Sparrow & The Workshop released their 3rd album, Murderopolis, last week. It's a darker, more brooding affair than their previous work so we sent Kevin Scott to talk to singer / guitarist Jill O'Sullivan to find out what was behind this change of mood.
(((o))): There's a rockier sound to Murderopolis than we've heard from you before - what pre-empted this?
Jill: We have been gradually getting louder over the last 5 years so I don't think feels like that much of a divergence to us but yeah, I suppose there's a difference between our earliest stuff and what we're playing now. I think it feels like a natural progression to us, though. Paul Savage's production is definitely louder on this album, the drums are pushed, the guitars are pushed...but to be honest, we're pretty happy with that because we've always struggled to match the loudness of our live shows with those of our recordings and I think this album is most in line with the volume and aggression of the live shows.
(((o))): Thematically, the album deals with how the good and bad sides of love influence life - do you see it as a record about love, or more about life itself?
Jill: Hmmm...I think it's probably about life and love in a kind of universal way. I'd been thinking about the conflicts that can flare between people and wondered, well, how can we manage to be civil, what does it even mean to be a decent person in our complicated world? And I've lived long enough to see how conflicts can consume people to the point where they're wrapped in darkness and can't see the wood from the trees. And then I wonder, well, how do we navigate ourselves out of that place? I used to get pretty flustered as a kid and my dad would say, 'Steady, Black Horse'. I think it was something his mother said to him and it resonated with me for years and the older I get, the more I understand how important it is to be steady and reasonable and his warning has become my motto. But I don't know, I don't have any answers, necessarily...
(((o))): There's a sinister subtext to the sound, reflected in the lyrics - how did you set about to achieving this?
Jill: Ha, get a guitarist with lots of mental pedals, a guitar that has a split signal for a bass string and a penchant for moody and melodic bass lines, an intense drummer with a lot of energy, a massive kit, a synth-bass and strange but lovely harmonies and a loud-ass singer who plays acoustic like an electric and is slightly hyper (or so I'm told but I don't believe it - my other motto is appropriated from The Big Lebowski 'I'm calmer than you, dude'). Then put us in a room with Paul Savage, who is an absolute savage geek when it comes to drum mics and amps, amongst other things, and shake. I mean, I'm guessing that'll make something sinister.
(((o))): What music and literature influenced this album?
Jill: Hmmmm. That's a hard one because our influences are coming from all over the place. When I'm writing, for instance, I'm very driven by my mood and whatever's on my mind at a particular point in time, and when we get into a room together to work on things we try and be as instinctive as possible so we can, I dunno, capture the mood of a song. I'm not sure how aware we are of whether or not we're channelling something specific, though sometimes someone will say, oh that's a nice beat, it’s got a real shangri-las vibe, or other times it'll be like, oh that's nice, it feels like floating in sea water or punching a rock. So yeah, it varies but is often mood-based.
(((o))): What was it like working with Iain Cook and Paul Savage on production duties?
Jill: It was amazing; we were jokingly calling them the dream-team. It all happened very naturally because of a chat Gregor was having with Iain about new songs and Iain was up for recording them. Then it turned out Paul was free and in the studio the week we were planning on going in to record with Iain. We only had Iain for two songs because Chvrches suddenly took off in the month between recording those initial songs and deciding to hammer out a whole album but they worked well together and then it was great when it was just ourselves and Paul too, we have a good relationship and by that stage we had an idea of how we wanted to record the other 11 (two didn't make it on the album). It was a fast, intense but fun two weeks.
(((o))): Is there any truth to the rumours that Gregg's donuts played a considerable role in the recording process?
Jill: Yes, we were like crack addicts. We'd get to about 4pm and everyone would start having withdrawal symptoms so someone would have to run to Greggs for a selection of their fancy sugar-laden donuts.
(((o))): You (Jill) have collaborated with people like The Grand Gestures and Jen Reeve, how much importance do you place on side projects? And are there any more in the offing?
Jill: I think it's pretty good to collaborate if you can find the right people to work with. It's good to challenge yourself and if you really love music, surely you want to be doing it all the time? Writing with Jenny is really rewarding because we mutually construct every element of the song and she challenges me to be as creative as possible with melodies and arrangements and reminds me why I love writing music so much. Something like the Grand Gestures is challenging in a different way, Jan gives you essentially an open-plan house and you have to construct your own rooms within its really spacious walls. In terms of other collabs, I have another project called Do the Gods Speak Esperanto with Sean Cumming from the John Knox Sex Club, which will ramp up when he gets back from China. Nick, funny enough, also does a project called Part-Time Waitress with Sean, its mental but very good. Gregor's working on something that he's kept pretty quiet but its called Mike Papazulu. So yes, I suppose we're all spinning plates right now.
(((o))): Murderopolis is a dark title, but it's not far from that old Glasgow lament 'Murder Polis' - where did the title come from?
Jill: Funny enough, Gregor was calling a loose jam we were working on 'Murder Polis'. Nick thought he was saying Murderopolis. We ended up calling the album 'Murderopolis' in homage to the mix-up but also because the name did suit the mood of the album.
(((o))): And for any E&D readers venturing out in Glasgow - where's the best place to catch an up and coming band?
Hmmm. I reckon Nice n Sleazy's, Stereo, Bar Bloc, The Glad Cafe and Broadcast are good places to start. There are so many great venues in Glasgow that we're spoiled for choice here.