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"I'LL POP A CAP UP SOME FOOL AT THE GAP," Russell Mael sings as his brother Ron struts around on stage in a wifebeater. What? These guys are in their 50s. And their crowd are a bunch of Dungeons & Dragons nerds who know every lyric. Welcome to Sparks, one of the most influential bands of the past 30 years. This duo has run the gamut of glam rock, post-punk, electronica, and pop and is currently on some serious next-level, symphonic, music-hall style that is truly bizarre.

Is it true that you are descendants of Beethoven?

Ron: Well, we sort of created that myth around the new album, Lil' Beethoven.

You seem really excited about this album.

We're actually so passionate and proud that it's radically different from our past stuff that we present it in its entirety in the first half of our show. We have a lot of projections and stuff as well, so it's a pretty visual presentation. The sound is still aggressive, but it's more orchestrated, so the other two musicians just play timpani and a couple songs with just drums and guitar, respectively. Then, in the second half of the show, we do a sampling of stuff from the other albums in traditional band format.

Have you met any bands that have claimed you as an influence?

Russell: Morrissey's just asked us to play the Meltdown Festival in England in dune, so he's a big ten of the stuff. Also Bjork, Depeche Mode, and even new bands like Franz Ferdinand, who actually just a did a big piece in NME called "Why I Love Sparks."

Are there any bands that inspire you?

Ron: As far as bands go, everything seems so recycled: we've already heard everything in one form or another. At least the hip hop stuff is kind of aggressive and the sound is interesting

Hence the song "Suburban Homeboy" on the new album?

Well, we're actually fans of Eminem, so we did this song as an affectionate commentary on the whole phenomenon of the suburban homeboy--on those that try to adopt the black hip-hop approach into their white, suburban lifestyle. But rather than doing it in a hip-hop style, we did it in more of' a music-hall style.

What's the story on Queen? Did they bite your style back in the day?

Russell: Well, Queen actually opened up for us at the Marquee club in London before they even had an album out So there's sensibilities in something like "Bohemian Rhapsody," their big vocal sounds, and a certain spirit that has echoes of what we'd done. But you can check the dates of things and assess for yourself. Not that we like controversy ...

Was there any bitterness when they became so successful?

Obviously, if you're in a group, you prefer to be more popular than less popular, because it just makes things easier, but the fact remains that we're still going 19 albums later, and we're doing stuff that we think at this point in our career is more vital than some of the stuff that's gone before, so we're proud of that.

Do you have any regrets in your career?

Just that we're not as popular as Queen was.

Don't you think it might be cooler not to be that popular?

Ron: There is a good side and a bad side to not having that mega mega success. We've had freedom to be subversive in what we've done, and that's a good thing.

What was the inspiration for "Number One Song in Heaven," back in '79?

Giorgio Moroder, who at the time was a real electronic pioneer, wrote the music for it, and it sounded so spacy and heavenly that the lyrics just fell into place

When you die, will you go to heaven?

Russell: Undoubtedly.

What do you think it will be like?

Room service and chicks. That's what it's probably like.

Ron: Room service and a good massage, We're constantly busy with different projects, so maybe in heaven there will be a two-week vacation or something, and then back to work.

That's a pretty simple request: vacation. Have there been times in your career where you've given up for a while, been lazy or uninspired?

Russell: Not really. Sparks isn't a household name for some people, and that's the reason we've been able to continue and have more albums than most other artists in our situation, especially because we're not lazy. It's just a spirit of wanting to have as many people hear what we're doing until a lot of people get to hear it.

What would you do if you woke up one day, the other brother was gone, and you found out that you and Missy Elliot were the last people on earth?

Ron: Solo project!

Russell: Missy and Ron.

Ron: Damn straight, I can see the video now ...

Russell: I can see a little Ron.

The next suburban homeboy ...

Both: That's right.
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Author:Whiteley, Dan
Date:Sep 1, 2004
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