“I think everyone has their own separate voices as far as the emotional content behind the music [goes],” the band’s latest member, guitarist Emma Randle, says. “Everyone is sort of coming from a different place… that’s what sort of works about the band. It creates more of an interplay between different elements, especially when you have three guitars.”
Three guitars help add to the complexity and density of Red Sparowes’ sound. Melodies swirl throughout the band’s music, telling stories despite being instrumental. Their second full-length, Every Red Heart Shines Toward The Red Sun, tells the story of the Great sparrow campaign — a mass killing of sparrows and other animals deemed to be pests — during Mao ZeDong’s Great Leap Forward. Descriptive song titles like “The Great Leap Forward Poured Down Upon Us One Day Like A Mighty Storm, Suddenly And Furiously Blinding Our Senses.” and “We Stood Transfixed In Blank Devotion As Our Leader Spoke To Us, Looking Down On Our Mute Faces With A Great, Raging, And Unseeing Eye.” helped contextualize the music by steering listeners loosely in the right direction. The same approach applies to the band’s first album, At The Soundless Dawn, which tells of mass extinction with track titles like “Our Happiest Days Slowly Began To Turn Into Dust” and “The Sixth Extinction Crept Up Slowly, Like Sunlight Through The Shutters, as We Looked Back In Regret”.
Unlike the previous two albums, The Fear Is Excruciating doesn’t rely on song titles to help tell a persistent story. Its themes are much more covert, centered around the notion of humanity’s wrong ideas.
“Our brains are kind of set to reach really quick immediate conclusions — to connect the dots in seemingly disparate situations,” drummer Dave Clifford says. “We manage to find meaning in things that might otherwise be meaningless… [it] can be a pretty powerful tool that humans have to reason and think things over, but I think the real problem is that people can become so easily fooled by jumping to the wrong conclusions or just oversimplifying things, or trying to find meaning in something that doesn’t exist or is meaningless.”
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Red Sparowes’ stage presence finds the band bathed just slightly in the light of their visual projections. For The Fear Is Excruciating, Clifford and Randle handled almost all of the editing work, with some help from visual artist Sonny Kay and Red Sparowes’ bassist Greg Burns. The visuals associating with The Fear Is Excruciating seem to silently echo the album’s concept; songs backed by images of war juxtapose against songs backed by images of life and greenery.
Forming a cohesive voice on an instrumental record might seem like a challenge, but Red Sparowes have little difficulty during their songwriting process. “I think that when Andy and Emma and Cliff play, they sort of have their own register, in a way… it just sort of falls into place,” explains Burns. “Sometimes we do talk about what we’re trying to convey, but we don’t always, and it tends to just come together pretty well.”
Red Sparowes have seen numerous lineup changes over the years but have adapted accordingly with each album. Each lineup also puts a different “stamp” on each album — an idea that Clifford considers a positive thing. And in a genre where plenty of bands sound the same from start to finish, it is refreshing to be able to pick out the different nuances of each Red Sparowes album, from the heavier elements in Every Red Heart Shines to the much more melodic ones in The Fear Is Excruciating. The band explores a different sound each time, but retains the cohesiveness of being Red Sparowes throughout.
For their latest album, Red Sparowes experimented with their songwriting process in a way that left them with multiple working copies for each potential song. With every revision, the band members worked democratically to contribute parts and decide which version to move forward with.
“We have a really small studio in our practice space. We’ll record every night that we practice and actually version different song numbers as we go through changes, so we have this whole catalog of revision,” explains Burns. “We have songs that don’t actually have any of the same parts from the original song — like after eighteen versions or whatever.”
Their songwriting process is just the first of many ways for the band to prove that there is more to the post-rock label than meets the eye. While Clifford admits that the genre tag is there for the purpose of identifying things loosely, the label “post-rock” falls short of describing the band’s sound, and it doesn’t live up to the band’s vision for their music, either.
“I’m hoping our new record will sort of challenge that [label] a bit. Just in terms of — not even the song structures or the song lengths, but — instrumentation and sort of how we approach the recordings,” says Burns.
For the foreseeable future, Red Sparowes will be touring extensively in support of The Fear Is Excruciating, with numerous North American tours throughout the summer and a European tour in the fall.