August 14, 2003
Jim Ward, lead singer of SPARTA, discusses his former band, At the Drive-in, touring with Pearl Jam, and politics, with Squib Central’s Josh Jabcuga.
The following interview was conducted on July 16, 2003.
Joshua Jabcuga: SPARTA seems like it has carved out its own identity. Was it difficult to get out of the shadow of your previous work?
Jim Ward, lead singer of SPARTA: I think it is all mental. I am glad we have established ourselves as this band, but I am in no way trying to forget my roots. At the Drive-In is a very important part of my growing up and it ended at the right time for me I think. It was like college in a way, a great education that prepared me to live on afterwards, and like college, it was a hell of a good time.
Joshua Jabcuga: You grew up on the Texas/Mexico border, certainly an area with its own unique, unmistakable vibe. What did the culture offer you in terms of shaping your music, if anything?
Jim Ward: I always say that I think the influence has been a good work ethic and low complaints. We tend to put our heads down and charge ahead, and there is no need for an ego or an attitude, just normal folks getting to live an abnormal life.
Joshua Jabcuga: You covered “Kiss the Bottle” on the Jawbreaker tribute album. How did SPARTA become involved with this project, and whose idea was it?
Jim Ward: Someone approached us about it, and I am a huge fan. Once I heard “Kiss the Bottle” wasn’t taken I jumped at it. I think we did a different feel to the song
and added our own vibe to it, so I was happy. We recorded it on the bus throughout the SnoCore tour, so I got Chris from Hot Water Music to sing a bit as well. It was just a blast.
Joshua Jabcuga: Please tell me about Restart Records. Are things still up and running?
Jim Ward: Things are slowly coming around. It is hard to maintain while doing all this other stuff, but I love it. We got a few things coming out that are really good, and the website will be back better than ever by fall, I think.
Joshua Jabcuga: With the current state of radio thanks in large part to the robots at Clear Channel, how do bands, indie bands especially, spread their music, or even manage to survive?
Jim Ward: Internet and tour, no one can control that. It is the balancer in my mind.
Joshua Jabcuga: You’ve mentioned both BJORK and SILT as having released two of your personal top five favorite albums. Do you have a fondness for the Icelandic scene, and what do you think of SIGUR ROS? Any others that you recommend?
Jim Ward: I think for such a small population, they have got a great thing going on over there. I have been there and it is very inspirational. Perhaps it is their country’s
push for the arts, something our country could really look at and improve on. As far as SIGUR ROS, I love them in the right situation. It is amazing at the right time. But no other picks right now.
Joshua Jabcuga: You’ve also mentioned RADIOHEAD as releasing some of your favorite music. What do you think of their latest, Hail to the Thief?
Jim Ward: I love the fact they have songs on this record that get my blood flowing on a purely rock level. It is something I have missed. They do it so well, in their own style. I am glad to see a bit more, as well as the continuation of the jazz element to their music. All in all, I think it is awesome.
Joshua Jabcuga: I read somewhere that you once had a fear of singing and playing piano at the same time in front of an audience. I saw you guys in concert in Buffalo opening for PEARL JAM a few months back, and I could swear that I saw you play the keys and sing simultaneously, and do both quite well, I might add. Actually, it was one of the most compelling parts of your set. My girlfriend and I were both moved. What a great vibe. So, you’ve gotten over that fear?
Jim Ward: The initial material for Wiretap had so much keys and guitar, both played by me on the record, that I had to get a stand-in live, in the form of Mr. Gabe Gonzalez. With “Echodyne” it required two keys, so I was forced to get out of my fear really, if we ever wanted to bring it out live, which we did, so I got over it. Maybe there is more to come now, I don’t really know.
Joshua Jabcuga: Speaking of PEARL JAM, and since you seem to be a proud Texan, I’m very curious about your response to this next question. You guys started the
tour just after the whole “Bushleaguer” performance got blown out of proportion by the press. First off, do you find it unsettling that we are living in such sensitive times that an artist actually gets booed for merely voicing his opinion? Could you share with me your opinion on Bush and the war?
Jim Ward: At our shows before we started with Pearl Jam, I used to formally apologize for Bush from all the good Texan Democrats. I think I didn’t want to come off like a tag-along, so I left it out of the PEARL JAM set, until I spoke with Eddie Vedder about it and he said if that is how I felt, to use the stage to express it. So I did, and it was what I wanted to say, so it felt good. Even if I had gotten booed, who cares, I am an artist, and if
I choose to talk politics through songs or speeches, that is my choice, and that of our band. So if people don’t like it, they don’t come. Every night on the PEARL JAM tour was packed, so I think we spoke as far as that “Bushleaguer” shit, and it was supportive.
Joshua Jabcuga: PEARL JAM seems to be at the top of their game right now on all levels. They’re putting on some…well, really, historical shows. They’ve been around over a decade now and continue to remain true to all the ideals that they held when they first started out as a band. Did PEARL JAM offer any advice to SPARTA? What was it like knowing that PEARL JAM, perhaps the greatest rock band of our time, was watching you perform every night? Feel any added pressure?
Jim Ward: No pressure at all. We know that for what we do we are confident. To be asked to tour with PEARL JAM was a compliment. To see them watch us, was again a compliment. Advice is given by hanging out. No big speeches or anything, but to have them come in our room and just shoot the shit was advice enough. I judge folks by their actions, not words, and I was sincerely impressed by them as people, as well as artists.
Joshua Jabcuga: The band is going to begin work on its second full length album in the near future. What might fans expect? Will Jerry Finn return as producer? Will Gabriel Gonzalez contribute to the recording process, or is his role strictly to add that additional layer to the live shows?
Jim Ward: I am not sure what to expect, so I wouldn’t know what to tell fans other than to wait and see. I have a great feeling about how tight the band has gotten over the past few years, so I am really excited to see it in record mode again. Finn will be back. Gabe is strictly live.
Joshua Jabcuga: What does the big picture look like? Where do you see SPARTA in five years?
Jim Ward: Things are good from where I am right now. I feel good. I feel ready to do some creative work. Five years will reveal itself when it is ready. I hope it will be a great ride, though, that is for sure.
Got a CD you want me to review? A book? Comic book? Film? Presskits, promos, screeners, etc., should be sent to me at:
Josh Jabcuga, 3910 Sharondale Drive, Hamburg, NY 14075 USA
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