Back to life
Gigantic spiders, wheelchair- bound concerts, and hanging with farm hands, Mark Linkous, the brawn, brains and looks behind Sparklehorse, has dealt with ‘em all. Despite all this he’s managed to make one of the most affecting and fascinating albums of the year. Words: Doug Johnstone
‘l'm the dog that ate your birthday cake. It‘s a wonderful life.‘ So sings Mr Sparklehorse. AKA Mark Linkous. in the opening track of his hands new albtun. and it's just one of a hundred examples of the kind of strikingly yiy'id imagery the man‘s offbeat. bizarre and touching lyrics can create.
11's .-I ll'mulmj/ii/ Life is Sparklehorse’s third album. and if you hayen‘t heard of them before. this is the record to change all that. Beautiful and fragile skewed Visions of life: Linkous‘ extraordinary words are matched by his hands mUsic. lt's country music after a fashion. but Dolly l’arton it ain‘t. Simple guitars and whispered vocals are surrounded by a cacophony of Io-fi fuzz. whee/.y organ. industrial clanks. fairground noises and a multitude of bleeps. squeaks and burps. Yet somehow it all makes beautiful. heart-wrenching. joyous sense.
It‘s a logical progression from Sparklehorse‘s preyiotis records. their superbly titled 1996 debut. \'ii'tiditir's'u/mmrin('1runs/nissirmp/ul. and l998's (inm/ .llorning Spider. Howeyer whereas those two
records were recorded entirely by Linkous himself
in a studio built into his barn in Virginia. It's xl llinu/wj/ii/ [.1]? was done with a number of different producers in locations as far ﬂung as Barcelona and the upstate New York wilderness.
’.~\ year ago this new guy came in at Capitol [Sparklehorse‘s label] and fired all these bands.' says Linkous in a sleepy Southern rasp. 'They were
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Swing if you’re winning
like. “()h were not going to kick you off. but you can't make your next record in your shack and keep the rest of the money." So I was like. “Well fuck. l‘ll spend it all and trayel around the world and get some other people to play on it." So that’s kind of what happened.‘
The ‘other people' that he‘s talking about include such leftfield music luminaries as Polly llaryey. Nina l’ersson from The (‘ardigans and long time hero Tom Waits. with producers including John Parish and Daye ‘Mercury Rey l’ridmann. Not a bad bunch to be clamouring to work with the man.
'l‘m so isolated where I live] says Linkous. ‘and when l socialise it‘s usually with the farmers down at the gas station. So anyone I collaborate with is going to be long distance anyway — it just happened to be that some of them are fatnotis rock stars.‘ Quite. Mind you. there was a couple of alternative reasons for going to Barcelona to record with Polly Harvey. House-proud Mark was ashamed. ‘l couldn‘t have Polly coming to my house and have my dogs jumping all over her. or have her getting
hit by snakes.‘ he deadpans. 'Plus I had this terrible spider
‘I COL“an have Harvey problem in my studio. these coming to my house and ' have my dogs jumping all over her, or have her getting bit by snakes’
huge fucking spiders. I couldn‘t catch ‘em. i mean l‘m not that scared of spiders. but they scared me.‘
And so Sparklehorse hit Scotland this weekend to promote their record. it‘s been a long time since their debut ['K tour supporting Radiohead in 1996. during which Linkous collapsed due to an accidental oy'erdose. nearly lost his legs as a freak result. and ended tip after three months in hospital touring in a wheelchair.
This time he plans to perform standing up. but don't expect an assured stage presence. With a shy. intrmct‘ted frontman and songs so fragile they feel like they would snap in two if you coughed in their direction. a Sparklehorse gig is an intense affair. 'I
judge whether gigs go well or not by how quiet the
audience is.‘ says Linkous. ‘lf they're really paying attention I think I've gotten somewhere. But i still don‘t really consider myself an entertainer. lt's borderline entertainment.‘ He's wrong. of course. very wrong.
Sparklehorse play King Tut’s, Glasgow, Sun 24 Jun. It’s A Wonderful Life is out now on Capitol.
Music news now
PLANET POP RETURNS this year during August with a host of US guests including Sparklehorse, . . . And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead and Stephen Malkmus. as well as a rare live appearance from Luke Vibert. The festival also boasts six free gigs by new Scottish acts including Huckleberry and Sputniks Down. More acts will to be confirmed in the coming weeks.
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STUDIO 24 IN EDINBURGH is relaunching as a live music venue. Prior to bringing bigger name touring acts to the city. they are launching the venue with a succession of Battle of the Bands events. Interested acts should send CDs to: Battle of the Bands, Gill, Club Java, Commercial Street, Leith. Tapes must be in by the end of July.
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AMEN, 012, ALIEN ANT Farm, Staind, are among theacts just confimed for Gig on the Green, Glasgow on 25 & 26 August.
WIN BASEMENT JAXX GOODIES
Peruse the review on page 104 to see what we think but find out for yourself with a copy of the album and an exclusive Rooty T-shirt. Just tell us what the band's debut album was called. Send your answers and T-shirt size (S, M, L) by Wednesday 4 July to either music@|ist.co.uk or by post to Basement Jaxx Competition, The List, 14 High Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1TE.