We all romanticize about living day to day without the influence of routine, not making any concrete plans and simply taking everything as life delivers it. We yearn for moments of spontaneity because most everyday life is just that, planned.
Deep in the west Texas town of El Paso, Sparta have come out of their long slumber and are keen on adapting these ideas into the production of their highly anticipated fourth album. Guitarist and lead vocalist Jim Ward took some time to talk in-between studio stints about Sparta’s new album, tour, revival and their insides.
“This is going to be our fourth record. It’s an experiment in a way. We didn’t write anything previously to just come into the studio and start it. So, we just have some little ideas each of us has on our own, but we are actually, for the first time, not doing rehearsal, pre-production and all that stuff. We are just making a record pretty much as it comes out of us,” Ward gushes. “I’ve done records in pretty much every possible way it feels like and this is something I’ve never really done. Everybody was super cool about it, when I brought it up. They just said, ‘Let’s meet in El Paso for about a week and see how much we can get done.’ Then, we’ll go to LA next month and do a little bit more. Then, we’ll go to Canada and road test everything by playing the songs live and seeing how it works.
“It’s exciting, I’ve never done it this way, really. It’s very spontaneous and kinda like we’re forcing ourselves to commit to our initial gut. So, this record is about guts, I think.
“We planned on making a record last year, but then At The Drive-In stuff happened, so we just put it off for the year. So, here we are, one year later.”
Sparta initially formed in the shadow of post-hardcore legends At The Drive-In when drummer Tony Hajjar approached his old bandmates Paul Hinojos and Jim Ward to begin something new in 2001. Though At The Drive-In have been inactive since then, they recently banded together for a couple of odd reunion shows. Ward offers, “It was great. It was a nice way to close that chapter that had been open for so long. We were kinda doing one festival per area. So, we ended up doing two in North America. We were just going to do Coachella and ended up doing Chicago as well. We also did one in Europe, one in England, one in Japan, one in Australia and that was it.”
With so many other endeavours, the members of Sparta have been putting their time into other projects. “We all have incredibly complicated lives. So, trying to get four complicated lives onto one tour is difficult. We all have different things to do,” Ward explains.
“It was just time. I think everyone just needed a little bit of time to get away and do what they had been putting off for so long. We spend so much time on the road. When you get off the road, you need to recover. By the time you’re in the middle of recovery, you have to make a record again and get back on the road because that is how we pay our bills. So, I think we just needed to take a break from all of that and experience other parts of our lives. There’s a bunch of kids now, we have other businesses, other adventures in other bands… we just kinda needed to put a stop to the cycle and catch our breath.”
Even through Sparta’s dormancy, the band’s members have been keeping busy with everyday life, new businesses, family matters and other musical endeavours. In fact, Ward was just here two years ago to play Calgary’s Sled Island as a solo artist. “I played that two years ago. It was great, you know?,” he exclaims. “I have a strong connection with Canada, in particular Calgary, because my wife’s family lives there. So, I always end up there so I can say hi to everybody.”
With the new album on the horizon, what better way test it than a small personal tour? Sparta is planning to ease their audience into their evolved sound by throwing some new songs into each set on this short Canadian ride, consisting of four dates clustered around Western Canada. “Essentially, let’s go somewhere we haven’t been in a while and just play some straight up rock shows,” Ward remarks. “It’s not a big production thing: we’re just going in, bringing guitars and playing. Like I said, everything right now is very guttural. Just bringing it super down to the basics. There’s no keyboards in the studio, there’s no orchestration of anything… it’s just guitars and drums and singing. I think we wanted to go out and tread the waters a bit with that idea. We are going on airplanes, so that dictates what we are doing. It’s like, ‘Let’s go play four shows in four days.’ I don’t want to drive in Canada in February.
“Then when the record comes out, obviously there will be a bigger tour. But, we tour differently now than when we used to. It won’t be like we’re getting a bus and gone for eight months. It will be more like, ‘All right, we’re gonna go to Europe for a week, now we’re gonna go to Canada for four days and then we’re gonna do this…’ It’s just a different way of touring. We have nothing planned until the record comes out. We have the Canadian tour that’s coming up and then we have some stuff in Europe, later in the year…” Ward confides. “We haven’t even announced that, so it will be a really short run.”
Imagining the world’s anticipation for Sparta’s revival is easily done, as Calgary’s show sold out within a week or so of its announcement. Broken City has now added a second, early, show to accommodate those who want to bask in their musical genius. With a new album to be released while sitting on the cusp of tour, it seems things are falling into place for these amazing musicians once again. With the wisdom of age behind his closing words, Ward explains, “I think now, at this age, we plan way ahead of time and I think that’s part of the reason why I want to make this record so guttural, because our lives are so planned. This is the most spontaneous thing that we can do: just get into a room and write songs on the spot and record them. That’s that. No going back and changing them really. We need that sort of excitement in our lives.”
Catch Sparta at the Biltmore Cabaret (Vancouver) on February 21. Catch Sparta twice at Broken City (Calgary) on February 22. Doors for the early show open at 6 p.m. and doors for the late show open at 9 p.m. As of press time, there are still tickets available for the early show, though the late show is sold out.
By Lori MeyersAB, Alberta, BC, British Columbia