Rock And Rules: Sparks

The guide to surviving a life in music by those who know best…

Art-pop innovators Sparks have always walked their own path. Right from those early recordings, the project – centred on brotherly pairing Russell and Ron Mael – has been out there on the fringes, while making frequent forays into the mainstream.

Right now, they’re busy completing the circle. Re-signed to Island Records – home to their seminal 70s run – new album ‘The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte’ is an exceptional record, a witty and imaginative pop feast.

Sparks pop technician Ron Mael reveals a few hard-won truths in Rock and Rules.


Perseverance. Everything you do isn’t necessarily going to be viewed in the same way that you view it… so you just have to have faith. And there will come that time when the perseverance pays off, both in a literal and creative way. 


They always say never to get too up or down about any situation. But it’s hard to do that, because it’s human nature to get excited! I try to tell myself, when things are going well it won’t last forever. And when things aren’t, well, it’ll change! But we’ve always had faith in ourselves as to how we should proceed, and that’s what has carried us forwards.


When we started we tried to imitate The Kinks and The Who… but we couldn’t do it. We didn’t set out to be unique. It’s just that sometimes things go askew, and you’re able to find a way that draws from those influences, but doesn’t over-power your own sensibility. We were complete failures are copying other bands!


People don’t have to know what you can’t do. That’s a really important thing. You have the luxury of trying something, it doesn’t work out… but you don’t have to show people those failures. They won’t get exposed. 

You have to be merciless. If something isn’t working, get rid of it. You can’t feel precious about it. That’s one of the advantages of working on our own, in our own studio – we can do things where we don’t know exactly where it’s going… and sometimes it leads somewhere interesting.


We like to surprise ourselves. You know when a thing is going through the motions, or not. We’re always trying to push it. Even in our live shows – we play what people want, but we’ll also play something obscure. And we’re fortunate enough that our audience expect those sort of surprises.


Everyone goes through barren periods, but you have to have confidence in yourself. You have to have the faith that if you keep going, there is something about what you do and who you are that will – through time – find this thing that opens up a lot of possibilities. 


It’s miraculous that you can work within the confines of a pop song, but yet continually find some new detail that will make someone listening in their car stop, and pull over to listen to it. The pop song is an amazing structure, and the rules for it are a challenge to see how far you can push the boundaries. 


You have to be humble enough to know that there are people that do have some kind of experience, and can contribute to what you’re doing. You’re always learning. And it can be an amazing experience, to have your expectations altered.


I really try to move on. You get situations where something doesn’t quite work out, but you can’t have regrets. My only regret in life is that when I was really young, I had a chance to see Elvis play – before the army ruined him! But I was too much of a goodie two-shoes at school, so I didn’t go. Sometimes you’ll make mistakes, but as time goes on, people will come to think of them in a more positive light. 


Keep good heath as much as you can. You’ll need the energy! We feed off of situations, so when things are going a certain way it’s easier to have that energy. We try not to waste time on things that aren’t really relevant musically. Conserve your energy for what really matters. We’re focussed people – all of our energy is channelled into what we’re doing as Sparks.

‘The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte’ is out now.

Interview: Robin Murray
Photo Credit: Munachi Osegbu

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