NOT JUST STANDING AROUND Sparks the Rescue mid-session.
Why do bands still pursue label deals? Let's ask Sparks the Rescue, who just finished up seven weeks working with producer/engineer Jonathan Wyman out at his studio in Windham, all on the Fearless Records dime.
"The stress levels are so much lower," says drummer Nathan Spencer, reclining on Wyman's couch as we listen to most of the 16 tracks Sparks have recorded, maybe 10 or 12 of which will wind up on the final record this spring. "This time we get two weeks of pre-production and five weeks of recording, and it's all paid for. Last time we had two weeks and we were borrowing money from our parents."
Sure, the band now have to sell a certain amount of records (+/- 20,000?) to "earn out" and start collecting money from CD sales, but they'll still earn money from publishing and touring and it's all worth it when you can make the record you've always wanted to make, one where every note sounds exactly as you heard it in your head and you've got the time, says Spencer, "to just throw something out and start over."
"It's the bells and whistles," says lead singer Alex Roy. "It's paying closer attention to parts, making sure that all the cogs are moving together."
And you can hear it, even in the rough mixes Wyman has put together. They can't wait to play me a tune with a verse from Spose, sounding distorted and kind of grouchy: "It was clear that she was on to the next dude/Left me for that guy from Sparks the Rescue." The big guitars and Roy's vulnerable vocals and the "oh-oh-oh" backings haven't gone anywhere, but maybe Roy's mind is a bit further in the gutter: "Gave her my heart in a paper bag/We're only making love when she's on the rag."
Roy certainly hasn't lost his fastball. His four-note breakdown in the chorus of "Running Hot" is immaculate.
There's another untitled song that features a great stuttering kick drum, a falsetto call-and-response in the chorus, just a scoche of Auto-Tune, and a fadeout in the finish.
"I like fadeouts," Wyman says. "They feel like records."
"I think this is our first fadeout," guitarist Toby McAllister says.
"I twisted their arms," Wyman chuckles.
Also, you might be surprised by the searing guitar solos that pop up from time to time thanks to brand-new guitarist Mike Naran, who replaces six-year member Patrick O'Connell. Wyman has dubbed him "Metal Mike."
In large part, though, the new stuff sounds like a slightly more robust version of Eyes to the Sun, which is intentional.
"The last record wasn't broken," says Spencer. "That's a great record."
"It wasn't a battle with the label or anything," Naran says, referencing the standard trope that labels just exist to ruin good records. "They weren't like, 'We're going to send you to these producers.' We were just like, 'We have our guy,' and they have faith in us."
Yes, Fearless Records had no problem letting Sparks head back to Maine, write some songs while living together in a house on a lake in Poland (Sparks believe they're the only Fearless band not to work with co-writers), and then record them in a converted barn on the Windham/Westbrook line with an experienced, talented guy Hollywood types might still try to dismiss as a "local" producer.