Mic Check: Sparks

On sibling rivalries.

For the first time in its 42-year, 22-album career, Sparks is playing Portland. The Mael brothers' Two Hands, One Mouth tour—the hands being those of composer-lyricist Ron Mael, as deployed on his keyboard; the mouth belonging to frontman Russell, from which he issues his faux-British-accented, frequently falsetto vocals—lays bare the clever songwriting and arch sensibility lying at the heart of Sparks' sound, no matter what musical or production styles the brothers have employed in the past, from tongue-in-cheek bombastic rock through disco and New Wave, to a 21st-century renaissance as an operatic pop outfit that has produced some of the brothers' best work ever.

WW spoke to Russell Mael by phone from his "Beverly Hills-ish" L.A. home, the day after Sparks' appearance at Coachella, and asked if the sibling rivalries that have sunk other great brotherly bands—the Kinks, the Everly Brothers, etc.—have ever cropped up during Sparks' four-decade-plus history.

Russell Mael: You know, there haven't. I think maybe with those groups you mention, and the Gallagher brothers [of Oasis] as well, having a massive success puts you in a different frame of mind in terms of how you approach things. Sparks has had very big commercial success at different points throughout our career, but we've never had a unified, massive following worldwide all at once. So I think that hunger to constantly have to prove yourself is a positive thing in a certain way. Having a niche following, a cult following, has helped to keep us and our fans always yearning for something different and fresh. We don't have a safety net. So I think that's a factor for why we've kept together, because we have this need to constantly come up with new ways of approaching what it is that we do musically.

SEE IT: Sparks plays the Aladdin Theater, 3017 SE Milwaukie Ave., on Sunday, April 21. 8 pm. $27.50 advance, $30 day of show. Minors permitted with guardian.

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