He’s busy packing. Again. He just wound up a series of shows yet tomorrow Alex and his band, Sparks The Rescue, heads back out on the road. This time it’s the Lab Apparel-sponsored Bring Me Home Tour, a 19-date run that will run through the end of April. Not long after that ends, they join the Vans Warped Tour for 21 dates that take them all over the country.
It’s been like this for lead singer/guitarist Alex and his Sparks The Rescue bandmates since signing with Fearless Records last year, who released an updated version of their first LP, “Eyes to the Sun.”
A tour with The Morning Of, Ian Walsh, and We Are The In-Crowd soon opened the door to a short European tour with the popular All-American Rejects, giving Sparks their first true taste of the ‘big time.’
“It’s been a whirlwind, but it’s been amazing.”
Oh, and let’s not overlook their video for “We Love Like Vampires,” which has been getting a lot of buzz on MTV.COM, or the fact they landed tracks on MTV shows The Hills and Real World: Cancun, 2009.They also did a seven-week cross-country tour with Hit The Lights, and even won MTV/Garnier Fructis’s “I Want My Music On MTV! Competition” for a chance to play at mtvU’s 2009 Woodie Awards.
It’s safe to say, ‘whirlwind’ is an understatement.
Alex, Nathan Spencer (drums), Ben Briggs (bass), Toby McAllister (guitar), and Mike Naran (guitar), round out the quintet from Portland, ME. They’ve come a long way since their days as a neo-skate-punk outfit covering Blink-182 songs back in the early 2000’s. Over time, the band’s sound has slowly evolved, from pop to more straight-ahead rock. They’ve released two EPs, then “Eyes to the Sun,” and have played out constantly, refining their sound and building loyal following. Today the buzz and momentum the band is building is full-on high.
Alex still remembers vividly when their songs first started playing on a local Portland, ME radio station as if that were the be-all, end-all. Little did he or the band imagine that Sparks would grow, leading to something so consistent and so positive. Back then it was all about having fun, he reflects, trying to develop their local music scene. Today it’s tours and booking agents, responsibilities and interviews, contracts and Twittering to fans.
“At first it was incredible just hearing our songs on WCYY [in Portland],” Alex reflected. “It inspired us. We just wanted to ride this thing as far as it would take us. We wanted to make this our job.”
If that’s how they define success, they’ve achieved it.
With that success, however, comes more and more responsibility. To fans. To record companies. To themselves.
Success also requires them to think long term – which is increasingly difficult with new opportunities peppering them virtually every week – but they’re trying.
“After the Warped Tour, we plan to hit the road,” Alex says, with eagerness in his voice that belies someone who has spent the better part of the last five years in a van and even sleeping on fans’ floors.
“We’ll take a few weeks off here and there to write, because we want to record our new album over the winter, and have it drop right before next year’s Warped Tour,” Alex notes. “But we’re a live act, and we’ll keep doing that even with a new album on the horizon. It’s a bit tougher now, so we just have to work harder make everything fit. Fortunately we have some things now, like a V-Studio 100 portable recording unit, that make it a bit easier on us to lay down ideas, so we’re not as tied to the studio anymore, which is nice.”
When not on the road, Alex co-owns a recording studio, called DinoWax, in the Portland area. A labor of love, it’s one way Alex gives back to the community that helped launch Sparks The Rescue. At DinoWax, Alex and his partner give young local bands a chance to record in a professional environment, as well as get support and promotion that is often hard to find when a band is just starting out.
DinoWax is outfitted with DAW software near and dear to all of us here at Cakewalk: SONAR. Alex and the band first discovered SONAR 8 while recording their LP. They were won over by SONAR’s ease of use.
“We used to use Cubase, but SONAR blew us away,” Alex says. “We started laying down some tracks with it, and the quality was so good that our producer, John Wyman, ended up incorporating some of those tracks into the masters for our last record.”
“We love Session Drummer, and use Guitar Rig all the time. And the Matrix View too! We have it at our studio, and we’re getting the young local bands hooked on it too.”
But at the end of the day, Sparks is a work-horse touring machine. Fortunately now when they travel, SONAR goes with them. This summer the V-Studio 100 will also help optimize their time, as they’ll be writing and recording in preparation for their upcoming album. The band will actually be sending tracks back to their management and label from the road to get a jumpstart on the song selection process. “We‘re psyched to also use the V-Studio 100 on the Warped Tour this year,” Alex added. “Not only are we using it making great tracks that might end up as keepers, but we’ll also be incorporating that unit into our live set due to the functionality of the unit.”
Eric Silver, A&R for Double Blind Music, agreed. “For Sparks The Rescue to be able to record, edit, mix, and even master new music while on tour is really helpful to the whole team around the band. The V-Studio 100 is indeed the ultimate integrated music production system.”
Further On Up The Road
By this time next year, the band hopes to have a new album ready and even a headlining slot on the Warped Tour. They’d also like to do a tour with All-Time Low, or Train or, their favorite, Jack’s Mannequin. “We’ve been drawing 300-400 kids previously…we’d like to pull up to 1,000.”
That shouldn’t be a problem the way the band is exploding. And if the Warped Tour doesn’t help them get to the four-figure headlining attendance mark, the new album surely will, as it will have more of a decidedly rock bent, and less of an emo-pop texture than previous efforts.
“People are starting to see the change in our music, it’s definitely more advanced than when we first started,” says Alex. “That includes the tools we use, like SONAR 8.5 and the VS-100. They‘re really making a difference in our sound.”
But almost as soon as he starts to talk about it, the affable and friendly Alex has to cut the conversation short. He apologizes; the group’s tour manager is giving him the sign to cut the call short. Alex could go on for another half hour it seems.
As he signs off, he promises he’ll keep in touch through e-mail and to catch up further when he gets home. That may take some time though. The road seems to be where the band belongs right now.
But eventually all roads lead back to Portland for Sparks The Rescue.