Sparks: Two Hands, One Mouth

Ron Mael chats to ClashMusic...

Sparks recently breezed into London to launch their unusual new live project Two Hands, One Mouth.

The root of Sparks has always lain in the relationship between Ron and Russell Mael. Brothers in arms, the pair have driven the group through three decades of musical invention.

In yet another about turn, Sparks recently decided to strip their live show right down. Confirming plans for ‘Two Hands, One Mouth’ the brothers opted to perform alone, reducing each song to just keyboard and vocals.

Opening in London’s Bush Hall on Wednesday (June 13th) the show was an overwhelming success. Completely sold out, the intimate venue allowed for a beautiful relationship to build up between Sparks and their fans.

ClashMusic was in attendance, and you can read a full review elsewhere on the site. Suitably impressed, we got on the phone to Sparks’ lynchpin Ron Mael to offer our congratulations. “Thank you, thank you!” he blushed. “It was a little bit frightening for us going into it but it worked out really well.”

Whose idea was it?
Well we had kind of been touring in different ways since ‘Little Beethoven’ time. We’ve been doing a lot of theatrical things to kind of expand on what we were doing as a band, we were using a lot of projections and computer sounds and all sorts of things to kind of.. we felt that we had taken the band approach as far as we could and we kind of wanted to make things as big and theatrical as we possibly could. We kind of felt that we had taken that as far as it could be taken so we thought that the only next semi-logical approach was to really go in the opposite direction and to try and do something just as a two piece with no computers and have even the appearance of the thing being less of a grand scale. The other side of it is that we didn’t want it to be mellow at all, we wanted it to have the same aggression that we had in the previous state. In Los Angeles we went through.. we originally had about 50 songs and we just tried to figure out what worked out best doing it like this. It was hard to figure out keyboard parts which would compensate for all kinds of guitars and computers and that sort of thing. These are the ones that we thought worked best that way.

When did rehearsals begin?
Yeah. It’s been about – to be honest it’s been about four months. It really is. It’s been about four months because there’s no room for error and everything has to be pretty exact. Everything is exposed so it was really important that we knew what we were doing all the time. So it took about four months of rehearsals in Los Angeles.

Did you find this approach freshened some songs, in your eyes?
Yeah, yeah. Also, just in a very basic way, one of the benefits of doing them this way is that people can actually hear the song more as a song and less as sort of a sonic blast. So it is a way to kind of show that there are – even though they’re stylised songs – there is a song at the basis of everything that we do. One of the big strengths of what we do is the singing – Russell’s singing – and the songs and lyrics. We really.. Doing it this way it showed that off more than it has in the past.

How did you communicate this idea to those around you?
We really wanted also just for the live presentation for this, we worked a lot with our sound guy because we wanted it to have.. he’s worked with us for a long time and we wanted it to not be mellow. We wanted it to really have the power of what we’ve had in the past touring with a full band. We wanted him to be in on the concept of what we wanted to achieve.

Were you nervous before you went onstage?
A little bit, yeah. Because – at least from my stand point – I’m able to stand behind guitars and drums. In a musical sense, I kind of feel that I’m part of something. Where I’m not a part of something but I am that thing it is a little frightening but we were really happy to do one show and I think it was also a good venue where the audience is smaller and standing. So we know now that it can work and I hope that it can be a little else daunting now before the show than it was before this because we had our fears.

The audience must play a large role in that.
They were amazing! They were so accepting. They never heard the songs being performed in this way. A lot of times when you go to a concert you want to hear the songs as you’ve heard it on the radio or on an album. But to hear it being presented in a slightly different way.. it was just an incredible audience.

Does London hold a special resonance for the band?
It does, yeah because this is really where we first had – at least from a commercial standpoint – had any success. We had made two albums in the States and then we moved here towards the end of ‘73 and the first thing that we had recorded was the ‘Kimono My House’ album here and ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us’ became an enormous success. We moved here, it’s always had a special place for us. Also, even now, this is the place that most embraces what we do. We live in Los Angeles and we tour in other places but this is where the action is, the warmth of the audience which we crave. It’s always amazing for us.

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Sparks are set to return in October. Dates are as follows:

21 Edinburgh Picture House
22 Manchester Ritz
23 Birmingham Institute
25 Brighton Dome
26 London The Barbican

Click here to buy tickets for Sparks!

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