Originally published in Arthur No. 29 (May 2008) (which also featured a massive Sparksography by Ned Raggett), available from the Arthur Store…
Chris Ziegler and Kevin Ferguson visit veteran sui generis pop duo SPARKS in L.A. as they prepare to perform their 240-song oeuvre in a single month-long London engagement in May. “We’re actually better than we thought,” say the brothers Mael…
Sparks have about 60 days to finish learning the five million notes necessary to reproduce live their entire 38-year discography—20 old albums, select b-sides, one new album, and a special song for anyone willing to buy tickets for the entire month-long event in London—but brothers Russell and Ron Mael remain relaxed and ready in Russell’s home studio, where a portrait of Elvis watches over rehearsals so intense that Russell can’t stop singing his songs even in his dreams. Brand-new album Exotic Creatures Of The Deep will debut live this summer in London after prior nights each dedicated to an existing Sparks album—a marathon physically and psychologically and an occasion to revisit a band almost totally untangled from the industry music mess just miles away from Russell’s Los Angeles home…
Arthur: Ron said that you’ll be playing 4,825,623 notes during the complete 21-show run. That works out to about 230,000 notes per album and maybe 34 notes per second. Does that seem accurate?
Russell: On some of the early albums it’s probably true—the Island albums are probably 64 notes per second. Those were really hyper.
Did doing that kind of statistical analysis on your lifetime of work reveal any greater truths?
Ron: It’s actually a leveling. A lot of the ones we had maybe less love for are kind of good in retrospect. It would have been sad to go back and realize they weren’t very good.
Russell: Fortunately that wasn’t the case.
Ron: But we are prejudiced.
Russell: We’re actually better than we thought.
So you’re not nervous.
Ron: We’re still nervous. It’s awesome.
Awesome in the sense that building a pyramid is awesome?
Ron: On all kinds of levels. It’s like going back to school. We haven’t even heard most of the songs for 20 or 30 years, and most of them we never played live anyway, so part of the process was figuring out how to do that. We couldn’t cut any corners—we’re doing everything, including a lot of b-sides as well. We’re figuring out how to be true to the original records and doing it live. It’s a good concert experience.
Are you offering any kind of Sparks Value Pack for the entire run?
Russell: The golden ticket! For that you also get—we’re gonna record one song and give a CD of this one song to the people that choose to dedicate an entire month of their lives to Sparks. That warrants receiving a song that no one else will get.
Ron: And there’s gonna be at least one book or maybe two about the whole experience afterward, and we’re thinking if we can get up the energy, we’ll try to keep a journal.
Why no hometown show in Los Angeles?
Ron: We have a larger following in London. It’s so expensive to put this on that the only viable way was to do it in London.
Will you be including any Sparks alumni in the live bands?
Russell: Each of the bands had a certain character to them—someone even suggested it’d be great if we had each of those bands. In a conceptual way, that’s good. In a practical way, I don’t know if it would work. It’s a real test to find people—the fans who are going to spend a month of their lives with us, and then for the band, musicians who want to stick it out for three-and-a-half months of preparation, which is unheard of. When you prepare for tour, you have maybe 20 songs, and this is 240. And you might say, ‘Oh, that’s not so hard,’ but when you think of songs on the albums that fade out and you have to have an ending for that song now. To figure things like that out times 240 is so time-consuming. Just the sheer volume you have to digest.
Are you dreaming Sparks songs yet?
Russell: I’m singing songs when I wake up—I swear. And it’s not a happy dream. It’s like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t even shut them off!’