So the guys were pretty nice, but their manager was definitely pissed. He wore a guarded smile, making no attempt to hide the anger in his eyes.
“What are you doing up here. I said I’d meet you and bring you up.”
“I, umm, well I . ” I had no response. I’d been shooting the bull with three of the guys in the band for the last 20 minutes, not doing an interview, just hanging out.
“These guys have other interviews, you’re going with Tony. He’s been waiting for you”
“Yes sir. Sorry sir.”
With that, after a bit of laughter from the guys in the band of course, the room emptied. No more fun for us. The guys in Sparta were all off to work.
Sparta was born in 2001 from the ashes of indie rock’s legendary At the Drive-in. When At the Drive-in went on “indefinite hiatus” (broke up) co-founder Jim Ward (vocals/guitar) immediately grabbed up former band mates Paul Hinojos (guitar) and Tony Hajjar (drums) and started playing as Sparta. Bassist Matt Miller joined the group of El Paso natives a few moths later and the band was on its way. Signing almost immediately with Dreamworks Records, the band went to work releasing their first full-length album, Wiretap Scars, in August 2002.
OK, maybe I should have waited to go into the dressing room. But no one was watching the door and besides, I was supposed to have an interview right? This Tony guy, the drummer, couldn’t possibly hold it against me.
(Tony sits quickly with an expression of mock anger)
Tony Hajjar: You’ve got two minutes boy. I’m a rock star.
TH: (with a devious smile) I’m just saying my time is valuable.
(Is he mocking the manager, or is he serious?)
H: Oh I see. Well…
TH: You want one?
(In a gesture of goodwill Tony shoves a piece of his Kit-Kat at my face)
H: No, I’m all set dude. I don’t have time for candy and an interview. By the time I finish you’d be off on your way to do a Pepsi commercial or something. You know, getting a doll made in your likeness, something like that.
(We both laugh. Before the conversation can continue Sparta singer Jim Ward accosts us)
Jim Ward: You know he’s a liar right?
H: Have you been lying to me already?
TH: Quiet boy (with feigned anger), you’re two minutes are up.
H: Well OK. By the way, I just thought of my headline. “Sparta sucks and we hate them.”
TH: Don’t forget to call us assholes.
(I definitely like this guy)
H: Oh, I’ll remember. Anyway, should we start actually talking about your band?
TH: I guess if you want.
H: Do you like doing the bigger shows, more with bands like Jimmy Eat World?
TH: I like trying anything. I really don’t have a problem. We’ve played everything from arenas to kitchens to basements. We could play this hallway and that would be fine. Every experience makes you a better musician.
H: How’s (Dreamworks Records) treating you?
TH: They’re a very band-oriented label. When we were making the record I had to call them and be like ‘are you guys gonna come down to the studio at all?’ That’s how much freedom we were given.
H: So you don’t feel like you had to cater your sound to what a major label wanted?
TH: Nope, we literally handed them (‘Wiretap Scars’). And they asked what order the songs were in and that was it.
H: Really? That’s sounds pretty amazing. I don’t usually hear about a label being that hands-off.
TH: Well I mean, its true. Everyone there’s a business man and everybody wants to make money. It’s still the game, but it’s a better part of the game.
H: That’s good to hear. I’ve talked to a lot of bands that feel like their lives are scheduled now that they have a record deal. How much control do you have over how much you work?
TH: I think it doesn’t matter if you have 15 interviews, then a show, then 10 more interviews, and then you shower, fall asleep and do it again. It’s all about where you are mentally. If you’re happy doing a million things then you’re OK. Yeah, you’re life is scheduled, but it would be no matter what; if you go to school or work a nine to five job. Yes I get tired, yes I complain like every other human being, but I always remember how lucky I am to be here.
H: So are you tired now? Does touring wear on you?
TH: Yeah it does, but I’m OK. A lot of that is irresponsibility. No one asks you to stay up all night. If you feel like partying you do it. If you feel like going to bed, you go to bed.
H: Is Sparta getting categorized, lumped in with the emo trend?
TH: Of course. It’s journalists who are older and have no idea. They say we’re emo, Cave In is emo, Thursday’s emo. We all sound different. What the hell are you people talking about? What is emo? No one understands it.
H: Do you feel like your band has to live in the shadows of At the Drive-in? Do you have to deal with comparisons?
TH: Of course. It’s annoying. This band now is our life. People have to let things go. The funniest part to me is that I was in the band and I’m over it.
H: So it’s not even something you’re trying to evade. You don’t think about it?
TH: I’m proud of what we did. We made music we all enjoyed and we got to see the world. At the same time, we’re trying to get ourselves out of this, we’re trying to move on.
H: Since you’ve done this all before, is it still exciting to tour and record and all that?
TH: It’s completely new. I still can’t explain to anyone why it feels so different, even though it’s a lot of the same guys. We had great times with At the Drive-in. We had high moments and low moments. The lucky thing for us was we didn’t burn out on a low moment.
H: So it wasn’t like there were two guys addicted to heroin, broke, filing for bankruptcy …
TH: No rock and roll story. I was in a relationship with four other guys and it ended.
H: Do you really feel like a band is like a relationship?
TH: It’s worse than a relationship with one partner. It’s four partners with four personalities and four different lifestyles. Everything is always clashing and you have to find the medium ground. The music’s easy to do, it’s becoming a family that’s the hardest part.