Living The Indie Life
Music - Indie
+ Dec 27, 2006 at 2:36pm
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They've driven more than 1200 miles in a day to make a gig that didn't even cover the cost of their gas. They've been stuck in traffic and made it to gigs with less than five minutes to spare. They've stayed four to a hotel room, when they could afford the room. For Los Angeles rock-pop band Agent Sparks, the hustle has been hard in their less than two years together. "Yeah, but all bands go through this," chuckles AS bassist Paul Fried. "Stuff like that happens when you try to do everything and you have nothing. It's all very trying but it's also about how much you want it."
Fried acknowledges how hard it can be as he and the rest of Agent Sparks -- Ben Einziger (guitar-vocals), Stephanie Eitel (keyboards-vocals) and George Purviance (drums) -- settle around a picnic table in a San Fernando Valley park. Typical of the Agent Sparks hustle, just moments earlier the band had finished taking a new set of publicity photos. After this interview, they're off to pack their bags and a last round of rehearsals before they hit the road, opening for Hoobastank in a tour that will take them through the end of the year.
There's barely been time for the band to catch their collective breath. But the members of Agent Sparks seem to like it that way. "This life is definitely not for everyone," says Einziger. "We're always on call and everything is always up in the air. We might have a schedule but that schedule might change six times. I guess all of us just kind of dig that gypsy way of life."
But it's a life that has definitely borne fruit in a relatively short time. Their 2005 EP Not So Merry and this year's album Red Rover (Immortal Records) have caught on in a fairly big way for fans of indie style rock with more than its share of pop instrumentation, hooks and flavorful vocals. Currently, Agent Sparks is in heavy rotation on a half dozen playlists and the band has marked time in support of such acts as Veruca Salt, Unwritten Law and 30 Seconds To Mars.
The band has come this far by collectively adhering to the time honored indie spirit that has them attending to a lot of the business side of music, the stuff that would be taken care of by others if they were on a major label. Eitel says that the business side of being in a band is not necessarily a drag. "First of all you have your music and you're proud of that. You get to make a record and then you get a deal and you're stoked. But then you discover that it's not just about the music and that there's an entire industry involved. Personally, I love that part of it but it can get tedious when the business side does not understand what we go through as musicians."
Continuing that thought, Einziger says, "You've gotta eat. You can't just do music. In order to survive in this world, you have to make money. I wish we didn't have to be so involved in the business side, but being on an indie label you do have to do so many things on your own. We're always calling people, looking for endorsements and sponsors so we can go on tour and, if we're lucky, get one hotel room a night for the whole band."
All of which may give the impression that it's going to be poverty row living as the band hits the road with Hoobastank. "We're not necessarily paying for this out of our own pockets," says Eitel. "But we're trying to be smart about it. We try to pay as little as possible so we don't end up having to recoup so much. Our label has taken good care of us to this point but we're trying to get to where we're self-sustaining. For now, we're not taking any money home but that's where endorsements, merchandise and ticket sales really help out. It's not as easy as some people think. But at this point our hope is that we can keep ourselves on tour, make money, support our families and enjoy ourselves."
Admittedly, Agent Sparks has had an element of influence in their corner that few bands enjoy; namely, a famous relative, Michael Einziger, guitarist for superstar band Incubus and brother of Ben. But while the band acknowledges that it was Michael's good word that got them the 30 Seconds To Mars gig, Einziger puts up a spirited defense of Agent Sparks as a band that doesn't need high-powered help. "Michael has definitely been an advantage. But our music speaks for itself and I think the music is what has gotten us to where we are. My brother has been very open about helping us out but if our music sucked, it wouldn't matter who we were related to."
Einziger and Fried were originally members of the up and coming band Audiovent, critical faves in the mid 2000's. But the pair ultimately learned that playing with long time friends has its pitfalls. "There was never a lot of synergy in Audiovent," confesses Einziger. "The band members wouldn't compromise on artistic agendas. There was a conflict everytime we turned around. It was like pulling teeth to get anything done."
Throughout 2004 and into 2005,
Einziger and Fried were musically dormant and so financially down on their luck that they took what, for them, were desperate measures. As Eizinger recalls, "We weren't sure what we were going to do and so we ended up going to a real estate class because we needed money and we figured selling real estate was the way to get rich quick. But as soon as the real estate course ended, I started writing songs. I knew I hated real estate and I didn't want to work a nine to five job."
Einziger and Fried enlisted Eitel to play keyboards and sing vocals on those first Agent Sparks' songs. Eventually, Einziger developed into a fairly confident singer on his own, and they fused into a potent pop style. After a first drummer departed in pursuit of a well paying gig, Purviance completed the lineup in 2005.
The recording process, according to Purviance, was an exercise in being independently frugal. Without the advantage of playing live before recording, Agent Sparks went the classic woodshed route, rehearsing and writing and, along the way, bonding as musicians. "We ended up recording 16 songs in two weeks which was enough to record an EP and a full length album at the same time," offers the drummer. "It was pretty much a crash course for us. There was not enough time or money to go crazy on production. It was just about getting our music down, getting something that sounded viable and that people could listen to."
Fried echoes the reality of their Spartan recording session. "If you spend a lot of money recording, then you're going to have to pay a lot of money back. We didn't have a budget where we could spend two months
or even a month in the studio. Besides, on their first record, nobody should be spending a month or two in the studio. You should just be making something that sounds good and represents you."
The EP and the album found a quick home with Immortal Records and the result has been a fairly easy ride through indie corporate music in America. Eitel laughingly explains that "We can actually get the head of our label on the phone anytime we want." Fried, who like the rest of the band, would like to see Agent Sparks on a major label if the deal were advantageous to them, says that, right now, there's a lot a small label can do that a major label can't or won't. "A lot of the same stuff goes on at a major label as it does on an independent label," he says. "But, in a way, it's a lot less. A major will throw a lot of money out to get you on the radio, or on MTV or maybe pull some teeth to get you on a real good tour. But the big problem with a major is that they don't always give you their attention. They might send out a letter or there might be a conference call and they would just tell you what they were going to do. At our label, we have small conference calls and meetings. We talk to one person and everybody gets the message of what is going on."
The members of Agent Sparks have no conceit about their place in the rock and roll universe, and, as they leave to pack their bags and get ready to hit the road, Fried sums it up succinctly. "It's not like we're all 17 years old and we're sitting around waiting for something to happen. We're way beyond, 17, 18, 19 and 20. We're just working really hard trying to catch up."