The new album, Hippopotamus, by legendary American pop synth brothers Sparks is released in September. Supporting the album release, Sparks will be heading over to the UK to play some shows and bring some theatrics.
Damian Robinson caught up with keyboardist Ron Mael to talk about the new album, their current inspirations and their desire to never go through the motions.
Damian: The new album ‘Hippopotamus’ has been preceded by 2 singles, ‘What the Hell is it this time?’ and ‘Hippopotamus’, both of which are upbeat, original, pop-synth tracks. Are they a good indication of how the album will sound?
Ron: That’s tough to answer as the album is intentionally pretty varied. Generally speaking the unifying theme of the album is our attempt to create a band sound to the songs.
Damian: That’s interesting, is that an off-shoot of your FFS work with Franz Ferdinand?
Ron: Yeah, that experience was instrumental in rekindling the desire to write 3 or 4 minute songs based on sounding like a band rather than being orchestral. The idea of playing in front of audiences as a band sounds pretty standard, but it’s been a while since we’ve done that and we miss it.
Damian: Hippopotamus will be your 8th album in the past 20 years. You’ve also been pretty active on the touring circuit. Do you have prefer to tour, and replicate music, or record, and create music?
Ron: It’s hard to say as I’m really passionate about both of them. Coming up with something from nothing is always pretty daunting, but we find it exciting. The way Russell and I record is done over months, whereas playing live is such an instantaneous thing and both elements seem to work well together. We are very isolated and insulated when we record, but then playing live is really social. We wouldn’t want to do one without the other.
Damian: Your musical fusion of pop and opera has influenced many bands including Queen, Soft Cell, Pulp and Franz Ferdinand. Is influencing the mainstream important to you?
Ron: It’s inspirational to hear other bands say nice things about us, but praise and influencing others is never in our minds when we are creating music.
Damian: The band seem to take real pride in developing their craft as song writers. Is there anything in your song writing that you’re finding exciting at the minute?
Ron: We take a lot of time, and care, in writing our music and lyrics. I tend to go back to old songwriters, like Cole Porter, who perceived song writing as a craft and never released anything until they were sure it was of a good standard. I’m always really inspired by that philosophy and am sometimes offended when people release material when there’s not a lot of passion behind it. We don’t ever want to just go through the motions and are pretty merciless at eliminating songs we don’t think are strong and won’t make a statement.
Damian: Does that philosophy put a lot of pressure on you when you’re writing and recording new material?
Ron: We tend to work in the moment and try to not think about how the work will be viewed in the future. If we think the music sounds good to us in the present then that’s all we can control.
Damian: Sparks live shows are famous for their production, theatrics and their visuals. Is there any concepts you can share with us for your show in Newcastle or is it a secret?
Ron: To be honest, we’re in the process now of working out what we want to do and figure out what presentation we want to make. We’ll be trying to make it special that’s for sure.
Sparks will play Newcastle’s Boiler Shop on Tuesday 19th September. Tickers £27.50. The new album ‘Hippopotamus’ will be released on 8th September.