The Lovely Sparrows Are Back and 'Reinvigorated' With Animated 'A Light' Video: Premiere
After a nearly seven-year hiatus during which he got a master's degree in music composition from Texas State University, Shawn Jones has his Lovely Sparrows flying again -- with a new album, Shake the Shadow, whose video for the track "A Light" is premiering exclusively below. But there were times during the interim that Jones wasn't sure that would be the case.
"I focused on some pretty avant classical music, kind of splitting between electro-acoustic and...Bartok-esque string quartets," Jones tells Billboard. "It kind of reinvigorated me, but I thought I was probably going to leave pop music behind and maybe immediately try and go the PhD route. I loved grad school and had a great time and did really well. But also during that time I realized I had another 18 to 20 songs, probably six of them almost completely worked out and arranged and ready to go...so I felt like I wanted to do something with (the band) again."
Jones further invigorated his latest Lovely Sparrows outing by, for the first time, bringing in another producer -- Chris Cox, also of the Austin and central Texas music scene -- to helm the sessions. "I handed him a CD with, like, 20 songs on it -- some just a verse, some kind of sketched out, all pretty shitty sounding," Jones recalls. "I was like, 'Man, pick nine or 10 tunes, and if you want to produce it we'll make the record.' And he came back with his full treatment for the album. It was great. He's one of only maybe two people I've ever trusted like that. It was freeing to just give over free rein and have someone else run things." Jones, of course, did have a bit of direction for Cox, however.
"I wanted it to be, and we both agreed, to be something that was a little more up, a little more interesting live -- I call it the 'Please don't go pee while I'm playing music' version of the band," Jones explains. "So when we were making it we said we were gonna lean into a little more of the Talking Heads/David Byrne/David Bowie influences as opposed to all these folk roots. There was definitely a lot more energy in the room."
While Cox was new in the Lovely Sparrows nest, Jones returned to a familiar source for the animated "A Light" clip -- artist/musician Derek Van Gieson of Fantagraphics, whom Jones met years ago and has been working with ever since on album art and videos. "We've had this kind of bartering friendship for over 10 years now -- he'll send me a track, 'Can you play sax on this?' and he'll do album art or something in return." The "A Light" video, meanwhile, is "loosely based on a previous video," continuing a fantastical world and a character "in the same weird, post-apocalyptic quest type of thing," according to Jones. The story will be continued on future videos for the album, with a clip for Shake the Shadow's title track due out next.
"I think Lovely Sparrows had become this way for me to have this continuous world-building, lots of in-jokes and things like that," Jones says. "I have a really hard time naming my biggest influences musically, but I can always say, 'Just see David Lynch.' He has this kind of continuous going back, building on ideas -- 'Oh, I said that 20 years ago, but here's how I feel about that now. Here's the same scene from another angle.' That influences me more than, say, that a band that's out on Captured Tracks right now."
With Shake the Shadow out Nov. 16, Jones hopes to take the Lovely Sparrows on the road, with dates to be announced. He also predicts that his collective will have more music sooner rather than later. "I think we're trying to break the tradition of the Sparrows' four-to-eight-year hiatuses in-between every record," he says. "There's enough material, and the new material is probably even more of a left turn, even a little more on the wacky arrangement side. I really am reinvigorated right now, and I've learned a lot that I want to bring into what I do with the group."