Call it bad timing. Beachwood Sparks signed to Sub Pop long after groups like Nirvana and Mudhoney had established the Seattle record label as an industry standard-bearer, but they were still a couple years ahead of the next wave of Sub Pop stars, like The Shins and The Postal Service.
Beachwood Sparks was one of the most intriguing members of this lost generation of Sub Pop bands—alongside acts like Zumpano and Arlo—but the band also had the misfortune of releasing both of its full-length albums, Beachwood Sparks (2000) and Once We Were Trees (2001), during the height of boy-band/rap-rock mania. The albums were well-received by critics, but the band was a little too far ahead of the indie-rock curve.
“We sat in an office in a high rise in New York with a top music attorney who represented all the greats through the ages,” drummer Aaron Sperske says. “It was when The Backstreet Boys and N'SYNC were happening, and he said, ‘Hey guys, if you hang in there, I'm sure haircuts and guitars will come back, but right now there's no avenue for this.' And he was so right.”
Within two years, the boy-band hysteria had waned. But by then, Beachwood Sparks had become a tough sell as garage-rock revivalists like The Strokes rose to prominence. Beachwood's sound was more comparable to The Byrds (specifically, The Notorious Byrd Brothers), with abundant harmonies, steel and acoustic guitars and a rootsier feel than most anything else in the indie-rock spectrum. But that collusion of musical elements consequently draped the band in a broad “Americana” banner.
“When we first [started as a band], the boring Americana scene was happening,” Sperske says. “It all just sounded kinda like a beer commercial to me. People would say about us, ‘They're the Americana band for people that don't like Americana.' [But] at the time, I wasn't into No Depression [magazine] and all that.”
After releasing the EP Make the Cowboy Robots Cry in 2002, Beachwood Sparks disappeared without ever officially calling it quits. After the band spent its initial Sub Pop run living what Sperske calls a “Laurel Canyon-esque” existence in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, the members dispersed across the country to pursue other projects, like The Tyde, Mystic Chords of Memory, Frausdots and All Night Radio.
The group for years had kicked around the idea of reuniting, but it wasn't until Sub Pop flew all the members to L.A. to hold practice sessions before they played “SP20”—the label's 20th anniversary party held in Seattle in July—that it became a reality.
Now, with the band's reunion tour under way, Sperske talks excitedly about a new Beachwood Sparks album, to be released as early as spring 2009.
“That's what I'm still hopeful for, but you never know the way things go with making records,” Sperske says. “That's why we got together to play these [shows]. Just to play and gel and find our group spirit. We'll get our mojo working, make a killer record that's relevant for us, and, hopefully, that'll mean something to other people.”
Sperske says the new album, like previous Beachwood efforts, will be a collaborative effort with each band member contributing a couple of songs. But that's not to say fans should be expecting the band to return with a three-hour double album.
“It's good because everyone's best ideas are one or two things, so you get four or five people with one or two really good ideas,” Sperske says. “I like albums to be 35 to 40 minutes with 11 or 12 songs. I'm not into big, epic, 17-song Red Hot Chili Peppers albums.”
Naturally, jumping back into the fray can be a jarring experience. But, Sperske says, Beachwood Sparks are taking full advantage of their second chance by rekindling what made the Sparks ignite in the first place.
“It's not a look or a particular sound; it's just a shared vibe that we all had the fortune to experience,” Sperske says. “Now that all this time has passed, what's left is what's real.”
Beachwood Sparks play Saturday, Aug. 23, with The Tyde and Braintickets at The Casbah. 619-232-HELL. www.myspace.com/beachwoodsparks.