My Love Letter To Sparks

by Laurie Gallardo

It was difficult to imagine speaking with Russ Mael without lapsing into a full-blown panic mode.

Laurie Gallardo talks with Russ Mael of Sparks
Russ Mael of Sparks performing at ACL Live, Laurie Gallardo/KUTX

If you know the name, you’ll understand why this was not your run-of-the-mill interview. It was a conversation with one half of a sensational musical duo that has influenced – and continues to influence – countless musicians several decades after forming their band Sparks.

Sparks are enigmatic, and ever-present, simultaneously loved the world over, and completely underrated. Where does one even begin a Sparks conversation with Mael, who’s worked with brother Ron on 26 albums in total, spanning decades of pivotal moments, successes, failures, and mind-blowingly varied stylistic approaches to practically every album they’ve ever recorded?

From the beginning, the brothers Mael were navigating an uncharted soundscape of creativity and experimentation, which, at first anyway, didn’t quite translate into them selling a lot of records. Record labels had no idea what to do with them. As songwriter/producer Jack Antonoff observed in The Sparks Brothers documentary, “They’re just blazing this trail because…it’s the ultimate experience of what you want from your artist. There’s just no connection to what is actually going on in the world.” They were simply making the music they wanted to make, completely out of step with the latest trends.

That glorious and entertaining documentary by filmmaker Edgar Wright serves as a reference point for my interview with Russ Mael. It tells the story of how “the best British group to ever come out of America” (a description from writer/broadcaster Paul Morley) persevered on their own terms. A multitude of familiar faces chime in with lavish praises, including early Sparks producers Todd Rundgren and Tony Visconti; musicians Beck, Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Jane Wiedlin (The Go-Go’s). Weird Al Yankovic; writer Neil Gaiman; comedian Patton Oswalt…even Bjork’s disembodied voice.

Sparks are enigmatic, and ever-present, simultaneously loved the world over, and completely underrated.

Laurie Gallardo, Sparks superfan

Among other illuminating topics, Russ talks about Edgar Wright’s approach to the Sparks documentary; the challenges of not rehashing what the band has already done; Sparks producing their own albums and preserving their musical autonomy; and the excitement of new fans rediscovering Sparks’ music, and the fresh perspective they continue to bring to it all.

What an incredible band! And what an incredible journey. The evolution continues…

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