Hear: "Giving Birth to Imagined Saviors" from The Fear is Excruciating, But Therin Lies the Answer
The members of Red Sparowes come from various musical backgrounds, including New Wavey hardcore punk (with The VSS) and monolithic drone (ISIS). But a shared project - creating ebbing and flowing soundscapes of varying intensity and emotion in a post-metal context - has served to unite them.
"It's what's kept us together," says guitarist/bassist Andy Arahood. "It's something we all wanted to do. I don't know if it's conscious all the way, but it's definitely what comes out. And what's come out has maintained pretty steadily."
The L.A.-based Red Sparowes formed as a side project for its members in 2003. At that time, the band was made up of ISIS' Bryant Clifford Meyer and Jeff Caxide, Battle of Mice's Josh Graham (who also handled visuals for Neurosis), and Made Out of Babies' guitarist Brendan Tobin and drummer Dana Berkowitz. Arahood and drummer Dave Clifford (formerly of The VSS) replaced Caxide and Berkowitz when they moved in 2004. Guitarist Emma Ruth Rundle of The Nocturnes has since replaced Graham.
One aspect of Red Sparowes that's remained constant is a lack of vocals.
"At various times we've tried vocals, though it's never been the focus," says Arahood. "It's always been about cinematic mood music. It's not vocal-driven for sure. Especially with three guitars, there's not a ton of room left."
The band also is known for its varied instrumentation, particularly bassist Greg Burns' use of pedal steel, as well as synths and Rhodes piano. On the band's third full-length, The Fear is Excruciating, But Therein Lies the Answer, they took a song-oriented approach.
"We've been sort of honing this thing we do, which is get a mood and push it as much as we can," says Arahood. "I feel like before we were focused on being heavy, and there's not much room around heavy. These are more focused in the center, and there's a lot of room to get heavier and softer. There's a lot more range."
Clifford, the drummer, conceptualized The Fear is Excruciating ..., which, on a larger scale, is about wrong ideas.
"Throughout human history, there's always been this tug-of-war between wrong ideas and progress being made — the trial and error of science," he says. "Today there's a predominance of people who believe something when they first read it on, say, Facebook or Twitter. Misinformation can spread so quickly because people don't seem to have a means of critical thinking that often."
The record was inspired by the book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn. It's about how scientific progress is made. Something becomes an accepted paradigm for a certain amount of time until, with challenges, people find new truths to replace that paradigm.
As specific as that motif may be, Clifford still tried to keep it as separate from the music as possible.
"We like the albums to be open-ended," he says. "That way people can listen to it and not have any idea of the concept but appreciate it for its merits. We want people to get whatever they want out of it. We all realize how pretentious a concept record can be."
That can lead to a multiplicity of reactions to the Red Sparowes' concerts.
"A lot of people say after a show their mind went blank and they sort of spaced out, which is cool," says Arahood. "If the music can give you a feeling like that, that's nice."