Jim Ward talks new album, the bar biz and reviving Sparta
It might surprise some to know that Jim Ward, founding member of roaring post-hardcore outfits At the Drive-In, Sparta and Sleepercar, has spent the last few years learning to turn the volume knob down on his amp. In fact, he rarely uses it in the bulk of his mostly acoustic solo debut, “Quiet In the Valley, On the Shores, the End Begins.”
Released on Aug. 2 via his self-started label Tembloroso, the El Paso, Texas, native has sharpened his take on acoustic campfire songs over the course of five years' worth of writing, rehearsing and recording. This project, a double-disc set, features works from that period, much of it cataloged in three previously released EPs -- 2007's "Quiet," 2009's "In The Valley, On the Shores" and 2009's "The End Begins." The package includes a six-song EP that includes electric versions of selected tracks.
Since the album’s release, Ward has embarked on a month-long U.S. tour, stopping Sunday at the Satellite in L.A. Pop & Hiss shared a recent phone conversation with Ward to discuss the new material as well as his second job as a bar owner in El Paso. Oh, there's also the news that he’ll be hitting the road and recording new music with Sparta in the fall.
Pop & Hiss: The sound on the solo album obviously differs from your work with Sparta and Sleepercar. Did the sentimental nature of the songs inspire you to take a folk approach?
Jim Ward: I think it was a reflection of where I was at in life. On "Quiet" it was sort of a gut reaction to being on tour for pretty much the last 12 years consecutively. The second record is very much about home and friends and family. The third one was kind of in the same vein. I was home, I was making dinner at my house and going to the studio for a while and then going to have a beer with my friends. It had nothing to do with being on tour or being in a band. It was more of a songwriter perspective. I wouldn’t have written "My Town" in any other band. It’s a personal solo song that’s for my city where I’m from. It would sound ridiculous if it came out on a Sparta record, but in this format it fits.
How did you go about choosing the songs you wanted to add a full band on for the electric disc in the album package?
We played some of the songs when I was doing Sleepercar. So I know that “Mystery Talks,” for example, works really well in a band atmosphere and we’ve had a really good time playing it. And I also didn’t want to be stuck on tour playing just acoustic guitar for a couple months. This is my way of telling people that at some point during the show, it’s gonna get loud.
But then, when we went through the 14 songs, we realized that some of them don’t want to be electric so we didn’t want to force it. We thought that the six songs that we chose could live in both acoustic and electric worlds pretty easily.
In addition to music, you’ve also been in the bar business since 2009 with El Paso’s Hope and Anchor. What’s that like?
The thing is I grew up in it. I started playing bars when I was 14 or 15 years old, so I’ve always been around this culture. I’ve spent so many years on the road in bars, there’s a certain kind of feeling that I wanted and none of the bars in El Paso had it. So we decided to just make our own, to bring what we knew about taverns and bars and pubs from around the world and bring them here. It’s going great. It’s not losing money.
And your favorite drink is?
I really like Hendrick's martinis a lot, which is a cucumber-based gin.
Talk about the news that you’ll be reviving Sparta, playing shows again and recording. What’s the motivation for that at this point in your career?
When we went on break four years ago, I said I just wanted a year to do the Sleepercar record. And then that year turned into two and then turned into three and then people had kids and we all sort of found this other rhythm in life. And we’re all really comfortable with each other and really happy as people and it just seemed like the right time. Usually what happens is when the tour is done, you get a one-month vacation and then you go back to writing sessions and then you go to the studio, then you go back on tour. And that’s what I think what everyone was kind of tired of, the cycle part of it. It wasn’t necessarily the band.
People think when you take five years off that you automatically broke up, but I don’t see any of my bands as being over. Because they’re all such a part of me and I’m a part of them that I think I’d have to be dead for them to not be in existence for me. I never really think of it as a reunion or getting the band back together. It’s just more like the next chapter.
Jim Ward performs with Lusitania at the Satellite on Sun. Aug. 21. 1717 Silver Lake Blvd. Los Angeles. (323) 661-4380, www.thesatellitela.com. 9 p.m. $8 advance, $10 day of show. 21+
-- Nate Jackson
Photo: Jim Ward. Credit: Tembloroso Creative Lab