Beachwood Sparks Reignite

Posted by Billy Gil, August 2, 2012 04:35pm | Post a Comment
A new band is poised to take over L.A. this weekend. No, it’s not some band of upstarts on Slumberland or Captured Tracks, it’s the recently reformed, reenergized Beachwood Sparks. Hot on the tracks of their excellent new album, The Tarnished Gold, the Sparks are playing The Echo Friday night with Tomorrows Tulips, The Abigails and DJ Kevin Fitzgerald. The show kicks off Saturday’s The New LA Folk Festival, at Zorthian Ranch in Altadena (about which Eric Brightwell recently blogged). That show takes place from 1:30 p.m. to about 1 a.m. and also features He’s My Brother, She’s My Sister, White Magic, Spindrift, Sea of Bees and Restavrant, among others.
You may recall Beachwood Sparks’ early 2000s output, their self-titled debut, 2001’s breakthrough Once We Were Trees and the 2002 EP Make the Robots Cry, which poured psychedelic touches and smoggy haze over faithful country-rock, encapsulating certain histories of California music — 1950s Bakersfield rough country rockers like Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, Laurel Canyon hippies like Buffalo Springfield and Sweetheart of the Rodeo-era Byrds, and the San Francisco psychedelia of bands like The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. But Beachwood Sparks didn’t feel derivative, and were more in line with contemporaries Wilco and The Flaming Lips for their incorporation of neo-psychedelic sounds. They also played in a web of related bands like The Tyde, Mystic Chords of Memory, Frausdots and All Night Radio, while founding member and bassist Brent Rademaker, his brother, Darren, and guitarist Christopher Gunst were in the beloved ’90s cult band Further.

Then they all but disappeared for a decade. Members joined various bands — Gunst had Mystic Chords of Memory with partner Jen Cohen (of The Aislers Set); Brent Rademaker had The Tyde with his brother, as well as his own band, Frausdots; drummer Jimi Hey and guitarist “Farmer” Dave Scher had All Night Radio; Scher toured and played with Interpol, Jenny Lewis and Elvis Costello; and drummer Aaron Sperske joined Ariel Pink’s (now defunct) Haunted Graffiti. Rademaker says, simply, the band needed a break.
“We had been touring under really bad conditions and kind of living the life of the band but without any really kind of financial support,” Rademaker says. “… None of us were married, a lot of us lived together in close quarters like monkeys. … We had done a really, really successful tour, our first kind of one that really felt like, wow, things are really starting to happen.”
Exhausted, the band took a break, and life events started taking precedence — some members got married, some moved, Rademaker included, to Tampa, Fla. Consistent members Gunst, Scher and Rademaker couldn’t schedule a time to get together as Gunst went to school to get his master’s degree, Scher toured and Rademaker worked at Ikea in Florida. But things finally lined up: Gunst was off from school for the summer, Scher needed a break from touring and a health issue forced Rademaker to take a break from the Swedish furniture giant. The band’s cover of Sade’s “By Your Side” appeared on the Scott Pilgrim vs. The World soundtrack. And Sub Pop had asked the band to play its 20th anniversary show in 2008, and that showed the band it still had places to go. The three reformed along with Sperske, Cohen, Ben Knight and Dan Horne. The lineup now also includes drummer Andres Renteria, though it seems to be a revolving lineup that centers around Gunst, Scher and Rademaker.

“We went through that whole thing that new bands go through — growing pains,” Rademaker says. “… [But] we came out on the other side. It kind of makes you feel young to do that shit. You know what I mean? It’s like you’re in a punk band and you’ve just opened for a heavy metal band and the crowd has been throwing bottles at you, but then you’ve won them over.”
The quality of The Tarnished Gold attests to that. Starting with the somber “Forget the Song,” we’re instantly time-portaled back to early 2000s California indie-rock heaven. Following is the jangly “Sparks Fly Again,” a sort of fight song Scher wrote for the band as it regrouped, with lyrics like “sparks fly again for you.”
“When we play it life, there’s no irony,” Rademaker says. “Public Image Ltd. had the song ‘Public Image,’ and there’s ‘Clash City Rockers.’ It’s kind of cool to have a theme song. It’s fun to be on stage and sit there and get on the mic with all the guys. It’s like telling you what we’re gonna do. Only Farmer Dave could come up with that.”

The album is loaded with gems, like the ’70s AM gold of the title track and spaced-out mariachi-style of “No Queremos Oro,” which is sung in Spanish with an English dub floating over it.
“Dave, Chris and Ben [Knight] are all of Spanish descent, and their families go way, way back, generations and generations in L.A.,” Rademaker says. “This is the first full-length we’ve recorded in L.A. … Whenever we go to Spain and Europe and stuff, they always say we’re ambassadors for the L.A. sound. I was like, this is the L.A. sound right here. … Even The Tarnished Gold, the album artwork, it’s supposed to represent the heritage of Los Angeles.”
Rademaker says he’s excited to play The New LA Folk Festival, which he calls “crucial … People should put on folk festivals every day.” He’s also excited to play the new songs, just as long as the band has learned them.
“It’s really surprising, people are shouting out new songs more than the oldies,” he says. “It was like, we haven’t learned those yet! We’re gonna make sure we know the whole new album for the shows in L.A.”
Something else that’s been shouted out at shows, Rademaker says: “California Bummer,” that unbeatable summer song by his former band, Further. So … what about that, speaking of reunions?

“I’d do it in a heartbeat,” Rademaker says of the possibility of a Further reunion, though extenuating circumstances prevent it from becoming a reality at the moment.
For now, Rademaker’s glad to be back in L.A. and to be a part of its music scene once again, even hearing his own music spinning recently upon entering Amoeba Hollywood.
“You don’t know how that feels until that happens to you,” he says. “Nothing compares to walking into your favorite record store and your record’s playing. It’s really radical.”

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Beachwood Sparks (3), New La Folk Festival (1), Further (2), The Byrds (8), The Tyde (1), Laurel Canyon (5), Sade (10)