Sparta Interview

Originally formed from the ashes of At The Drive-In, Sparta have just released ‘Threes‘ – their third album, and their most enthralling and ambitious record to date. The band recently returned to the UK to play the Give It A Name festival, and Alex Gosman caught up with new guitarist Keeley Davis shortly before they played at the London show.

So how are you guys doing? Are these shows part of European tour, or are you just over here for Give It A Name?

We’re doing good thanks! We’re doing a few other European dates too – we played Give It A Name in Birmingham on Friday, then flew over to Belgium yesterday to play the Groezrock festival, then back to the UK today. It’s all been going well so far.

Give It A Name has a rather emo-friendly line up, but you’ve never struck me as part of that crowd. How do you feel about playing an event like this?

Well, it’s strange, because at home in the US, some people do categorise us as an emo band – but I think that just shows how vague a term ’emo’ has become these days. But it’s always good to be able to play events like these, because you get to play to people who might not have heard of you before – and judging by the responses we’ve had so far, I think we’ve made a few new friends this weekend.

If you look around the crowd at one of our own shows, it’s never one particular type of person – it’s a good mix of older and younger people, with fans of everything from indie to metal, and I think that’s due to the fact that we’ve never felt the need to limit ourselves to particular genres when we’re writing songs.

The new album is called ‘Threes‘ and is your third – did you choose the name because you wanted it to be seen as the last part of a trilogy, or does it go deeper than that?

Yeah, it does go deeper than that…it was Jim [Ward, Sparta singer/guitarist] who came up with the name, because all these things keep happening to him in threes. For example, as well as this being our third record, Anti are the third record label that we’ve signed with, and me joining the band was their third line-up change…so we’ve come to feel that the number three is symbolic for us in that sense!

Threes‘ sounds more expansive and more confident than ‘Wiretap Scars‘ [their 2002 debut album] did – would you agree with that?

Yes; and a big difference this time around was that there were no time pressures during the recording process. The first two albums were written in their entirety before being recorded, as that was the pre-determined plan, but this time around we didn’t even have a record deal when we were recording ‘Threes’. So were able to just take our time, and experiment with ideas and sounds that we’d never tried before – and I think that’s reflected in the record’s sound.”

When ‘Wiretap Scars‘ came out, it received a lot of critical comparisons to At The Drive-In’s work: does that still happen, and if so, does it annoy you?

“Not really; because we’re not the kind of band to deny our history, and At The Drive-In were very well-known by the time they split. So Jim and Matt didn’t mind that, for a while, they were “the band with those guys who were in At The Drive In.” What was kind of annoying, was when people would take it to the extent of scrutinizing the music and lyrics of a song to look for similarities to At The Drive-In songs – effectively, looking for things that just weren’t there. It’s hard to enjoy music if you’re always picking it apart like that, you know?

So how did you come to join Sparta? [Keeley joined the band in early 2006 after the departure of original guitarist Paul Hinojos]

“I’d known the other guys for a long time; my old band, Engine Down, actually toured with them in their early days, so that was how we first got to know each other. As well as playing guitar, I’m also a graphic designer, and I designed their website for the ‘Porcelain‘ record [Sparta’s second album]. So when Paul left, a friend told me that they were looking to recruit a new guitarist, and it all went from there.”

What are your plans for the near future?

“Just a hell of a lot of touring! We’re going back to the States tomorrow, where we’ll have a short break before doing a month-long tour with Straylight Run and Lovedrug. We’re hoping to get over to Japan and Australia later this year, and we’ll also be returning to Europe in the summer to play some festivals.”

[‘Threes‘ is out now on Anti Records, and the band have just been confirmed for the Reading/Leeds festivals in late August. Check for more info]

Alex Gosman