Sparks Interviewed: “We’ve Stayed True To Our Creative Vision”

MOJO speak to Sparks about Cate Blanchett, creative obstinacy and wanting to be sued.


by John Aizlewood |
Updated on

They’re in their sixth decade of making albums, but Ron Mael, 77, and his kid brother Russell, 74, are as, well, sparkling as they ever were. This year, the sui generis Los Angelenos played two nights at the Royal Albert Hall and, in July, headline the biggest venue of their career, the Hollywood Bowl. Their most recent albums, 2017’s _Hippopotamus_and 2012’s A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip returned them to the British Top 10 for the first time since 1975, while album number 26, the splendid The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte, is both quintessential Sparks and not quite like anything they’ve done before. “The important thing,” explains Russell, “is that it’s as compelling as something we did 20 albums ago.”

Cate Blanchett’s in the video to the new album title track…

Russell: She introduced herself at last year’s César Awards in Paris and said she’d been a fan for ever. Our jaws dropped, we exchanged contact information and when it came to making a new video we thought, Cate’ll bail us out. We sent her the song. She loved it, she came the next day, did exactly what she wanted and we winged it in the background. Three takes later, we sent her on her way.

Why is the girl crying in her latte?

Ron: You don’t know what happened to provoke it and you don’t know what’s going to happen to the other people who come in and are crying in their lattes. If I were a pretentious person, I would say it encapsulates a certain melancholy of the times, but I’m not a pretentious person.

Why has the world turned Sparks’ way again?

Russell: It’s nothing to do with simply being around for so long. Edgar Wright’s documentary, The Sparks Brothers, helped. So did our film Annette, but the important thing is that we’ve stayed true to our creative vision.

After Madonna, Jackie Kennedy, Morrissey, Edith Piaf, Charlie Parker, Igor Stravinsky etc, Veronica Lake is the latest icon who’s become a Sparks song title. Any responses?

Ron: It’s a too-overt attention-getting device. We would like somebody to take some kind of legal action against us. Unfortunately, they’ve ignored us.

When fantastic albums such as 1986’s Music That You Can Dance To were getting no traction, did you feel like giving up?

Ron: It motivated us. Out of obstinacy, we had a ‘fuck you, we’re going to prove you wrong’ attitude at the moments of complete rejection: ‘we’re gonna be in your face for a few more decades, so you’d better accept it.’ On those days where we’re not working, we gloat over the albums that have been re-assessed. The list is mounting year by year.

What happens when you disagree?

Russell: We agree in a global way. We have a common unspoken vision about what Sparks is and what we should be doing. We battle over specifics, but if it’s the sound of a keyboard, or whether my voice should have 40 or 25 overdubs, those things are not important in the grand scheme of things. The only thing I can think of is When Do I Get To Sing ‘My Way’. I loved the melody so much, but it was short-changed by the lyrics. Begrudgingly at first, Ron went away and came up with something that matched the melody’s emotional side.

Ron: The irony is that the place where that song was popular was Germany, where 
nobody understood what it was about.

What’s a good lesson you’ve learned?

Ron: We do everything ourselves now, but what we learned from being produced by Tony Visconti, Muff Winwood, Giorgio Moroder and Todd Rundgren is to be really cruel with material that doesn’t stand up. We shed a lot of songs, mainly because they’re not good enough. Quite a lot of people want to hear them but we’re not going to give them the chance. People don’t have to know what you did that isn’t quite cool.

Tell us something you’ve never told an interviewer before.

Ron: We got so many compliments about Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth being pro-environment and pro-ecology. It wasn’t at all. It was never turn your back on Mother Earth, or it’ll whack you.

The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte is out now. Read MOJO's verdict HERE.

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us