Scott Spark’s Muscle Memory
Australian singer-songwriter Scott Spark tells Andrew Shaw about his new album, Muscle Memory, and why New York needs ibises.
“Don’t make me open my eyes, not till all the chemicals from last night have been counteracted by a coffee that could kill a child…”
So sings Scott Spark in ‘Two Alarms’, a song about getting up to go to a job you hate. Such a complicated lyric would be tortured in the hands of a lesser melodist, but Spark negotiates its twists and turns beautifully; and says lyrics like that aren’t a chore to write.
“Those moments are similar to a good night out with buddies – they come pretty easily,” he says.
“That said, writing’s not always quick and the timing of ideas isn’t always convenient. But, I’ve found that a lot of the best elements of songwriting have a certain kind of ease to them. Sometimes the ‘hard work’ in songwriting is less about the physical practice, and more about your willingness to be vulnerable.”
‘Two Alarms’ is the first single from Spark’s new album, Muscle Memory, the follow up to 2010’s Fail Like You Mean It. Released on June 13, it was written between New York and Brisbane (Spark’s hometown) before being recorded in LA. It’s given him a perspective on what each city can learn from the other.
“Well, New York doesn’t have ibises, so god knows how they manage their hard rubbish,” he quips.
Listen to Two Alarms
“Squirrels don’t quite do the same job. Seriously though, Brisbane and New York can probably learn a thing or two from each other. Something I never appreciated about Brisbane is that it’s an incredibly young urban space, and that comes with so many advantages. Things tend to work – when you switch them on, they ‘go’ without needing to be rattled, slapped or kicked.
“New York is one of those older cities that has odd, archaic infrastructure and practices here and there. So I feel as though that’s something New York might envy about Brisbane. As for something Brisbane might learn from New York? What can I say – greater density of pianos.”
Spark says Muscle Memory differs from his earlier output in its cohesion; Fail Like You Mean It was a collection of songs written in the first flower of a career – the enthusiasm, the excitement; the “listen to this!” bravado is all there. Muscle Memory, Spark says, is far more deliberate and tighter in its intention.
“The songs were both written and recorded in a shorter space of time,” he says, “and they’re all different expressions of the same question: How are our relationships defined by wanting to both escape and belong?”
Spark says the landscape of LA, where he recorded Muscle Memory with Australian producer Ben Tolliday, is “distinctly desert”.
“You certainly feel like you’re in the desert, even when you’re in downtown LA,” he says.
“The primary pull to LA for me was so I could work with an old Brisbane buddy, Ben Tolliday. His background is as a cellist, and he knows strings in that nerdy kind of way, and this particular album needed. Also, I really respected the versatility of his studio experience, working with Alanis Morissette, Wolfmother, the London Symphony Orchestra and Guy Sigsworth.”
According to Spark, the songs on Muscle Memory are about “tension that defines relationships”. But do same-sex relationships have a different kind of tension to others? “I’ve never considered that before,” he says.
“I think each relationship is unto itself, but I would say that, especially when you’re younger, same-sex relationships are more likely to begin in an awkward and tumultuous way. But that has more to do with your own sense of self and whether or not you’re ‘out’. Also, with rates of depression and anxiety higher among queer folks, that can complicate relationships for sure.
“But that dynamic the album looks at – the tension between wanting to belong and escape – you’ll find that in all relationships, with your parents, siblings, partner, workmates, your school, home. That tension is always in flux and defines everything.”
Certain songwriters, and Scott Spark is one of them, can turn the anguish that inspires them – a break up, a bad day, a pointless job – into a work of art that makes you feel good. So although ‘Two Alarms’ is a song about hating your boss and needing a new job, its peppy, Motown beat makes you want to get up and out there anyway.
“I don’t know if I necessarily achieve this,” Spark says, “but I feel as though the best lyrics take something familiar and guide us to seeing it differently. And, in that way, they give us a sense of new possibility. That’s what I value.”
Muscle Memory is out now. Go to scottspark.com