ARTICLE BY CHERYL CHENG
"It's been a looong time," laughs Russell Mael, one-half of the L.A. duo Sparks, who will celebrate with his older brother, Ron, the 40th anniversary of their landmark 1974 album Kimono My House at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel this weekend, performing two shows at the Downtown L.A. venue with a 38-piece orchestra. Russell took some time to talk with The Scenestar about these upcoming shows, why Kimono My House has remained relevant even after four decades, and Sparks' upcoming collaboration with Franz Ferdinand.
SS: Congratulations on this upcoming tour for the 40th anniversary of Kimono My House. How did the idea for this tour come about?
Russell Mael: It had been proposed to us, "Why not celebrate this album's anniversary?" But we wanted to try to figure out a way to do it in an unusual context that would be fitting for Sparks, not just perform that album with a band. So we thought it would be really interesting to do it with a full orchestra. But at the same time, we wanted the arrangements for a full orchestra to be kind of cutting-edge and not just, you know, strings applied on top of the music. The orchestra would be the band in essence and sort of at times dissonant and jarring with the way the arrangements were written. It took a long time to come to the final arrangements.
SS: Was that your first time working with an orchestra?
RM: Yes, with a full orchestra. We did one thing in England for the Meltdown festival [in 2005] when Patti Smith curated, but it was a smaller group for that. This is the first time we've done something so expansive.
SS: I read really positive reviews for these shows at the Barbican in London last year.
RM: It was really great. There was anxiety on how it would end up being, but it was really fantastic. It was really embraced critically and also by the fans that came. We were all concerned whether the fans would enjoy it, and it seemed, for the most part, people really liked it a lot.
SS: The first Ace Hotel show sold out really quickly and a second night was added to accommodate all the fans. Why do you think Kimono My House has endured and remained relevant?
RM: Well, it was an album that was really in its own world when it was released in '74. There was no precedence for that album at the time. And the first single, "This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us," was a really big hit in England and a lot of Europe as well. And it was sort of timeless and not really a part of anything. It was kind of hard to place way back then. And the album sounds really contemporary and modern and not even of the time now. It's just the nature of what it is. It has always been in its own world, sitting on the edge of any trends.
SS: In terms of new Sparks music, I have been hearing about a new album with Franz Ferdinand. Will this be a new Sparks album with Franz Ferdinand as special guests? Or is this a shared album with Franz Ferdinand?
RM: It's actually both groups. It's going to be a joint venture, and it's going to have its own name. It's the complete Franz Ferdinand and the complete Sparks. We spent a good part of last year doing the album in London. The album is going to come out in June, but there are going to be a few singles coming out fairly soon. The first one is in March, and there's another one eight weeks after that, and it's all leading up to the actual album. There's going to be touring to go along with it. It's a really exciting project, and we don't know of too many other times where there has been two full bands who have come together to do an album with new songs specifically for a project. We think it's something really special.
SS: What can fans expect in terms of the sound of this collaboration?
RM: It's making use of both singers' vocals equally throughout, so it's both Alex Kapranos and myself. We share the stage as it were, and I think that's one thing that's really striking about it, because each vocalist has his own style. I think it's really recognizable for people who are aware of the groups. We sing together and trade off lines, and I think it's pretty striking. That's the first thing that I hope people will be pleasantly surprised with. But I also think that they're all really good songs. I think it sounds really forward-thinking and pretty exciting.
SS: Do you have a name for the group?
RM: We've been told to keep it under our hats for a few more weeks. For the moment, there's been virtually no press—on purpose—about the group yet. I'm not wanting to be deceptive, but for the moment, I'm not supposed to say the name of the new entity.
SS: I also wanted to ask you for an update on The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman, which had a stage show in 2011 as part of the Los Angeles Film Festival. When can fans expect the film to be released?
RM: It's still taking a long time, longer than we hoped for, but it's still all in the works. Guy Maddin is directing, and he's a really amazing director. And one reason it's taking a lot longer is he has been working on a film for the last couple of years, The Forbidden Room, which just had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, and he's now at the Berlin Film Festival, so he's been working on that. Sparks did a song that's in that movie as well that no one's heard yet. But in terms of how it has affected The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman, it's just kind of taking longer than anyone hoped for, but it's still on track and being pursued. Also, there's a second musical that we're working on with the eye for it to be a feature film.
BUY TICKETS: February 14th: Sparks at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel (SOLD OUT)
BUY TICKETS: February 15th: Sparks at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel