Interview by Scott Preston
Tori Sparks calls Nashville home, but spends most of her time on the road in the U.S. and Europe. Called “a knockout” by the Village Voice, her dynamic live show is equal parts soulful singing and zany stand-up-style humor. Tori’s latest album Under This Yellow Sun was co-produced with indie rock veteran David Henry (R.E.M., Ben Folds, Josh Rouse, Widespread Panic, Cowboy Junkies) , and features players such as Steve Bowman of Counting Crows, Aaron Sands of Jars of Clay, John Deaderick (Patty Griffin, Lucinda Williams), and Pat Buchanan (Mary Chapin Carpenter, Dixie Chicks).
Under This Yellow Sun is the first release under the auspices of Tori’s own record label (Glass Mountain Records) and publishing company (Hand Over Foot Publishing). It has been praised by Relix, Harp, Maverick, Skope, The Nashville Music Guide, XM Radio, and others. After breaking the Top 100 on the RIYL Weighted College Charts, the album was immediately licensed by MTV, Lifetime, and the Oxygen Network for use in their 2008 television seasons. A subsequent feature by XM Radio Unsigned prompted Universal Music France to contact Sparks, has toured in France and other parts of Europe. Universal included Sparks’ single “Cold War” on their double-disc compilation, released internationally in March 2008, which has sold 25,000+ copies to date.”Cold War” is also featured on the Paste Magazine New Music Sampler released in June 2008. (from myspace.com/torisparks)
Cincy Groove: How did you recent show at Sitwell’s here in Cincinnati go?
Tori Sparks: I really enjoyed playing there because its kind of an informal setting. The people there are really sweet and its a nice change from all those smokey clubs that I play at sometimes.
Cincy Groove: Do you handle all of the day to day operations of your career yourself?
Tori Sparks: Yes I do, I was with a label, but it didn’t really work out because they said they were an all country label and wanted to expand into areas that wasn’t country. I think it was some kind of story they told people so they would sign with them. They just weren’t very honest people, so ultimately it worked out quite well to go out on my own. It took a while to get out of that situation but now I have complete control over what I am doing. Although its a lot of work and can be difficult, driving to gigs, checking emails, and doing interviews. But at least you know that things are being done the way you want them to get done.
Cincy Groove: Do you mostly do solo gigs?
Tori Sparks: Yes most of the time. I have this really great band that plays with me in Nashville when I have shows there. I would love to take them on the road, its just very difficult to be able to afford to pay a full band on the road. Basically I have to convince these rock and roll clubs that I’m not going to put on a sleepy show because I’m just one girl.
Cincy Groove: Who are some of your influences?
Tori Sparks: There are so many! I think whatever I’m listening to at the time influences what I’m writing. Here are some longtime favorites, though… Tom Waits, U2, Martin Sexton, Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, Billy Bragg, Amos Lee, Bill Withers, Damien Rice, Patty Griffin, Radiohead, Regina Spektor, The Beatles, The Boss (mainly just Nebraska), Ben Folds, Chris Isaak, Feist, David Bowie, Cecilia the Band, David Gray, Jeff Buckley, Leonard Cohen, Ray Charles, Ryan Adams, Nirvana, the White Stripes, Iron and Wine, Wilco, any and all blues, local bands, people who like local bands. And Mitch Hedberg.
Cincy Groove: What led you to create your own record label and publishing co?
Tori Sparks: I was essentially doing everything a label does on my own. I’d split with the record label that I’d been working with, and was promoting the last album, Rivers + Roads, which included touring, a new website, merch, publicity, radio, and countless other things. When it came time to put out another album, I could have either put it out as “self-released” – this would be the kiss of death in terms of promotion, unless you already have national name recognition – or I could have created a record label. In other words, just putting everything I was already doing under one umbrella. The publishing company came out of the same necessity.
Cincy Groove: What did you write about on your record “Under the Yellow Sun”? Any collaborations? Who produced it?
Tori Sparks: No collaborations, I write all the songs alone. However, the guys who played on the album all contributed a lot to the feel of the songs, which I think counts as collaborating. The songs are about all kinds of things, from a painting I saw in Cleveland to God to my mom to ex’s to an audio book I was listening to when I got in a car wreck. David Henry and I co-produced the album. I was lucky to work with him. He’s so easy to work with, and his store of knowledge is vast. He’s worked with everyone from R.E.M. and Ben Folds to really talented unknowns, and he definitely approaches each album from a creative standpoint, rather than from a marketing standpoint, which I like. I’ve seen it done both ways, and nothing kills the spirit of a record faster than someone pointing out marketing angles the whole time you’re trying to decide on a guitar tone.
Cincy Groove: Are you working on any new projects?
Tori Sparks: I’m always writing, sometimes a bunch of songs at once, sometimes nothing for weeks and weeks. I’d like to begin work on the next album early next year. I have at least half of it written.
Cincy Groove: Do you have any interesting stories from your being on the road?
Tori Sparks: Too many! So many indescribably cool things occur, and so many things continually go wrong. I think one of the most fun experiences was accidentally getting to play a daytime set at the Red Rocks amphitheater in Colorado. I was there on a day off, looking around the stage in distinctly tourist fashion, with a guitar on my back, when one of the staff asked if I wanted to help them test out the system – they had some kind of show later that night. That’s the short version of the story, but it was pretty amazing.
Cincy Groove: What was your first concert you ever went to? your first record?
Tori Sparks: I remember my mom taking me to a Raffi concert when I was little, though I don’t know if that counts. Of course I’d seen musicians play live in clubs or cafes before, but the first “real” rock concert was a U2 concert when I was maybe 16. Friends and I drove an hour and camped out all day to get decent positions in the general admission section.
I think the first record – cassette tape, in this case – that I remember owning was New Kids on the Block when I was maybe 8. I do remember permanently borrowing my mom’s Best of Janis Joplin tape at 10 or 12, though.
Upcoming Tori Sparks tour dates:
for complete show info visit www.torisparks.com
08/7/2008 Lexington, KY – Natasha’s Bistro
08/8/2008 * Louisville, KY – Live on Fox 41 News * Louisville, KY – The Rudyard Kipling
08/9/2008 Dayton, OH – Gilly’s Night Club
08/10/2008 Toledo, OH – Mickey Finn’s
08/11/2008 * Detroit, MI – Live on WXOU 88.3FM
* Ft. Wayne, IN – Mid City Bar & Grill
08/12/2008 * Detroit, MI – Live on WDET 101.9FM
* Dearborn, MI – Borders Books & Music: In-Store Performance/ Signing
* Detroit, MI – PJ’s Lager House
08/13/2008 Chicago, IL – Lilly’s
08/14/2008 * St. Louis, MO – KWUR 90.3FM * St. Louis, MO – Pop’s Blue Moon
08/15/2008 Indianapolis, IN – Indy Hostel House Concert Series
08/16/2008 Memphis, TN – Otherlands
08/25/2008 Lexington, KY – Woodsongs Old-Time Radio Hour
08/28/2008 Nashville, TN – The 5 Spot