The novel coronavirus pandemic is slowing down a lot of bands. But brothers Russell and Ron Mael are fired up about a wealth of Sparks projects on the runway — starting with a new album, A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip, whose rite of spring track “Lawnmower” is premiering exclusively below.
That, along with two upcoming movies, underscores the fact the duo is still firing on all cylinders as it approaches next year’s 50th anniversary of the first Sparks album, Halfnelson.
“I like to think as little as possible about all the years involved in this career,” Russell Mael tells Billboard with a laugh. “But it’s really heartwarming that it’s been so long since Halfnelson and we’re still doing stuff now that we think is really special — not just an album but also the peripheral projects. That’s pretty special for us.”
A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip is Sparks’ 24th studio album and its follow-up to 2017’s Hippopotamus. The 14-song set directly follows last year’s Past Tense — The Best of Sparks compilation, which Mael says gave the duo some, well, past tense perspective to consider while making its newest work.
“We always say that we try not to look back when we’re starting on a new project,” he explains, “so I think things like Past Tense are nice. In a certain way you get some satisfaction seeing a lot of the work you’ve done for so long, for decades, being compiled and you can reflect and be proud of that — for 10 minutes. The other side is ‘Now let’s set it aside and think ahead and not dwell on how nice our past has been.’ That’s always a thing to us — maybe to a fault.”
A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip, due out digitally May 15 and physically July 3, does follow Sparks’ characteristic diversity, with plenty of theatrically styled camp in tracks such as “Lawnmower,” “Onomata Pia” and “Sainthood is Not in Your Future” alongside the more straightforward rock of “I’m Toast,” the dance-pop of “One For the Ages,” the sophisticated arrangement of “Pacific Standard Time” and the melodically sweet (yes) “Please Don’t Fuck Up My World.” “We are idiosyncratic in a certain way,” Mael acknowledges, “but we also have the freedom to do things like…We can be a rock band if want to be. We can be an electronic group if we want to be. We can be more orchestral if we want to.
“We don’t ever consider there’s any sort of limitations to how we present what we’re doing. That keeps things fluid and interesting, where it can be unexpected — but it would also be normal for Sparks to do something unexpected.”
The Maels are certainly surprising the world with Annette, which Mael calls a “naturalistic” film musical starring two-time Oscar nominee Adam Driver and Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard as a stand-up comedian and an opera singer, respectively. Directed by Leos Carax, written by the Maels and currently in post-production, Mael says the project has been one of the brothers’ most rewarding.
“These actors, especially A-list actors like Adam, there’s a million projects that come their way, so to have him be focused on this was really flattering, and to see what he did with it is pretty amazing,” Mael says. “Adam was really in sync with us on how to approach it, and what he’s done is so special. I’d been doing the vocals for it for eight years while the film was being developed, and to hear my voice being done by Adam Driver is such a thrill, and he’s done an amazing job, as well as Marianne.”
Also on tap for Sparks is a documentary by Edgar Wright, which Mael says is down to a three-hour cut that Wright is “now trying to prune back.” “We’re of two minds about it,” Mael says. “We’re ecstatic he wanted to do a film about Sparks and commit two years of his life to doing that. But, like the Past Tense album, it’s looking back. But part of the theme of it is Sparks is doing as relevant work now as they’ve ever done, and it doesn’t sound like a band that’s done 24 albums. He goes into great extent about how that came to be and why that is.
“And because he really pushes that to the forefront as the theme of his documentary it really feels like he’s telling our story the right way.”