SXSW Film Fest: ‘The Sparks Brothers’ Q&A Highlights

March 19, 2021 by

360° tuned in to the Q&A following the SXSW screening of the documentary The Sparks Brothers about the remarkable 50-year career of the band Sparks. In a discussion moderated by Scott Aukerman, director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Baby Driver), and brothers Ron and Russell Mael of Sparks talk about the film, which is expected to be released this summer. Here are some highlights from the Q&A:

On the doc spending as much time on the latter years as the early years…

Edgar Wright: I’ve been a Sparks fan over the years, and I think more and more recently I was just kind of amazed at what Ron and Russell were putting out. The last 20 years was as good [as the early music]. There isn’t a golden period for Sparks. It’s all a golden period. I felt there was a story to be told because I felt there were different pockets of fandom over the years where people didn’t necessarily join all of the dots in terms of the story. I thought it was an unusual story to tell. A lot of music docs are about bands that started in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s and are either not with us anymore, and certainly not putting out great material, like usually at this point they’re resting on their laurels. Sparks was doing the exact opposite of that. It was very important to me to cover the story and spend as much time on the recent stuff as the early stuff.

Ron Mael: Since we have so many albums, we didn’t want people fixating on the ‘70s. Even if it’s a little self-delusional, we always felt that what we were doing at present is as strong as what we’ve ever done. We’ve always hesitated to have a documentary made about us just because we always felt that what we’re doing musically, and as far as the image and all of those things, was more dramatic. The documentary would be lacking in any kind of drama that is there in what we’re doing. We just love [Wright’s] films. He convinced us his interest in the band was the right kind of interest. We took a chance, and we couldn’t be more thrilled.

On past band members appearing in the doc…

Ron Mael: To be honest, if I was in that position, I would have been incredibly bitter. My reaction to the documentary wouldn’t have been as charitable as the people that were our former members. It really was kind of inspiring to us. There were so many people who we hadn’t been in touch with for so many years. At least if they weren’t OK with it, they were understanding about why we had to make the changes. The key to so much of our music is changing things around us all the time, both from a personnel standpoint and also stylistically. I think the people who have worked with us have understood that.

On not looking back…

Russell Mael: We actually do try not to look back at things except for the time where we did all 21 of our albums in London on 21 successive nights. It’s something we’ll never do again because it was something ridiculously difficult. We’re proud that we did it, but we won’t do it again. In general, we don’t look like looking back. I think that’s one of the things that’s kept us sort of relevant in a sort of way with what we’re doing. We don’t dwell on our past. We like to start off each new album with a sprit that this is really exciting, the same way it was on Day 1 when we first started back in the ‘70s. We like to have blinders on and think that the album we’re doing now is the first album we’ve ever done and it’s gotta be something that really bashes people over the head when they hear it, hopefully. I think that’s why when people hear the latest stuff that Sparks has done, they can’t believe it’s a band that has a history of 25 albums that preceded the latest album.

On writing hits…

Ron Mael: Obviously, you would prefer if more people were liking what you were doing, but there have been so many times when we thought we had a sure thing both in an artistic sense and a commercial sense and very few people reacted favorably to it. The actual writing process for me, I kind of don’t think of who I’m writing for, it isn’t even for myself, I’m just kind of writing for this era of music that I’m so proud to be a part of. We’re so fortunate to be able to be doing this. An uncle of ours asked a long time ago, ‘When are you guys gonna get a job?’ And we’ve never had a job.

On thinking about doing something other than music…

Russell Mael: I don’t think that thought ever entered our minds. There’s not an alternative to what we’re doing. That’s part of the reason Sparks is the way they are now. It’s an irrational thing to be in a band and have that be your entire life. Maybe when we started off in the ‘70s, and the first album we made with Todd Rundgren, we couldn’t believe that this guy, a famous person, finally endorsed our music and embraced it. Next week we’re starting our 26th album. We’re just really passionate about what we do and hope that that passion is transmitted to the people who listen to the music.

Final words for the fans…

Russell Mael: We’re really excited to have everybody see this film. We’re so happy with what Edgar did with it. It’s something for people who know Sparks and people who have no knowledge of Sparks whatsoever, it’s a special film.

Ron Mael: Amen.

more SXSW 2021 coverage:

SXSW Artist Spotlight: Ley Line

Witch Prophet on “Tesfay” in SXSW Music Video Competition

‘Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil’ SXSW Q&A Highlights

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