Alex Burnett, lead singer and front man of Sydney art-poppers Sparkadia is a man who takes his craft seriously, that much is abundantly clear, and in 2008 all the hard work has begun to pay dividends. Nominated for a j award for their outstanding debut Postcards, Sparkadia are back from Europe just in time for the hectic Aussie festival season.
“It’s been a huge year. And pretty exotic too. We recorded the album in London and hung out in expensive bars with all these celebs. I played the same guitar as Graham Coxon from Blur. We had three European trips where we would play about 30 gigs in 40 days. And we did all the festivals of the English summer. Stuff like Glastonbury. I used to have this picture of Glastonbury, like a photo from a helicopter on my wall when I was a kid. So then to play Glastonbury and experience it and be part of it was just incredible.”
No doubt. “And then back stage you get to meet all your heroes. I met Boris Becker as well as the guys from the Stone Roses and Franz Ferdinand. And touring then with Vampire Weekend. Yeah, it’s been pretty crazy.”
But Alex is quick to point out that at the core of it always is the music. “We want to write interesting pop music. We’re not really there for the parties. You’re only as good as you’re last single or album.”
If that sounds like Alex puts a lot of pressure on himself, that’s probably because he does. He says that he’s glad to be back in Australia so that he can finally relax a bit. What does relaxing mean for Sparkadia? Playing Homebake, the Purple Sneakers’ New Years party and then touring with the Big Day Out. Oh, and getting on with writing and recording their second album too. Sounds like a doddle to me.
The new album will hopefully be recorded in Berlin. Having worked with producer Ben Hillier – of Elbow, Blur, Depeche Mode etc – for debut Postcards, Sparkadia drew up a shortlist of who they’d like to do their new stuff. Martin Hammond and Phil Spektor topped the list. So that’s dead and in jail respectively.
“I talked to this guy from Starsailor, and Phil did a couple of songs for their last album. And apparently he’s CRAZY. Like he holds a gun to your head while you’re doing a vocal take. Which would be just a bit much, you know!”
Back to the drawing board then. We move on to Sparkadia’s songwriting process. It all depends apparently.
“Sometimes the songs are fully written and then we just play it. Sometimes it’s just a riff or a chord progression and we try to make something unique and interesting out of it. We’ve always made a conscious effort not to just make acoustic songs. I think the whole creating a world or a sound-scape within a song has always been important to us. Something like Sleeping Lion, for instance, was just sound-scaping in the studio and before we knew it was just pretty much a song. I just sung the words on top of it off the top of my head, and that’s how it came about. Sometimes it takes four days. Sometimes it takes four minutes.”
Whatever the process, it is critical to the Sparkadia ethos that they can perform what they write live. Even those tasty vocal harmonies that are such a feature of their sound. I agree with him that there’s nothing worse than seeing a band that either doesn’t do what’s on the record live or they try but it’s terrible.
In essence now, live is everything. And that’s fantastic. Because it means only the great bands survive. If you’re lazy or you can’t pull it off live or you don’t have enough songs to make up a great set, you simply won’t survive. Whereas back in the day you could become a star just from getting played on video hits.”
And this is great news for the Aussie music scene as far as Alex is concerned. “I think actually that more Australian bands are becoming international just through things like MySpace. The world’s a smaller place now. Back in the day, the record labels had all the power. They would just shove this shit at people and people had to take. But now I think you can totally be in some amazing indie band from Delaware. You don’t need a record label.”
But they certainly help. It was Ark Recordings after all, that gave Sparkadia the opportunity to live and work overseas for such a long time.
As for the Purple Sneakers gig, Alex has only one thing on his mind. Outdoing Bluejuice. “I don’t know what we’re gonna do yet, but we’re gonna play a great set. A bit like the album but a bit more ferocious, I think. Maybe we’ll even play a couple of new songs.” Sounds fun. I can’t wait.