Earlier in the year Sparrow and the Workshop released the remarkable Crystal Falls to widespread acclaim. Not only that but the band have toured with the likes of Idlewild and Broken Records. Not a bad 2010, right? We caught up with the band to talk about Chicago, the album and what next year has in store for them.
You’re very much a Celtic trio, one from each of Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland. Does this influence your music at all – do you find you have a similar cultural mentality? Jill - I don't know, I don't think we take our cultural heritage into consideration when we're working on music but I wouldn't be surprised if it manifests itself from time to time in our choice of melody or whatnot. Weirdly, I'm the one who grew up listening to a lot of Celtic music, my Dad's a huge folk and trad fan, but Nick and Gregor have more similar cultural mentalities and tell jokes that go over my head because I don't get the cultural references having grown up in the States. In a lot of ways I've musically got an American Midwest vibe but I've travelled so much I've embraced all the places I've lived in or visited so I'd say we're a mutt band at the end of the day. What would you say were your main musical influences? Nick - I've always found the question of influence a funny one - I tend to use it when describing other bands and the way they sound. But being in a band myself, I'm only too aware that no band sits around a table and plots out their output on the influence-a-graph (well, I'd hope not). We tend to write songs or ideas, or Jill does - songs that are genuinely part of her life. Then me and Gregor, thrash those ideas around like someone being drowned in an overcrowded fish-farm, until something just naturally rises to the surface. But again, like the question about culture, we all have pretty varied tastes in music so our influences must inevitably surface in the choices we make. We like anything from Black Sabbath and Sebadoh to Dolly Parton and Otis Redding. Pretty random! You’ve recently been touring with Brian Jonestown Massacre, Idlewild and Broken Records. Who did you prefer spending time with? Jill - That's just a mean question! We'll take the diplomatic route. The thing is, we've become good friends with all of them, so we really couldn't pick and choose. The Jonestown tour was fun because it was our first time around Europe. The Idlewild tour was awesome because it was our first time playing to really big crowds. And the Broken Records tour was special because it was our first time out on the road on a proper tour. So they've all been ace in their own ways. Is new single 'Black To Red', which by the way is fantastic, symbolising a shift in sound? Jill - Thanks very much! I'll be honest and say that we haven't given much consideration to a sound, I just write little ideas that match my mood and the guys write parts that feel right for them and that suit the mood. 'Black to Red' is unique, I guess, because it started as a bit of a jam in the practice room, it's really fast and aggro so it was a good warm up song but it grew on us and our label said they'd put it out as a single so we were game for that...But I can't say that the stuff on the next album (fingers crossed there is one) will sound like 'Black to Red' or even any of the stuff on the last album! We'll have to hold our breath and see what comes out. Jill, you were born in Belfast but raised in Chicago. These are both places with a distinct cultural and musical heritage. Do you think your upbringing has had a distinct and very original impact on your career? I think it probably has. As I mentioned earlier, my dad listened to a lot of folk and trad when I was growing up and he was always going, come here and listen to this, this is your heritage (musicians like Christy Moore and Sharon Shannon), but I was also raised in a city that was a hub for blues, jazz and a lot of great rock bands too. And there's a sort of alt country vibe in Midwest bands that I was really into when I was younger (Wilco, Magnolia Electric co., Neko case). And, of course, Irish music shares a lot with bluegrass and old American country music so there's a crossover and I was listening to all of this and soaking it all in whilst also being into more contemporary stuff. I suppose I'm all over the place and appreciate a lot of different genres, to be honest. What are you guys listening to at the moment? Nick -Well, we all listen to a lot of music; old, new, semi old... Lately we have been listening to: The Besnard Lakes, Don Caberello, Beach Boys, Portishead, Hidden Camera's, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, Actually, we went to see Mice Parade outside Lille in France the other day when we were driving back to the UK - they were truly incredible to watch. Crystals Fall was widely acclaimed as being one of the best albums of the year, with the Sunday Times, Mojo and Drowned In Sound all drooling over it. Obviously, Sparrow and the Workshop are on the up. Are you noticing any notable changes in your everyday lives? Jill - That positive press was incredible and surprising. But in terms of our everyday lives, we're not really noticing dramatic changes- we're still broke as broke can possibly be, all living in a tiny one bedroom flat in south Glasgow, but we're touring a lot so our everyday lives are totally different when we're on the road-breakfast and lunch at service stations and sleeping in Travelodge beds, and also playing live a lot of the time. So yeah, I take that back because our everyday lives used to involve 9-5 jobs and gigging on the side and now gigging is the main job and, crap, what do we do for recreation? I guess we just play more music. It’s been commented that yours is a band for people who have a certain disdain for trends and fads. Is this how you’d market your music yourself? Nick - mmm, The way music gets marketed is a funny one. For example, I always thought that Joy Division were pretty under the radar when they first appeared, and to some respect, that's how they have been 'marketed' since - as a haunting echo from beneath. But recently I found a 1980 Smash Hits compilation with 'love will tear us apart' on it.... also, the fact that they were no.1 in New Zealand. History really is a malleable thing. I wouldn't say we have a disdain for trends and fads - good music can get produced by a whole number of means. I think I'd just say it's irrelevant to us when we make music. It's not that we don't want to be fashionable but....geez, have you seen how we dress? We’re having an album of the year shortlist put together shortly for 2010. Apart from yourselves, have you got any recommendations for it? The Phantom Band- The Wants. How about The Besnard Lakes - The Besnard Lakes are the Roaring Night. And maybe also Haight Ashbury - Here in the Golden Rays. What's next for the band? Well, in November we'll be finishing up writing material for our new album, we've got some ideas about producers, which fingers crossed, could be pretty exciting. Then in December we go on Tour with the freakin' Pogues! But on the whole, Tour, Tour, Tour, Album, Tour, Tour, Tour. That's how we hope it looks anyway!
Sparrow and The Workshop's new EP 'Black To Red' is out now on Distiller Records You can visit the band by heading to http://www.myspace.com/sparrowandtheworkshop