Not only are Sparks back, they’re returning with their first record on Island for 49 years. Here, Russell and Ron Mael talk us through their brilliant new album, and how they recruited Cate Blanchett for their new video...
The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte will be your 26th studio album. How have you made sure each record is a step forward?
Russell Mael: “Well, you can’t do what you’ve done previously, but then you also want to retain the essentials of what you are. Our goal is if someone just discovered us they would say, ‘Wow, this band is doing something striking.’ That gets harder when you already have 25 albums behind you, but it’s our responsibility to find fresh ways and not fall into the trap that happens to a lot of bands with long careers where they just coast.”
Ron Mael: “With each new song, we know if it’s pushing things forward or just treading water and we dispose very quickly of the ones that are just going through the motions. We’re also aware of our musical surroundings and we want to do something that’s more challenging than what we see as the current flow. But we don’t have the meeting where we’re deciding what we’re going with next, we just know with each new song.”
You last worked with Island 49 years ago. Who forgave who?
Russell: [Laughs] “The odd thing was that there was never a bad rupture, it was just one of those things. In the ’70s when they signed us, they released [Top 10 single] This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us because the people at the label had a vision of what pop music could be. They were really bold and adventurous. We feel that spirit is carried through to Island today in signing Sparks because the really heartwarming thing for us is that we are back based on the music we’re doing now.”
They can’t have too many new signings who can just ask Cate Blanchett to dance in their video…
Russell: “We met her at the César Awards a year ago. She was getting a lifetime achievement award and we were there to perform a song from our movie Annette, which we won an award for, too! We were backstage and Cate walked into our dressing room and was telling us how she was a fan of our band. So when it came to making a video for [title-track] The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte, we just said, ‘Cate Blanchett! Whatever she wants to do that will be fine for the video.’ And she said, ‘Yes!’”
What role has your manager Sue Harris played in the Sparks renaissance?
Ron: “We work in such an enclosed way, so to have a third person like Sue within that, who can keep our spirits up, is amazing. We’re not good at translating what we do into a business setting but she can – though it’s more than that. Even just as moral support, to have someone who is there through thick and thin is an inspiration. As far as the big picture goes, she really understands what we’re doing.”
Russell: “Sue’s been with us for 20-plus years now, and the importance of having somebody with the energy level and passion for what we do that equals our own is really hard to quantify. She really had the stamina to see things through when times were tough and if there is a payoff for Sparks, this is it. There have been the films, we’re currently working on a new movie musical with Focus Features, we’ve got a great new album on a great label and we’re really looking forward to the tour, which includes the Royal Albert Hall, the Hollywood Bowl and Glastonbury. All of those things are rewards for the energy and enthusiasm Sue has put into working with us.”
It does seem to be a great time for Sparks, so just to bring you back down to earth, have you blown a great opening line for a novel by using The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte as a title?
Ron: “We don’t have the luxury of saving the most interesting line until later on. We just want to hit you with it!”
Russell: “Don’t get us started! We’re well into our next movie, but the film after that will be: The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte based on the novel by Sparks! [Laughs]”