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Irwin Sparkes - The Hoosiers
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Irwin Sparkes - The Hoosiers

Artist, Musician & Producer
Irwin Sparkes
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The Hoosiers

Self-confessed gear-o-phobe, musical luminary, and all round fantastic bloke Irwin Sparkes is both the front man and driving force behind The Hoosiers, and a prolific and eclectic songwriter and producer. From Reading to the Million Pound Shed, Irwin leads us through just a small taster of the feast which is his musical life.

Liam Bailey, Freestylers, Alexander Wolfe, Dakota, The Sea & I, Harry Oakwood & The Millionaires
Irwin's Aston gear
Halo
Spirit
Starlight
Blagger, of Reading

In short, I was born in Reading and grew up in Reading. I plan on dying somewhere else! I am currently based in London… I must have been about fifteen when I first got into music, which seems like a ridiculous age to be wondering, pondering or “pondermentering”, about the future, but you must remember this is before the golden age of Youtube and Xbox 1’s meant you didn’t have to think about anything. So there I was, wondering. School’s career advisors were throwing me unhelpful red-herrings like “become Prime Minister”, or “Chief Egg Inspector” but I knew those high-powered roles weren’t for me. In truth I was having more fun playing every weekend with my band - the god-awfully named “Myst” - than anything else I was doing. If there was a way I could make the band work whilst avoiding real work I was gonna take it and I wasn’t gonna let a sizeable lack of talent stand in my way. Not on my watch. Not on your nelly. Every step of the way I was fortunate enough to have a partner in rhymes: Al Sharland. The first drummer I ever met and also the most recent (I saw him just last Thursday).

After blagging our way onto a soccer scholarship at a university in Indiana, we moved to London to form pop band, The Hoosiers, and bagged a number one album with our debut 'The Hoosiers & The Trick to Life' and a top ten follow up with ‘The Illusion of Safety’. After several years hiatus The Hoosiers are back making a noise in the studio and on the touring circuit with a barrage of new and constantly evolving rock-pop tracks, which The Sunday Times recently cited as “pop perfection”, and who am I to disagree?

No i-gear (...sorry!)

Out of necessity I’ve had to get the rudiments of Logic under my belt, though there’s a severe case of flabby-overhang, and the Apollo Duo. I like to operate under the “not a lot of gear, no idea” tag, plug in and go, using it on the job and finding out what it does from copious mistakes, more often than not, unless a kind pal can point me in the right direction. These friends are not to be underestimated.

I use 2 x warm audio preamps and also run a line (is that the right phrase? Maybe I mean “track” (to be pondermented upon at a later date…) through their compressor. It’s got so few buttons and dials I almost know how to use it. A recent upgrade in my shed/crab-shack/urban man-nest has seen me upgrade from yoghurt-pots to Adam A7’s. Unflattering and powerful. Just the way I like my women.

I kept hearing all the right things about Aston (“low-maintenance, high-quality”) so I thought I’d do my own research. My go-to mic’s been a Mojave 300MA after conducting some blind tests with Mumford, Ed Sheeran mixer Rhaudri Cushnan. We went through U87’s, Telefunken’s and some others I’ve forgotten. The Mojave had a warmth and clarity that made it hard to justify shelling out an additional 4-5K. So I was surprised and a-quiver to hear Aston’s Spirit do the business. Had someone stuck a microphone inside my head? Cos that’s what had been captured. The very sound I imagined. After the band sold our Telefunken U 47 I swore I’d never love again. Boggle-eared and goggle-eyed I had to keep checking the price and then the sound the Spirit was capturing. I guess people need something to spend their millions on but I can’t justify why anyone would need to having heard the true tone of the Spirit. For capturing live acoustic and vocals it’s very tough to beat.

The multi-million pound shed

I may have mentioned I record in a shed. The sound is largely … shed-y. I’ve spent years using bowed mic stands, sagging under the weight of propping up gigantasaurus vocal booths/vocal reflectors.  It felt like there was only really the sE range that get the thumbs up across the online review board (and those previously mentioned tech bro’s of mine) but when I tried the Aston Halo I was hooked. Not only was the experience of singing into the big purple egg akin to crawling back into my mother’s womb, sonically speaking, but I had to stop and shout: “Did someone just turn the shed into a multi-million pound recording studio?” Of course no-one had, but the Halo creates a space so easily controllable that all my empty talk of getting the place sound-insulated can finally trail off and remain happily unfulfilled.

…and talking on space (sorry… tenuously overstretched link. Ed.) The Hoosiers have been using a brace of Starlights on our recent ten-year anniversary tour of our debut album in the UK. Our FOH, Aaron Sayers (who’s worked with Rag n Bone Man and Kelvin Jones) loved ‘em. In fairness I don’t get to hear them from onstage but they look good enough to eat.  

The Hallowed Cat of Songwriting

I write mostly on my acoustic Faith Saturn. It’s got such a great feel and tone and always surprises my vintage-guitar loving brethren. I used to have one way to skin the hallowed cat of songwriting. Then I realized I was stuck in a rut. Have you ever tried skinning a cat in a particularly deeply riveted rut? Not much room for creativity down there, let me tell you.

Co-writes shake it up. If I’m co-writing and not taking first-producer duties I’ll let the music influence what the song wants to be about (thematically, phonetically and melodically). More and more I feel it’s a case of letting the song write itself and trying to keep out the way with my brittle ego and such. There’s something quite exhilarating about pulling the song out the ether in a day. My approach to songwriting differs a lot for my own stuff; I’m constantly writing notes of phrases that interest me and voice memo’s of melody ideas awkwardly recorded on public transport.

I’ve co-produced the last two self-released Hoosiers studio albums and do a lot of co-writes for other artists (Liam Bailey, Freestylers, Alexander Wolfe, Dakota). In the interests of my own sanity I have a couple of other projects I’m involved with such as The Sea & I and Harry Oakwood & The Millionaires.

Out-takes

Q. If you weren’t working in music what would you be doing?
A. “Struggling at acting and writing."

Q. What would your fantasy mic be
A. “A mic that you don’t have to tiptoe around in case some dust makes it fall apart. A mic that won’t leave you when a more attractive mic, who’s better at P.E comes along. A mic that’s also a coffee dispenser. A mic that knows what I want it to sound like. A mic that holds me and tells me I’m beautiful."

Q. What are the 4 words you’d chose to describe Aston or your experience with the brand?
A. “Real mics made by real people. Refreshing that it feels so personal working with them. Not corporatized or pretentious. Ah, 4 words?! Unpretentious, honest, precise, versatile."

Q. What was the first song to make you cry?
A. "Geeeeeez, I'm not going to look good here but I'd just left the love of my life after a play, never to be reunited, when Michael Bolton's "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You" came on the car radio. I was ten. Special mention to my Dad who did an outstanding job of ignoring my sobs. 

(I hate you a little bit for making me write that)."

 

Credits

Awesome artists… Sun Kil Moon, Sufjan Stevens, Midlake, Rolling Stones, Radiohead, Lift to Experience, SZA, Jackson Browne, Neil Young, Father John Misty, Arvo Pärt

The Hoosiers

The Sea & I 

Harry Oakwood & The Millionaires

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