Matt Miller – bass
Jim Ward – vocals/guitar
Paul Hinojos – guitar
Tony Hajjar – drums
Denver will be the fourth to the last show on Sparta’s current tour before they chill at home in El Paso for one short week, only to pack up once again and fly west to Japan for the first time. While Matt Miller, bassist for Sparta, was killing time before a show in St. Louis, he filled me in on his feelings about the last time they played in Colorado and how it was to share the stage with Weezer, “That was a really fun show. We were in awe of everything. That place has so much history to it. We were freakin’ out at first,” he says, laughing.
The last year and a half has moved at lighting speed for the group. When Sparta first started out, they drew a crowd to their gigs mainly on the rumor that three of the four members were previous members of At The Drive-In, and to see what the new band was all about. But Sparta’s own brazen brand of rock that tore away at emo stereotypes turned the skeptics into fans as chaotic crowds immersed themselves in the band’s adrenaline riffs, emphatic vocal harmonies, and intense song textures. “We are actually surprised at how many people are showing up at our shows now. We are so thankful for it, and happy that so many showed up so quickly. On our first tour back in March, there were a lot of people that showed up that were curious. Now I think we’ve won people over. I’m the only the guy that wasn’t in At The Drive-In, and we still get a lot of hounding by the press about it. At the same time, we’re just happy that people are starting to get over it.”
The introduction of Sparta’s full-length release, Wiretap Scars, further solidified their own identity as a band. From the first track, “Cut Your Ribbon”, you’re drawn crank up the volume to blast Jim Ward’s vocals and the immense guitar chords surrounding his strain. Views of the their life’s surroundings come to the surface on “Air”, then wane to a melodic simmer on “Collapse”, a track full of frustration in a look into their personal challenges.
On this tour, they’ve built a friendship and an immense admiration for the other two bands, Cave-In and Small Brown Bike, “Awesome bands. It’s like a little mini summer camp,” Matt says. But they have no stories of drunk and disorderly conduct, at least with their own group, “the only time it got a little crazy was for Jim’s birthday. We had some crazy guests show up in our dressing room who had been drinking all night. It was a wild, a hectic night.”
I poked a little fun at Matt, asking if there was any Def Leppard girlie groupie action complete with moms and their daughters wanting to get back stage through the show of some flesh. Much to my surprise, he laughed, remembering, “a radio show in Tulsa. They had this huge bill of all these different bands. We were the ones that stood out like sore thumbs. There were between 15 to 25,000 people there…radio programmers, their guests, and all this bullshit. And when we were on stage…I had never experienced having girls flash us like that. It was odd and uncomfortable. We were just trying to play. And there was either some 14 year-old or some 44 year-old were doing that. I was like, “Oh my God.” By the time that Def Leppard went on it was pure craziness. We were just laughing that they were still into it. That just blows my mind.”
When they’re not getting flashed, they have dabbled in a little songwriting on the road, “For this tour our extra stage guy, Gabe, bought a little Pro Tools rig. So we’ve been throwing riffs and ideas down. We each have our own ideas on some new stuff, but we haven’t actually had a chance to sit down to work together yet. We’ve just been so busy. Like this past March, Jim and I were trying to figure out how long we’ve been home. I think it was maybe five weeks.”
That in itself is amazing. I’ve always admired the stamina it requires to endure a life of constant travel, loading and unloading, performing almost every night, sleeping in strange places, eating on the run, and all with the same people for weeks on end. “Right now we’re really looking forward to going home. Everyone’s pretty much…I don’t want to say we’ve had it with each other, but we’re tired of being constantly polite for the past five weeks. When you’ve got ten people in a bus, no matter how big the bus is, that’s still way too many people,” he laughs.
Of the four members, Matt, Paul, and Jim still call El Paso home. I let him know of a endearing term one of my best friend’s has for it, after living there for years and going to school. Matt agreed, “It is a piss hole. It’s poor and on the border, so you an imagine what kind of town it is.” And it was this spot in Texas, along with their childhood and teenage experiences, which were the source of lyrical inspiration and frustration for a number of songs on Wiretap Scars. Matt talks about their life there, “We all had our hardships growing up in different ways. I know Paul and Tony grew up extremely poor. Jim came from a poor family, but his parents are actually still together and it was a really loving environment. Where I on the other hand came from a split home and all kinds of chaos. We all had our problems there.”
But the men of Sparta have taken that chaos and emotion, crafting it into the art form of music. As Matt explains,”It was really an outlet for us…throughout the whole album,” providing that same outlet to those who connect with their songs. “Everybody that we’ve met, they’ve been really cool kids. They tell us how much the album means to them, or certain songs, or certain parts of the lyrics. I love the fact that they can draw their own meaning and come to their own conclusions rather than expecting us to give them a meaning for it. That’s how we write our lyrics. They definitely have a meaning for us, but we try to have it open so everyone else can draw their own meaning.”
When you mix Sparta’s lyrics with their emotional edge of crashing drums, vocals that rage and serenade to sizzling chords, the experience is a release for many, whether you’re screaming the words in your car or experiencing the show on stage. When they played with Thursday at Industrial Nation this past year, I witnessed the fury of the crowd during Sparta’s show and the spent nature of their fan’s bodies after the four were done performing. “I remember going to shows like that when I was younger and I totally loved it. I loved the feeling afterwards. It was almost cathartic. I felt so much better about everything,” Matt remembers, “But I never thought about how some people walk away that way after our show. That’s pretty cool.”
Before he goes off to sound-check, he adds, “I hope kids are walking away the same at these shows. I never really listened to Cave-In before this tour. They have just completely blown us away. We watch them every night thinking, “Oh God. These guy’s rock!” They are an incredible band. You have to get there early to check them out. You’ll be blown away.”
You heard the man. They perform with Sparta and Small Brown Bike Friday, October 11 a the Ogden.