Hajjar and Jim Ward (Sparta)
Through the success of previous musical incarnations, going through the
industry wringer via label switcheroos and corporate mergers, and a spectrum
of personal ups and downs, the members of Sparta have survived lifetimes
of experience. Not to mention the exchange of one guitarist (founding
member Paul Hinojos) for another (former Engine Down player Keeley Davis).
It is at this point that they seem to have come to a climax, a point of
balance where their abilities and artistry have become able to effectively
channel what they've been through in life. For with their new album Threes
(released in October on Hollywood Records), Sparta marks its metamorphosis
from a band into musicians—artists serving not an image, an end
product, or audience expectations, but bowing to the craft of words and
music and the genius to put it all together. Two members of the acclaimed
rock band took time out from their first tour in two years to look back
at the personal and professional experiences that brought them to the
Sparta of today.
The launch of Threes out into the world held extra
significance for Sparta's drummer Tony Hajjar. A short film
entitled Eme Nakia is included in special editions
of the album and was played in theaters around the country.
Eme Nakia is based on Hajjar's life; specifically,
the death of his mother after the family escaped Lebanon's
civil war in the early 80's and relocated to El Paso, Texas.
The decision behind allowing the most private details of one's
life to go out into the world is something many artists practice
every day, but it's still a move to be lauded for the courage
and creativity behind such catharsis.
Sparta has never been a group to hold back, either personally or politically,
and an offering like Eme Nakia is ultimate proof of
that honesty. Hajjar talked about what this all meant to him,
for although he's been in a spotlight for most of his adult
life (first with At the Drive-In and now with Sparta), with
Eme Nakia he's stripped down for all the world to see.
a very courageous thing to put one's story out there, however
it may be edited by certain fictional elements, as you've
done with the short film. So why was this the right time for
you to tell this story?
I didn't know originally that it was the right time because
I never thought there was ever gonna be a time to—except
for maybe therapy or something, I don't know. (Laughs) You
know, everything happens for a reason, I think, and at first
the idea was just to do a film about anything. And then, through
Jim—he's the one that brought up me doing it about my
life. He said, "There's no other subject that we should do
a movie on." That's what he originally told me. At first,
I was like, "Wow, that's pretty odd," because I'm not the
kind of person to really speak out about my life. I feel that
everybody else has a way harder life than I could ever have.
But then it just worked out; it was just the perfect time
for me to let it all go. It was the hardest thing that I've
ever done—mentally, physically, work-wise, in any kind
of situation. So it's the most difficult thing I've ever done
and for it to be complete and people to actually have seen
it now, it's just an amazing feeling for me.
Were you freaking out when the record came out, thinking,
"Shit, millions of people are going to have this in their
I was more nervous about the movie premiere than I was about
it being released on CD. That was home— [the premiere]
was a benefit there. So that was the difficult part. I think
now that it's out to the general public it just feels really
easy now. (Laughs)
What do you feel about Jim saying, "There's no other story
that should be told," and using the most personal and painful
moments of your life to demonstrate a much more universal
I mean, obviously we didn't plan this, but for all the stuff
that's happened...probably a month after I completely finished
the film, war broke out again in Lebanon and the country was
used as a pawn once more—it was horrible timing. But
in the end I just wanted people to know that people do
die in war—you don't just hear about them on CNN and
then you close your eyes and it's over. I just wanted people
to actually see that people do have to flee, people that you
know at your local coffee shop or whatever have had a life
of fleeing from war, from leaving the Middle East, from leaving
Korea, from leaving the Sudan, and escaping and accomplishing
something. And I wanted people to realize how lucky we are,
all of us, by living here, you know? Hopefully the movie shows
a little bit of that, too.
Speaking of being lucky to live here and the need for a
safe haven for refugees of war or refugees of any other sort
of horrific conditions around the world, there's an awful
lot of anti-immigrant sentiment going on, especially now that
we're gearing up for elections. How does it feel to be an
immigrant and have to hear all of that? What would you say
to people whose reaction is, "We need to get these people
out of here—there's only so many resources we have for
I mostly call that the Republican attitude. It's upper-class
people that have never cared, have never worried, have never
questioned where their next meal is coming from, have never
questioned if their gonna have a home to live in, have never
questioned anything that is remotely difficult in life. And
those are the people I think that complain the loudest because
they've never had a worry to deal with. Being a refugee, being
a person that came from a country in the midst of war, all
I gotta say is that I am lucky—I got in. We did it legally
and we got in with real papers, green cards, and eventually
got our citizenships. We did it the right way. But other people
can't and they need to come out and do it. The thing is that
people say that they shouldn't be here and blah-blah-blah,
but to me I don't put it much shorter than racism. It's sounds
pretty harsh but that's how it comes off to me because people
have horrible, horrible lives in other countries sometimes
and they're just trying to do better for their family and
everybody wants to do better for their family! I just hope
that people will wake up to the fact that people need to live
a good life the way the rest of us do.
Right—it's human rights rather than anything having
to do with money.
Yeah—it's just about brotherhood! It's like seeing a
person on the street and knowing for sure that they need help
and actually helping them instead of just turning a blind
eye to it. That's the sad part for me that people have just
forgotten about helping the common man and having the common
good, you know?
you're out among other musicians especially those that get
grouped with you guys —you know, punk or whatever genre
you wanna call it—and then the kind of fans that are
attracted by said bands, do you feel like you're in the minority
when you're thinking and talking about stuff like this? Do
you feel embarrassed because it's not "cool" per se? There's
this perception that a band with such categorization should
have and their fans should have and it doesn't always go hand-in-hand
with political or social enlightenment.
That's a good point. I think we have the attitude we have
about politics and about people because those are the kind
of people we are, not the kind of band we are. I've lately
been saying that we are not a political band; we are political
individuals and if you look at all four of us, some of us
speak a lot louder than the rest of us about it. But we never
say, "This is what Sparta believes." It's what we believe
as humans because beyond being a band we have actual strong
feelings about things.
One thing that was really sad to me is about two years ago
everybody wanted to be a political band and everybody was
writing political songs and everybody wanted to jump on this
bandwagon. And now, if we sit there and say that our song
"Taking Back Control" has a political edge, it's not cool
anymore. And you know what? We're not here to be cool, we're
here to prove a point. We're here to show that things do still
need to change because we still have the horrible leaders
in power. Because wearing a "Vote" shirt every day and being
cool and listening to Puff Daddy, that didn't work. And after
all that, no one voted. It was just cool—"Let's go to
the vote party and hang out!" That's all it turned out to
be and the thing is now people are asking us, "Are you guys
a political band?" but right now it's not cool to be political;
right now it's whatever. But in two years, it's going to be
very cool to be political again. And there's a lot of elections
that are gonna happen in Congress that that are just as important
as our presidential race. But in about two years a lot of
bands will start prepping their political songs, but the time
is all the time, you know? If you have true beliefs
about how the country should be run, the time is all the time,
it's not just every four years.
So for you guys there is a separation of Church and State,
if you will—you made a conscious decision not to take
anything on the road with you in terms of educating people
about voting or stuff like that? You just put it into the
movie and put it into the album?
We put it into the movie, we put a piece into the album, we
put it into our live shows, we put it onto our MySpace site,
we try to get people to sign up to Rock the Vote. We do as
much as we can at our level and we'll continue figuring out
things that we could do without going too far or without doing
too little, you know? Just find the right amount that our
band could do without killing ourselves while we're doing
Exactly. That's one thing that people could forget, that
while this is an art for you it is also your job.
Yeah, it's what we do!
What would you do if you couldn't be in this band? How
would you make a living?
Well, I have an organic chemistry degree that I got from UTEP
and it got me through a lot of jobs after I did finish it.
I was teaching high school teachers advanced chemistry so
they could teach their high school students labs. I actually
substitute taught in the middle of tours—I substitute
taught Algebra II and Calculus during tours and I used to
get sent to the office because they thought I was a student.
So I guess you've never been ragged on by your family,
having them say, "Do something responsible!" because you did
it in addition to the music.
Yeah, I did it and I have more of an education than most of
them that were complaining. (Laughs)
Tony Hajjar on the
set of Eme Nakia. Photo by Marlene
go back to the film. How did you work with Joe [Renteria]
to write the script? As a filmmaker myself, I know that the
process can be pretty exhausting, especially when you're trying
to interpret somebody else's story. Why did you decide to
work with Joe and how did that come about?
It came about through my cousin Dean. Dean was the original
person that I brought the idea up to because he's an actor
and a writer. He's a very modest guy, a great actor and writer,
but he told me that we needed to bring it up a notch and the
first person that he brought up was Joe Renteria. He lives
in L.A. so we met with him and had a great meeting—we
just completely hit it off and I'll go on next to say that
without Joe being part of this film, nothing would have happened.
With every situation—"Let's get 12 school chairs for
this scene, let's get a pecan orchard..." everything came
through Joe. It just wouldn't have been possible with the
budget we had. And then for the writing aspect of it, we were
off at that point with Sparta, so we would wake up in the
morning —both Joe and I wake up really early—and
if we didn't meet for coffee, we would just talk on the phone
for two hours and share stories. We'd share my stories and
we'd share his stories—he had a crazy childhood himself—and
we just, I think, shared some therapy and that's how it all
worked out. Script after script after script after script,
we worked it and we worked it—we're both very, very
meticulous, we're big perfectionists, and then we were finally
happy with the script. It kept on changing, as you know, during
filming. The amount of scripts that I brought to the band,
after a while they were like, "You know what, dude? We trust
you —stop bringing scripts to us because at this moment
we're confused." So they put a lot of trust in Joe and I and
that's amazing. Again, without Joe producing and writing this
thing, it just wouldn't have been even close to how it came
out. I'm so proud of it and I love him—he's a great
Was the idea to depict certain scenes using animation always
there from the beginning or was that a budgetary decision
that you came to through production?
I wanted animation the whole time, but Joe brought it to life.
The ideas of how the animation
would work and what the actual animation scenes would be is
all Joe. I used to ask him, "Wow, where'd you get this idea?
Did you dream of this?" (Laughs) It was stuff that I never
would think of, me personally, because it's not something
I do. We worked with him and Zach Passero in El Paso—everybody
recommended him and after talking to him and seeing his reel,
he just blew us away. He's a great person and a great animator
and he worked with us amazingly well. He understood exactly
what we wanted from it and he made it all come to life beautifully.
That's so great. Thank you for the beautiful film and for
putting yourself out there.
Thank you very much—I'm glad you said that.
And I'm so glad that you had the strength to let it premiere
in El Paso, to let home be the first to see it.
That was the hardest thing I've ever done. When that night
was done, I was just like, "Ok, I wanna go on tour and just
be a drummer now!" (Laughs)
As the singer-songwriter
for Sparta, Jim Ward has been experimenting with self-expression over
the band's two previous records, coming to terms with that craft of melding
poetic and musical composition. With Threes, Ward has dug deeper
and laid out his own thoughts and feelings more so than ever before—which
is fitting given the album's coupling with Hajjar's über-personal
display of Eme Nakia.
There was a lot for Ward (as well as Hajjar and Sparta's bassist, Matt
Miller) to juggle, starting with their current record label's not-so-effective
handling of second album Porcelain in 2004. An exhausting tour
followed, fraying nerves and resulting in the departure of guitarist Paul
Hinojos, who had been with Ward and Hajjar since their days as At the
Drive-In. In frustration, Ward cut the tour short and the future of the
band was put on hold while everyone went back home to figure things out.
Ward—who grew up in El Paso, Texas, and resides there with his wife
to this day— retreated to the place he'd always known (and frequently
referred to in his music) to zero in on what the hell this crazy life
was all about and, most critically, whether music was even meant to be
part of it for him any longer. During almost two years of writing and
thinking and finding an outlet in other projects—such as his gorgeous
collaboration with El Paso-based poet Bobby Byrd—Ward decided to
give music another chance. In sorting out his own direction and purpose—both
in life and music—Ward ended up with a most powerful combination
of words and music to live by. And so in discussing Threes, it's
not so much about something he's made for anybody else, but what he did
to figure out who he was himself.
You guys have been through an awful lot over the past two years so
let's dive into the way that the album is reflective of that. Tell me
first of all what the record's title and cover art mean.
The title is in reference to life. I think that life happens in threes—at
least my life seems to have significance in blocks of threes for some
reason. And more than any record I've ever made I felt that this record
was a big life change. You know, I grew up doing this, basically, and
this was my big transition between leaving the youth behind and finding
a little bit more to it, I think. So the whole record is about living.
I very early started calling it Threes and just kind of tried to
convince people as we went that that's what it should be called.
And what about the imagery?
The artwork is a guy named David Calderly; he's a designer from New York
and he sort of has a darkness to him that we liked because I think this
album is kind of darker than most of the stuff we've done. We wanted something
that you would see maybe in a gallery, not necessarily a rock band cover,
and we didn't want our name giant on it or anything like that—we
just wanted it to be what it was. I like the idea that everybody I talk
to has a different take on what they think the cover means, which I prefer,
because I don't really want to shove it down people's throats. I like
the idea of it being art instead of dictating a message necessarily. So
some people think it represents all the things that have happened to us
and even though they're around us, they never took us down. But yeah,
I don't really know exactly how I feel. I just think it's pretty. (Laughs)
It is pretty but it's also very sinister, like you said. And there
is a darkness to the album but it's more of a subtlety that I prefer to
what you just said, dictating a sound, like, "This is angry and you should
be angered by this song!" or, "This is fun and you should have fun with
it!" or whatever. There are times when I'll listen to a track off Threes
like "Translations" and it'll make me really happy because it's so well
put together, but then there are times when it'll make me think about
all these things that you're talking about, life and its meaning,and it's
a really sad song. So it's a great piece of art in that way.
Prepartion for the album took place in El Paso. Where was the warehouse
you guys were working in?
It was, um...what street is it? It's one street north of Texas. It was
basically sort of Cotton and Alameda, right behind the train tracks where
the El Paso Import Company is.
And what was the process of deciding to be there—besides the
fact that it's cheap and home for you—then convincing the rest of
the band to go?
Early on I wanted to make a sort of epic record and I thought the best
way to do that was to find an epic place to start to build it. I drew
inspiration from that movie Rattle and Hum that U2. There's a scene
where you go in [to a warehouse] and the Edge is playing that song and
you just see the equipment in that big, open space. I felt like if we
started that way, then we could end that way, but if we didn't start that
way, it would be difficult to make something out of nothing.
You talk in other interviews about having to take a break from things,
having to figure some of your own shit out. But when you were ready to
get back into it, were the other guys ready? Was there ever any point
of danger between the three of you guys and did you ever ask, "Are we
gonna go on?"
Yeah. It was touch-and-go. I mean, I don't mean to be overdramatic about
it, but I was pretty fragile when it came to like the business side of
what we do. I was so burned out that I didn't... I so badly wanted just
to be in love with music again and that's what I was having trouble with.
So we started
doing things in just really small steps and that was the only way that
it was going to go on. We would sort of take a step—like I flew
to Los Angeles and I stayed at Tony's house and me and Tony and Matt wrote
for a week to see if we could or wanted to still do it. And every time
we would do something I'd come back home and re-think everything and say,
"Is this really what I wanna do? Because I don't wanna lead people on;
I don't wanna have to leave a tour again." So it was just very small increments
—that's why it took so long. I mean, it took long on our scale.
Do you feel like you had enough time off? You came out with something
really amazing, but did it come after enough time to change the way you
do things in the future
Yeah, it did. We tour more than I'm sure I really would like to, but that's
also just part of the life. I mean, you get to make records, you have
to go on tour. And I love being on tour; you just end up being gone for
so long sometimes. But I'm totally not complaining. So I just try and
be conscious of my life as well as the band. It's really easy to lose
yourself in it.
Well, it is because it's not like a normal day job— you can't
go home at the end of the day and be done with it.
Yeah, exactly! It's pretty much you're on all the time, and even when
you're home, there's 400 emails a day about the next six months of your
life. It can be a job, but it's ok. It's the best job I could think of!
During your time off, did you fall into that mode of thinking, like,
"I'm just going to go work at the 7-11 or the mall and be done with it
and have a normal life!"
I don't know if I ever got around to thinking more than just trying to
get out of this kind of shadow I was in. There were definitely long conversations
in my family about, "Is this lifestyle detrimental or is this still something
that you want to do?" You know what I mean? Is this a bonus in life or
is this starting to become... Like I missed the birth of my niece; I come
home from tour and she doesn't really know who I am anymore. You just
start thinking about the future. So yeah, there were a lot of discussions
of like, "I don't know, I guess I could go to school or something, but,
really, this is what I do." And I think I would be crazy if I didn't do
Well, yes, it probably would make you crazy if you needed to get it
But I guess that's the hard part to figure out. We reach that point
when we turn 30 and everyone else around us doing normal things; they
have mortgages and kids and marriages.
Yep, that's exactly what happened.
And it's like, "What the hell am I doing?"
Yeah—it was seeing 30 coming at me with the biggest push of like,
"Fuck, I don't know if I wanna be 32 and be supporting a record." It was
like, "If I don't make a good enough record, then I won't do this anymore."
So that was my whole thing and I questioned it all the way until the end:
"I don't know if this is good enough, I don't know if this is worth living
this way." And when [the album] was done, it was! (Laughs)
And what mattered was that it had to be good on your standards,
not the press, not fans, not anyone else but you.
So this was crisis beyond losing the muse, not necessarily an artistic
crisis—this was like a life decision.
Oh, yeah, totally! More than anything. When I was on tour and I left,
it was because I wasn't sure that's what I wanted to be. I didn't feel
like it was real to me at that point. I just felt tired. I felt like we
were on this racetrack and I didn't wanna be there anymore. But now it's
just perspective, really.
It seems like there were things that were contributing to that feeling
and one of the points I've heard you talk about is the way that Porcelain
was handled by Geffen. I'm wondering why you decided to trust another
pretty major label—for all intents and purposes in that it's part
of Disney—and not go out on a limb and do it yourself?
I think because you have to have faith. If you don't have faith then there's
no point. I mean, I wouldn't know what to do without faith. I've been
on a lot of labels and I've had some really great success and I've had
some pretty miserable times. I can't say because Geffen lost us in the
shuffle and didn't really seem to care that every label would do that.
I guess you have to keep from being cynical and that is what your faith
How have things
changed now that Keeley is a part of the band? How has it changed the
songwriting and how has it changed your focus about subject matter for
songs, especially in regard to El Paso since he's not from there?
I think we just lucked out more than we could ever have imagined. I mean,
right from the get-go he came in when it was a pretty dark period for
us, especially the three of us. It's amazing that somebody can just come
in and be around so much darkness and it not phase him at all, really.
Or at least he didn't show any sign of it. He sort of became the bright
spot, you know?
We hadn't really written together so it was more just like hanging out
for a few days, though we knew each other from touring before that. Then
when we started writing, he moved into my house for three months and with
that you just get to know somebody slowly. We would eat dinner every night
together, we would watch movies, he would go with me to see my nephew's
football games at Morehead. (Laughs) And it was just like, "Here's a crash
course into my world and it's either going to work or it's not." I think
that's the only way it could be. And it's funny because when we played
at the Viper Room—we had this little warm-up show— the only
weird thing about it was how normal it felt and I think it's because we'd
been playing together for a year pretty much. We're roommates on tour
so he's actually sitting three feet away from me as I talk about him.
So that's why you're only saying good things about him.
Yeah, when he leaves I'll talk shit. (Laughs) No, it's nice and our band's
in really good shape right now.
about Dave Bassett as a producer and how you found him. You know, I was
looking at his credits and going, "Hmm, that's different." So why him
and how did he guide you?
We finished writing the record in L.A.—we were there for about a
month in February  while I was finishing the lyrics and vocals and
stuff—and about twice or three times a week we'd go and meet with
producers, sometimes four times a week. I think we met everybody who's
ever made a record, it felt like. We definitely had some guys that we
liked and we thought, "Yeah, we'll make the record with him and I can
imagine it being this sort of record."
Then our A&R guy, Jeffrey Weiss, said, "Would you just come and meet one
more?" It was like a Friday and we had to decide that day, right? But
he said, "Will you just come by and meet with this guy who made a record
for us? He's pretty unknown but I strongly believe in him." Jeffrey Weiss
owns, I don't know, like a billion records and knows everything about
every record every made, pretty much. I really respect his opinion and
he's very opinionated, so if he said that we should meet him then we certainly
would try and meet him. So we did and hung out for a while; he was a nice
guy and we listened to some of the stuff [Dave] had done.
[Dave] did a record for this singer-songwriter that he kind of developed
and it had this anti-chorus... You know, my whole life I've written big,
giant choruses with big guitars, super-loud and screaming. And this song
was pretty rockin', then it got to this chorus and just dropped out like
a cavity and I was floored because it was amazing! I think right then
I was pretty much sold.
He left and we started saying, "I don't know, I think maybe we should
meet somebody else," and I just said, "You know what? Fuck it—I
want him. I want him to do the record." It's like this new way we have
of doing things—do it and if people fight for it, then great; if
not, then let's just move on. So it was this faith thing. He's a songwriter
as well and that's what I really wanted to improve on this record, my
lyric writing, and I needed somebody that would push me, that knew when
I was doing less than I could. He did that for sure—during preproduction
he would come to my hotel room in the morning and we'd just sit and write
for two hours. I would read him what I was doing or sometimes I'd be forced
to sit and play and sing—which I've never done before, it's really
awkward. But now Keeley and I walk into a radio station and sit down and
play songs on acoustics and walk out like nothing. And without Dave doing
what he did, I wouldn't be here—he really, really gave me
the confidence to go quieter and to be simple. Like "Translations"—that's
like the most naked I've ever been, musically or sonically.
Back in 2004, you told me that you'd been working with a vocal coach.
Did you work with him throughout Threes in order to be quieter
like you've described or had you figured out that register by this point?
No, that was one of the things that happened when I left the tour and
went home—I started recording songs myself at my house. I found
that I function a certain way and...not that I couldn't benefit from going
to vocal coaches, but I think the best thing was I just wrote for like
ten months at my house, stuff that no one will ever hear. I would just
be home and record songs and force myself to work while my wife was at
work, just ‘cause I wanted to write. It wasn't for anybody or for anything;
it was just to get better at it.
The reason why I bring up the vocals is that a huge amount of the reaction
to Threes are comments about your vocals having a different quality,
not just being quieter.
Honestly, it was just me working on being better. I'm glad—my favorite
compliments are those things because I'm proudest of the steps that I
took to get there.
Let's talk a little bit about the project that you did with Bobbie
Byrd during this off-time of yours. What did that project do for you?
It was...like freedom. One of the things I was so frustrated with at the
end of the Porcelain tour was so many people around, so many decisions,
so much compromise, and not really getting love from the label but feeling
like I'm bending over backwards for this record, you know? It was so frustrating!
Going home and finding the tapes [for Bobby's project] at my parent's
house, I was like, "God, I always say I'm gonna finish this but now I'm
just gonna go home and start." And the minute I started, it was like...
I mean, it took me a long time and I actually finished in the middle of
writing the Sparta record—I finished in November of last year—but
it was like having a hobby. (Laughs) I don't have a hobby—I don't
really do anything. My life is consumed by this and I sometimes forget
that playing music is actually really, really fun. So at that period,
it was like, "Hey, you know what? I can play drums on this song because
no one's going to tell me I can't! If it sucks, I don't care! I'm going
to make it the way I wanna make it." Bobby had recorded the stuff in 2001,
so he'd pretty much given up hope on me doing anything with it. (Laughs)
But then I started bringing him songs and he really tripped out. He's
really funny; he's one of my heroes and that I get to have this new sort
of relationship with him is pretty awesome.
It sounds incredible. That's something that artists dream about—when
you have a big influence or mentor like that, it's empowering to be able
to deliver with your art something on par with theirs.
Yeah, it's been just a blast. And when we did it, we didn't assume anyone
would buy it or like it or do anything, but the reaction's been crazy
Since Bobby's poetry speaks so much about El Paso, what's the reaction
been like from people who are not from the area?
It's hard to say; I put a few songs on MySpace and I've gotten a few comments
since then. It's been weird because people are like, "I like your band
but I'm a poetry major and this is mind-blowing!" You connect with people
on the level that they're available for, so when you do something new
that branches out, maybe more into that territory for that one person,
then it's cool.
Yeah, it totally made me cry thinking of El Paso. I listened to it
thinking, "I need to move back home and write poetry!"
Yeah, you do! (Laughs) I'm kidding—it's my firm belief to not tell
people to move.
Actually, my 30's crisis right now is about how I've been in L.A. for
ten years, writing and making movies, and now I'm wondering, "Is it worth
it? Is it the right thing?" It's exactly what you were going through.
Yeah, you've gotta stop and re-evaluate and when you do that, the outcomes
are incredible. It's worth all the shit; it's worth all the pain that
you go through to get from A to B because when you get there it's amazing.
I guess this is why I perpetuate the journalism and talk to people
like you so I can get this kind of advice.
(Laughs) It is! But I'm sure it's a common belief that it's easier to
stay where you're at and worry and fret about what might happen than it
is to really go out and try and drop it. I mean, I put friendships on
the line when I left [the tour] and not everybody came back from that
break. But I think in long run it's totally worth it.
Segueing into the short film, tell me how you pitched the idea for
it to Hollywood Records. It's a pretty unusual request, I would say.
(Laughs) Yeah, it was really kind of an awkward conversation. We sat down
and said, "We have this idea and we're not exactly sure what we wanna
do but we wanna make some sort of film that's gonna go along with the
record," and they said, "Ok." Tony put a ton of work into it before we
ever really sat down [with Hollywood] and I remember sitting in the marketing
director's office with Tony and his cousin and the original director who
ended up not working out, just sitting there watching these guys try and
pitch this idea of a movie to record marketing people. And I think the
thing that got them excited was that these days you have to be really
creative with the way you get your record out, so strictly from the business
standpoint they said, "Ok, this is probably worth the money," because
it's a different story than just the regular, "We made a record and a
documentary about making the record." So I think they were willing to
give us a chance. Honestly, the great thing about Hollywood is that they
let us do that. Basically, the deal we have with Hollywood right now is
if we ask for something and tell them that's what we wanna do, we've been
doing this long enough that they know that we know what we're doing and
they give us the room for it. And I think until we fuck up they're gonna
back us. So far, we're batting 1000 and I wanna keep it that way. And
we're from El Paso—we don't take advantage of shit! We weren't raised
to say, "Oh, we need $50,000 to make a movie," and then each of us kept
$10,000, you know? It's not what we do—we spend our own money.
Thematically, was there any subversiveness to the film about your political
No. I was doing vocals when they were filming and stuff so I saw the final
cut first; I didn't wanna see anything until it was done because I had
to write music for it and I didn't want to be tainted by anything. I just
wanted to see it and write to that. And the thing that I got out of it
was hope —that's it. Just this incredible story of what you can
do with your life if you believe, if you have faith. And I think that's
the common goal, the thread between the record and the movie and me and
Tony and everybody in the band—this sort of hope and redemption
And Tony's really sensitive about people thinking it's a "Poor Tony" story.
I'm like, "Dude, I don't think anyone sees it that way—it's inspiring!"
Exactly. It's so daring in being one person's specific story that it
manages to have universal resonance to it.
Yeah, that's so bizarre, too, because when I saw it, there was a lot of
stuff that Tony's never talked to me about before that was in the film.
It's like he went from never saying anything about it to making a movie
about it! But it was really good for him; it was huge therapy, I'm sure
he mentioned that.
Do you feel the same way when you put a record out that you've contributed
all the lyrics to, words so wholly based on you?
Oh, yeah. It's weird—I read this interview with somebody who said,
"Doing interviews is basically the same as going to therapy without paying."
But making records is the same thing for me. Everything I write about,
even if it's fiction, is from my head. I like to call it re-broadcasting.
I sort of take in the world, then I filter it and rebroadcast it. Then
people take that and filter it and then rebroadcast it back and I'm totally
fascinated by it.
you ever think about the opinion that artists shouldn't be talking
about some of the stuff that you guys talk about a lot, basically
politics? The fact your political or social concerns don't have
validity due to the perception that somebody has of you as an
artist versus you telling them something that anybody should
be aware of and the dilemma of getting beyond that perception,
saying, "I'm not just an artist spewing hot air—I'm a person
just like you and you need to listen to what I have to say."
Yeah! The thing is I have a megaphone and I don't wanna be
anyone I'm not; I am who I am—and that's part of getting
to this age, too, when you start feeling a little more comfortable
with that and saying, "I don't have to please everybody"—
I'm outspoken, I'm super-passionate, I'm emotional, it's the
way I was built. And part of that is politics and social issues
and I don't think it's a responsibility; I don't do it because
I feel obligated to do it, I do it because I would
do it. I'm saying the same things I'd be saying if I was just
a waiter or at a bar after work talking to my friends, only
I do it on a platform.
And people never criticize you for speaking about politics
or issues unless they disagree. So it's not like someone's
like, "I totally agree with you, but you really should just
stick to being in a band." It's always like, "You're an idiot
because you think blah-blah-blah." I'm like, "Well, you totally
have that opinion. I don't really care. Get a bigger megaphone."
I mean, I don't read online four hours a day what's going
on in the world. A lot of it's just my gut, like golden rule
stuff to me. I can't sit down and discuss the Cabinet of the
United States right now, but I can tell you that I'm meeting
kids coming back from Iraq and their minds are blown. They're
going to our shows and they're these little kids—18-
or 19-year-old guys... I don't care who the defense secretary
is. I don't
want our country to represent ourselves in the world this
Read more about
collaboration with Bobby Byrd.
can be found online at www.spartamusic.com.