood Sparks play 93 Feet East, London, 19th August. Let Will prepare you for what's in store.


Since the release of the first single, Desert Sky, in 1997 Beachwood Sparks have been seen as extremely successful sixties copyists. Aping on last years Once We Were Trees, an intense pursuit of the ‘open your eyes’ ethos deemed to be suitable for changing the world, the band has been rail-roaded because of this into a revivalist siding. That acid panacea never got anywhere thirty-years ago and the more successful of the counter-culture found that the high-pressure skills they had learnt in chanting ‘middle-class, middle-weight, middle-brow,’ made them extremely efficient lawyers and as much part of their parent’s generation as the final assimilation of any generation into another. For the Sparks the music is eulogised; the embarrassing politics of the past are not.

Stripped of time and place in this way, with no contextual challenging of the here and now, the band does not realign itself with the present to pursue a new musical foray. Perhaps it saves the group though from the ridiculous stereotypes of Woodstock. For the sound is the evolved guitar jangle of mid-Byrds on Younger Than Yesterday and Fall On You Moby Grape, without the forced intentions of a generation agenda. Last year’s second album, Once We Were Trees endured throughout 2001 because of its close resemblance to the familiar strum of West Coast Pop, however recording the album at J Mascis’ private studio was not a dry run through of a previous decade.

“It all could have been just an exercise,” thinks Brent Rademaker, founding member of the Sparks, of the records so far. “It could have been all just a re-creation of old productions, for example, samples from our favourite albums and different musical styles like country & western music and hillbilly. But when it came to Once We Were Trees it had to be something to reflect what was going on, but not in an overt sense where direct statements and references would date us in a couple of days.”

“With each record it has to involve our lives and souls and stuff like that, otherwise it’s kind of pointless. We could have broken up after the first album if that was the case. What I can tell from the first record was that being in Los Angeles we were definitely making our escapes to the deserts, canyons, everywhere, definitely getting out, and by the time we recorded the last full album we had gone through so much as a band it was really easy to say ‘get out of the city.’ What the difference had to be was that the songs had to sound like they weren’t over done.”

The sun-gilded country of You Take The Gold and The Hustler have moved away from the Burrito Brothers Cosmic Americanisms found on the first album, towards a combination which could only be played at this moment. Country lilts and lap steel are fed through distortion, with the psyche-musing lyrics at points inaudible through the delayed and prepared white-noise of the avant-garde influenced indie-rock of Sonic Youth. The group have dispensed with penning sincere homages and gone for a full reinvigorated and revivified take on when R&B became filtered through folk-rock. The inside cover of the album best serves this notion with the denim clad band melting into the pastoral phased photography of the sleeve, while retaining their presence seeping through the leaves. A fading photograph, not forgotten in the present.

“That was exactly what we were singing about in the songs,” confirms Brent. “We had to find a way to exist in music that would allow us to breathe. Like living in Los Angeles, it’s a really big city but we had to find ourselves by trying to make our lives feel like they were being lived in some small west-coast town which people could connect with and not get lost in. There are some metropolitan aspects to the songs sometimes, but as far as our label was concerned we had to get a record out without compromising that scale.”

The references to the smaller of scale mislead. The scope of the band has grown considerably since 1997. The new mini-album Make The Robot Cowboys Cry has taken in, though not explicitly, the same area Mercury Rev were aiming for on Deserter Songs. Here is a collection of songs concerned with the expansionistic ethic endemic in the ‘Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.’ As a country founded with the main purpose to steadily grow into a fulfilled shape, the interest in the beginnings of this expansion with Spanish exploration feeds into the Rev’s concerns of what to do when the journey has ended. And you are looking out at the Pacific and with no more land to traverse. With Drinkswater, Ponce De Leon Blues and Ghost Dance 1492, Beachwood Sparks have laid to rest the last vestiges of a heard musical heritage and adopted the low acoustic strum, similar to Let It Run, of thinking directly for themselves.

Brent concedes: “It was funny how that all came together. It was when we were travelling together. We were doing a really long tour just of the States for two months with The Shins. We saw a lot of places and that seemed to feed into the recording for the mini-album.”

“It wasn’t a pre-conceived concept, but it was out of a lot of conversations and a lot of books read and a lot of feelings about living in America, and we were confronting it by travelling so extensively for the first time. So it was bringing in not impressions of the land, more directly seeing and observing. I think a lot of things that happened in the 1800’s, 1700’s, 1600’s still reaches down now and affects us. We were pondering our own country’s existence.”

Concerned with and taking impetus from the grand scale of their home country has not diminished the appeal of the Sparks here in the U.K. Playing the 100 Club on Oxford Street last year the night attracted Kevin Shields and Jason Pierce, both now fierce advocates of the band. Where once Brent watched the shows and listened to what these men had respectively produced with My Bloody Valentine and Spiritualized, those who he admired were now admiring him.

“It was weird, man, to see those guys who we liked and liked their records.” The fan in Brent talks: “If they had just walked past and glanced at me I would have not thought anything of it, but because they came up to us and it was like ‘that was just so good, that was so amazing,’ that has been much of the kick of playing over here. Once it was quite studious when we first came over, but with what we are doing now and something to do with the line-up now it really seems to relate to people. We’ve got people cheering choruses and guitar parts because they liked ‘em so much on tape that when they get to hear it live it’s like whoosh.”

Before touring further and then going into Europe to play festival dates, Brent has seen enough to encourage and not tail off the Beachwood enterprise just yet. “What has been happening on this tour compared to the last one is the feeling, not just the emotions of the songs, but also our states of mind and also the whole of the group coming across in the music and in the performance shows what has happened to us and what has happened that day, and it’s really connecting with people. It’s how we stay new throughout playing live, by taking the day we’ve had and putting it into the way we play and the audience has a lot to do with it now. They’re a big part of it because they know the songs and are interested. We like it here because of all of that. We’ve just been spoiled on a lot of these shows.”

If you fancy spoiling the band before they fly back to the States, Beachwood Sparks play 93 Feet East, London, 19th August.

Make The Robot Cowboys Cry is out now on Rough Trade.

Will Jenkins for Crud Magazine© 2002


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