FFS interview: Sparrow and the Workshop

‘Sparrow and the Workshop’ describe themselves as a Scottish/welsh/American three-piece based in Glasgow who started ‘banging out tunes’ in January 2008. Listening to them you would think they’ve played this music for centuries, combining ethereal melodies with a gothic /country twang that sounds refreshingly original. Considering the length of time the band have been together they have racked up some great gigs including festivals through summer and supporting Idlewild and British Sea Power. FFS’s Kat Nicholls penned some questions to find out how the crazy ride is going so far and where they’re headed….

FFS: ‘Sparrow and the Workshop’ started playing together in January 08, since then you have played festivals and supported acts like British Sea Power- How did everything move along so fast?

We have no idea, it’s crazy and we feel really lucky. Some bands play for 5 years before they even tour the UK, and they’re probably better bands than us so we’re very thankful. To be honest, though, we do play gigs pretty much all the time and we’re always trying out new songs and recording so it feels like 2008 was 10,000 years ago. I think if you are really active as a band you’ll just find yourself in some awesome (and some terrible-cue the time we played a pizza place while some folks were singing happy birthday at a nearby table) situations.

Your three piece band are from America, Scotland and Wales- How did you all find yourselves in one place to meet each other?

As the butt of a very bad joke. Just kidding, we were all brought together by a gumtree advert for a flat and realized we all played different instruments but had similar tastes in music. We started practicing and realized we also worked together really well, which was another surprise. It was a bunch of lucky surprises.

Your music sounds equal parts ethereal-ly English and American-ly country, do you think your respective countries of origin influence your sound?

I’m not sure if we’re totally conscious of our origins when we practice but I’m sure it just seeps in through subconscious means. Like osmosis!

Jill, before meeting the boys your solo act was called ‘Dead Sparrow’ what made you change the name when the band came along?

Jill: I’m glad you asked that question because I’d like to clear the air. I never actually performed solo, I was deathly shy of that kind of thing. When we started out we played our first gig as Dead Sparrow because I was working on a song called Dead Sparrow but our friends said it was horribly morose so in a spur of the moment decision (Gregor was staring at some drum workshop drums in the corner, drooling at them really) we changed it to Sparrow and the Workshop and it just sort of stuck. It’s perfect because both Nick and Gregor sort of build their own instruments and stages, etc.

I’ve read that Johnny Cash is a big influence for you, what is it about the man in black that you love? And how do you think he has influenced your music?

Johnny Cash is just so honest when he sings. You don’t get the feeling that he’s trying to construct some kind of image or conjure up clever lyrics,  which is really inspiring. It’s that kind of thing that makes us wanna be braver and just play music how we wanna do it and not how we think it should be done.

I think the male and female vocals in the band set you apart from the crowd of bands around at the moment- was that your intention? Do you have any other favourite acts that also use male and female vocals?

Jill: Wow, thank you. I will tell you a secret. Gregor never sang before we met. He was singing in the kitchen of our flat and I grabbed him and said, can you sing a harmony on this old country song I’ve always wanted to sing with someone. It was Green Pastures and I first heard it on Emmy Lou Harris’s ‘Roses in the Snow’. He nailed the harmonies and then it just sort of evolved from there. In terms of fave acts, I guess we all love Emmy Lou and Gram Parsons, Nancy and Lee, there’s a new band called ‘Slow Club’ that are really nice too. I’m sure there are tons of other awesome ones that we’re missing out.

So far you have supported the likes of Idlewild and British Sea Power, do the bands you play with ever give you advice as a relatively new band?

Yeah, both BSP and Idlewild all laughed when we said we were really nervous and basically said, relax! in the nicest way possible of course, by sharing their riders with us. heehee. None of us are really young so there are certain ways in which we are not going to be naive. Nonetheless, all of this is new so there are some questions we ask the bands and they’re always really good about telling us their own experiences…you know, anything from dealing with a label to really important things like where the nearest Primark is when you run our of pants and socks on the road.

Another thing I’ve read about you is that you have played in various unusual venues including a shipping container! Do you have any favourite venues? And do you find the venue ever influences the kind of show you put on?

Ah, we did play in a shipping container, that was amazing! It was for a friend’s art show and the container was auctioned off at the end to someone. God knows what they did with it. How do you move one of those things?! Our favorite venue so far has probably been the open air theater in Regent’s Park, London. The Bowery in Edinburgh is in an old Church and that’s pretty great for natural reverb and general ambiance. Venues almost (and I say that because sometimes you can have a bad gig in an amazing venue if the sound is not right) always influences the kind of show you play. Small places are generally more intimate so you can chat with the audience a bit more and making mistakes is forgiven much easier. Bigger venues make you more aware that you are the ‘performer’ and since we’re all pretty awkward and shy we have to rely on our wit to get us through because none of us would dare put on a bat costume and start blowing bubbles out our arses while releasing doves from our wings. Well, maybe we would…we’ll see.

‘Into the Wild’, your mini-album is out now (and is brilliant by the way), can you talk us through the song choices? And do you have any favourite tracks?

Wow, thank you again! You’re too sweet. We chose these songs because we wanted to give a composite sketch of what we’re up to at this point. We’ll probably put some of them on the BIG album when it comes out in the spring, the song Into the Wild (and title) is indicative of the feeling we have right now. We’re scared, excited and feverish…in a good way.

With such a successful first year together, how do you see 2010 turning out?

Wow, well hopefully we’ll get to play as much as we can and tour Europe and maybe even the States (that way Jill can see all her friends who are scattered about the 50 states)…If our luck runs out you might find us dressed in bat costumes blowing bubbles out of our arses while scaling the rafters of the Roundhouse in London…

Sparrow and The Workshop’s latest shortplayer ‘Into The Wild’ is out now on Distiller Records

Check out their Myspace and the video for ‘A Horses Grin’

The band play a their last show of 2009  on the 17th Dec at The Mill in Glasgow (and, wonder of wonders, if you text MILL91K to 82500 you get free tickets!).