The Loyola Greyhound Interviews Sparkadia

The Greyhound, Loyola University’s student newspaper, sat down with Alex Burnett of Sparkadia (via Skype) to talk about his musical influences and interests, his time touring with Death Cab for Cutie and Vampire Weekend, and the new album, The Great Impression. Read the interview here:

“I sat down recently with Alex Burnett, the Australian singer-songwriter under the name Sparkadia, who has been ruling the charts overseas. He’s young, successful, and trying to get a hold on his fame while riding the success of his most recent album, The Great Impression, which peaked at #8 in Australia.

When did you start playing and performing music?
I was a cellist when I was a kid, so I started playing music when I was five. I really got into songwriting when I met a famous Australian songwriter when I was about 10, and unlike my Japanese cello teacher, he told me you can make up music yourself. I was like, “Wow! You can write what you want rather than just following the notes on the page.” I spent a good 10 years writing terrible music until something finally clicked [laughs].

What was the first live band that you have ever seen?
I believe it was Pearl Jam. They were touring for Vitalogy, which was like, 1996. I went with my mother and sister—they were amazing. My next-door neighbor was carrying a sign that read “State of Love and Trust,” which was off the movie Singles, which I really liked as a kid. Eddie Vedder (the lead singer) looked out into the crowd and said, “Ok. We’ll play that one,” and went straight into it. That was fantastic—very rock star.

Who are your biggest influences?
I’d say a lot of the great bands from the western canon, like Bowie, Kate Bush, and all those other big ones. For this particular record, I think it was more bands that tried to make it with a big pop record, like Roxy Music with their Avalon period. You need to be continually excited by new music to keep going.

How did you come up with the name Sparkadia?
We used to be called The Spark a long time ago, in the time of Myspace (seems like a lifetime ago), and there was this band from Texas who looked a bit like Pantera—and don’t get me wrong, I loved Pantera as a kid, but their profile picture had lots of macho energy and tats—real scary. They wrote to us saying they were called The Spark, and that if we were to tour America, we’d better think twice about our name. We thought that rather than get bashed by Texas metal-dudes, we should change our name, which worked out for the better since Sparkadia is so unique, and there’s a dream-like, kind of escapist quality to the name.

You’ve opened for a slew of huge American indie bands (Vampire Weekend, Death Cab For Cutie). What did you take away from touring with these bands?
They put on some really great, really professional shows. They were very passionate about what they did and not compromise for anything—the crowd was always number one. I’ve toured with some other bands, who are a bit more selfish—more concerned with where the next party is. You can be playing to someone who your album really touched, and it’s your one shot to play something beautiful.

Your new album The Great Impression has a synthy, almost dance-y feel to a lot of tracks (China, Talking Like I’m Falling Down Stairs) as opposed to your mostly guitar-based debut Postcards. What sparked this departure?
I think the guitar just didn’t feel as fresh to me—I do like the guitar, but I started to write more songs on the piano, which is a bit more alien to me. As a songwriter, you need to find new ways to get your message out, and the guitar became a bit stale. You get into these comfort chords as a guitarist and everything starts to sound the same: I guess that with the piano, I’m so bad with it that I just started experimenting and it just went from there.

Well, you’ve done well critically, and have made quite a splash in the Australian Charts. How has this kind of success affected personally?
I think towards the end of last year, I was going pretty mad. When you write music for yourself and someone chooses a song as song of the year, it’s a thrill, but then it’s kind of strange to be standing on stage with people screaming at you, and you can get trapped in a bubble where you don’t remember how to be human. I need to learn how to chill out, and not get eaten by the touring machine.

You’re now the sole member of Sparkadia. Does this give you certain freedoms?
I can do whatever I want, which is lovely! [laughs]

There was a sense of team when we were a band, but it also caused a lot of problems—high school issues. I do count my live band that I picked up in England as equals, and they’re great.

What artists have you been listening to recently?
A lot of weird stuff like Steve Reich, some New Orleans piano stuff, and some records I inherited from a friend of mine’s father who passed away— he was Indian, so there’s a lot of interesting Indian music that I’m still trying to understand.

What are your artistic goals for the future?
I’d love to work with Kanye West, or MGMT, but I’d like to stay grounded and human, and keep it all fun. I hope one day to write a record that changes people– not just derivative pop to shove into the ethos, but most of all I’d just like to stay motivated, write a record that’s as good or better than the last one and play great shows— the rest is fun and kind of random.”

Read the original post on The Greyhound’s website:

The Great Impression will be out physically on Feb. 28, but you can purchase it now on iTunes!

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