Won’t Get Tooled Again.
Sparta play the Essential Stage at 4.30pm at the Big Day Out at the Gold Coast Parklands on Sunday.
“A flame that burns twice as brightly burns only half as long,” proclaimed Primus brain Les Claypool in Those Damn Blue Collar Tweekers. He may well have been rambling about amphetamine burn out, but he could just as easily have been predicting the career of At The Drive In. The cyclonic wall of sound ATDI would produce during their brief moments in the sun thrilled critics and punters alike; their furious stage shows were the stuff of legend, and their recordings heralded a new way forward for then struggling rock behemoth. Then, just like that, it was over. The afro sporting champions of rock imploded, it would seem, before they’d reached their full potential.
Gone, but not forgotten. Certainly not in the hearts and minds of fans, but to a greater degree to those involved in the band. Former ATDI members Jim Ward, Tony Hajjar and Paul Hinojos found themselves back in El Paso, Texas with time on their hands and the desire to get back out and rock still burning. Before long they had recruited bassist Matt Miller from fellow El Paso act Belknap and headed into the studios as Sparta to record their debut EP Austere. Not surprisingly Austere, and the follow up album Wiretap Scars found Sparta more than step out from under the shadows of their collective history, and now the band are bound for Australia as part of the Big Day Out. But that’s still to come. At the moment Miller is on his way home, and enjoying a slushie.
"The funny thing is I never get them when we’re on tour. I never go by 7-11 or convenience stores, so when we’re at home it’s one of the first things I hit up.”
And here I was thinking the convenience store would have been a staple of most touring bands…
“You know, you don’t find them too often because they’re not usually near clubs or places that we play. The only places we end up are like truck stops in between cities, and they don’t have slushies, man. They kind of went nuts here for a while, you could get banana, lime, strawberry, blueberry, watermelon. It was awesome.”
Considering the other three members of Sparta are all Big Day Out alumni, I ask Matt what he’s been told about the event.
“Actually, the other guys in the band told me it was more like the Big Day Off,” he chuckles. “It’s really easy and relaxed. You don’t play more than like two or three days in a row. They told me the country is incredibly beautiful. One of the things I’m aiming to do, other than have a good time and play shows, I want to learn how to surf. I want to have a day that I can dedicate to trying to learn to surf.”
Have you tried before? You guys would be pretty much land locked where you are in the states.
“Yeah, there’s no water here. When we’re in California or whatever we don’t get a chance to do anything like that because we’re working. I skateboarded for like 15 years and I’ve been snowboarding for 9 years, so this is one of the last things I want to learn.”
What’s the schedule been like since the band got together a year and bit back?
“We’ve been pretty much non stop since the album was finished. With our own headlining shows it’s usually been like eight or nine shows in a row before a day off. You get really tired really quick. It’s been a lot of fun because we’re meeting a lot of new people.”
Had you done a lot of touring with Belknap pre Sparta?
“Nope, not at all. Back in my old band we did a Texas tour and a New Mexico tour and that was it,” he laughs. “Nothing like these long six week national tours or overseas tours. I had to play catch up real quick for that. You just go with it.”
“Tours aren’t really demanding in the sense that you might get hurt, it’s only really demanding because you’re never working on a full night’s sleep. You average maybe five or six hours, and it’s just extremely physically tiring after a while. But I couldn’t imagine doing anything else now. Working a nine to five job like I did before really sucks, you know.”
What was your daytime gig?
“I managed a tool store. I was doing that after I graduated college. It was a job, and it was alright, but I was pretty much working so I could play music.”
Are you a bit of a handyman as a result?
“Yeah, I can get by. I had to learn. When I was living at my old place I was always having to fix things up.”
Dave Grohl got arrested for drink riding a scooter backstage a Bid Day Out a couple of years back. What’ a member of Sparta most likely to get arrested for?
“Actually we’re pretty mellow. We don’t get up to too many hijinx. Maybe someone in our crew will get done for drunk and disorderly conduct. I don’t know…”