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Interview with Irwin Sparkes (White Tail Falls, The Hoosiers)
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Interview with Irwin Sparkes (White Tail Falls, The Hoosiers)

Drawing upon influences from the worlds of folk, mellow pop and alternative music, White Tail Falls specialise in beautiful soundscapes and self-reflective lyricism. We spoke to Irwin Sparkes about the process of 'going solo' and his love of the Teenage Engineering OP-1...

What inspired you to become a musician?

As far as performing, I probably found the positive attention pretty enticing as a teenager who wanted to feel special. Though in terms of writing and honing that side of it, it felt the most natural way to express what I was feeling. Like it answered a need, to try and make sense of what I was experiencing. I say natural, cos it was empirical; I didn't read a book on what you were supposed to do. It was all trial and error and bathed in innocence. A lot of that got lost along the way of trying to make a living and so this debut solo album of mine is about recapturing why I first bothered to pick up and instrument and write a song in the first place.

What is your earliest memory of music production/writing?

Putting some lame poem I'd written to music when I was about 12 years old. I remember borrowing a school mate's 4-track for a week and it blew my mind. Up till then I'd been recording myself on the kitchen stereo.

Who are some of your earliest influences?

Michael McDonald stayed with me from hearing his records from the older brother whose room I shared. I was listening to gospel and new jack swing and totally missed Nirvana. Feel like I've been playing catch up ever since. Blur's shape-shifting in the 90's caught my attention.

 

You recently released your debut solo album under the 'White Tail Falls' moniker. What was the experience like?

Baptism by fire. I wanted to offload the responsibility of engineering to someone who knew what they were doing. That costs money I don't have, so I ended up using a lot of my demos and picking up better gear and techniques as I made the record. It's in chronological order over 2 years of writing and recording, so it's like a concept album where the listener is taken from hearing a chair squeaking and metronome bleed on a £30 USB mic, to something approaching a little more hifi.

Have there been any difficult lessons learned?

The art of making decisions. I'm still a novice. The blank canvas can be overwhelming so imposing restrictions helped: 3 takes per part, only 2-3 synth sounds on the record, etc.  

 

How did you first hear about the Teenage Engineering OP-1?

An old bandmate recommended it. Then I tried one. To play is to love. Then I notice I'm not the only one and it's featuring in a load of live videos for people I respect (Bon Iver, The National)

 

What attracts you to it as a creative tool?

It's versatility and the fact that it can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. I dove into certain aspects looking for particular sounds, but that's the tip of the iceberg. Though I'd love to know how it works inside and out, I'm more driven to get it delivering the sound in my head. It's intuitively designed so I was recording on it as soon as it was out the box.

 

What's your favourite feature?

I'm a sucker for a voice sampler and its hi end module complimented my dirty-sounding Yamaha VSS30 sampler which featured heavily.

Will you be using it for live shows? If so, how do you plan on integrating it?

What live shows?! It's on the cards but I'm trying to deliver shows as stripped down as possible so I have somewhere to go.

How did you find yourself using it on the ‘Age of Entitlement' album?

As I got my hands on the OP1 quite late in the recording process I found a lot of fine sinewave textures and synth pads were perfect for underlaying pre-recorded tracks. The vocal sampler is the key sound in Rome's Already Fallen. Both the breathy pad making the main verse effect and the sampled words in the chorus.

What advice would you have for aspiring professional musicians?

Find what you want to say and think about how you want to deliver that message. Don't be afraid of your limitations (I keep finding new ones), that's the stuff that no-one else can imitate. Champion your uniqueness.

 

If you could work with anybody who would it be?

Prince. Springsteen. Sufjan Stevens

 

In terms of the current music scene, who are you a fan of?

Moses Sumney, Phoebe Bridgers, Sun Kil Moon, Ajimal, Alexander Wolfe, Tyfermylk, Rinngs, Nnamdï.

A massive thank you to Irwin Sparkes for taking the time to speak with us. White Tail Falls' 'Age of Entitlement' is out now. Please visit whitetailfalls.com for more information.

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