This week, I had the pleasure of interviewing the lovely Spark just before she went onstage as the support act for Diana Vickers at the Academy. As she approached, I extended my hand in a friendly, but trying not to be over-familiar handshake type thing but she came towards me using the “hug arms” and said laughing, ‘Ah, I go in for the hug’ which was really nice of her considering I’d only spoken to her through Twitter and, in fact, could have been a complete stalker and just looking for the opportunity to wear her skin as a body suit. I’m not. Yet.
We sat down in what those in the know at the Academy call the “cinema” which is just a small irregular shaped room with dim lighting and comfortable chairs. After the general hellos and howareya?s, we started to talk about her touring as support for Marina and the Diamonds ‘I’d left school the day before the tour started so that was very intense. Once I was on the tour I was like “woah”. I didn’t expect it. I genuinely thought that, although it was sold out and she was playing gigs around 1000+, I’d turn up as a support act and there was gonna be a couple of people for me and it would pack out for Marina. But it was packed out for me too, even if people didn’t know that I was playing. So that was very crazy.’ When I asked her how this tour with Diana has differed from the tour with Marina, she said ‘It’s a lot shorter, it’s only 6 days, Marina’s was 14. The set has changed; we have keys live so there’s a lot of things that are different. I feel like these audiences have been way more “give me Diana” and it’s been kinda maybe harder work to win them over, maybe some [of them]. Most of the dates for Diana’s have been 14+ so they’re younger.’ She then proceeded to tell me about a group of über Diana fans, ‘[she has] a group of fans that have travelled around to every single date and been at the front. They’re called the Vickerettes and they’re outside right now. But they’re so, so lovely they’ve been so nice to me and so receptive. It’s been amazing.’ I noticed them when I watched her perform later on, and they knew all of the words and moves that Spark did during her set and copied her throughout the whole performance. It was quite strange and interesting to see that level of fanaticism at work. When I asked her if there was more pressure this time, she pondered a while before answering ‘I’d only done one gig before the tour with Marina. So, I was learning on the job, figuring it all out. I’d do a move and be like “not doing that again.” [laughs] Or do something and be like “yeah, remember that. That was okay.” So now, I’ve got it more in my head. I kind of know a little bit more this time. But I think possibly there’s more pressure this time. There’s been a couple of people that have Tweeted me or told me that they’re coming for me which is so lovely but the sold-out venues of like 2000 people are for Diana. And I have to go on and sing when they just really want Diana. I think maybe more pressure in that I have to work harder. But then also because I’m stepping it up as well. I’m pushing myself more because we’re in a different time and I’ve done more.’
Spark is a graduate of the BRIT School of Performing Arts and Technology, which comes with a lot of stigma as it’s perceived as a training academy or a fame academy, but she wanted to set the record straight about that, ‘BRIT is not what people think. It’s not a fame school. It’s not training. It’s just schooling. It’s just school. The same way you have music lessons in a normal school you have them there except the teachers are probably better and that’s why I went, because the teachers were better. I went to a normal secondary school but the music wasn’t great. And then there was this school that had a recording studio, and it’s a charity school, it’s funded by the record industry and the teachers are great. They’re specialised in what they do. We learned the basics of a lot of things to do with music. And then you do your own thing.’ Spark has forthright opinions about music and musical ability and isn’t afraid to say what she really thinks. ‘Singing, writing and performing are the 3 things in music I truly believe you can’t teach. I think there’s training that can improve you, but you can’t teach someone the natural ability to perform or sing or write. I think it has to be something that you’re born with. I don’t have any musical knowledge. With guitar, I wrote my first song when I was 12, but I literally just picked up the guitar and got a sound and even then when I wrote like 100s of songs after that, I’m playing these chords and these notes and I don’t know what they are. Still don’t. And I don’t want to. Because it wasn’t about that. It wasn’t about learning, it was about doing. I wanted to do it, so I did it. I can play the piano, but my fingers are all in the wrong places. I don’t know any singing techniques, I don’t know any warm-ups. I don’t know about structure of songs. It’s not about structure, I just write because I want to.’
When we spoke about who her musical influences are and who she grew-up listening to she laughed and went on to say, ‘I’ve been quoted pretty much everywhere saying that I listened to Spice Girls and Shaggy. It’s true, but everyone did. People are too scared to admit it. That’s why I said it, because it is true. The Spice Girls sold millions and millions of records. Everyone can sing a Spice Girls song. And Shaggy was just school discos so when I said Spice Girls to Shaggy obviously they’re very different so I was trying to say that I grew up listening to a wide range but at the same time I’ve never really known much about music. I still don’t. I don’t know what’s going on. At one point I was really on the ball and knew about everything that was going on. I’ve kind of made a conscious decision to remove myself from it so I could focus on writing from what I wanted to write.’
We chatted for a while about music and when I asked her about the process she goes through when writing she told me, ‘It happens very fast. When I write, it’s because I’ve something to say. I’ve got songs that I’ve never even written on paper. But now, when I write it down when I get to the end of the first line whatever the word is that it ends on I’ve got a thousand rhyming words to go with it. It’s a very weird and strange process thinking back on it. At the time I’m just writing and it’s done. And times I have a bit of a writer’s block because you want to write a song but you just can’t seem to. But I never try to force it out; I just wait until it comes. I don’t chase it.’
Her new single Revolving was released on Monday. Pop Culture Monster thought it was either an artistic “fuck off” to people trying to control her, or an artistic “fuck off” to the control we see in the industry itself. She told me that it wasn’t about that but that ‘it’s been said a lot that it’s about [her] saying fuck off to people trying to control [her]’, and that they would be very valid reasons to write a song like Revolving. So it’s not about her being controlled, but about control in general, ‘I’m fascinated by the idea of it and about how people lose it and people gain it. And have control over other people and what that feels like. So I kinda created this character, this wind-up-doll. If I was being controlled and manipulated and manufactured and all of that and I wrote Revolving they’d be like “you’re fucking kidding me.” They’re not going to release that because people would be like “oh, she’s telling us that she’s being controlled, this is her cry for help.” I’m allowed to write what I want and then I have a team of people that aid me in letting people hear it. And I couldn’t be more happy with my situation.’
Not only has the notion that the song is about her being controlled been passed around, it’s also been said a few times that she’s being manufactured. She reacted to the statement by posting a blog about it. ‘I wrote it maybe 9 months ago when it was first mentioned and I thought “I could not react to that very easily, it’s fine.” Things don’t really get to me that much. Or, I could just write this blog and just say now before anyone knows who I am (this was before the tour with Marina, this was way before everything) I could just write this and just put this down so that if anyone does try and say anything I can just be like “about a year ago I wrote this blog explaining the way that it is.” So don’t tell me who I am when I was saying this so long ago. I’m very, very fortunate to have a manager that is incredible and works her arse off. And everything goes through me and we work on everything together and we get everything done together and it’s a very equal and fair relationship and it works perfectly. I wouldn’t change it for anything, I’m so happy with her. But then I also have a label that has been completely supportive and took me on with all my songs – I’d written everything before I was signed – have believed in me and are backing me and are allowing me to do things like go and play in NY for CMJ and support Pete Wentz and support Diana Vickers. It’s one big support and it’s a team. Everything is a team effort.’
Pop Culture Monster talked about the video for Revolving when it was released, and she explained that ‘the video was for people to see my face, to hear my song. Just to see what I look like and what I do. And that was exactly it. It was a showcase of that.’ This brought us to her distinct style. She sports jet black hair, porcelain skin and ruby lips. She’s almost like Snow White but much cooler. I asked her if style was important to which she remarked ‘I think now in music, people focus on what you look like as much as they do on the music. That’s very unfortunate. I don’t really agree with it, but at the same time I fancied Justin Timberlake when I was younger because of his music and because of the way he looked. You can’t escape that. I just really believe that the better you look, the better you feel. When you’re feeling a bit shit and you put on tracksuit bottoms and a hoodie and you see yourself and you just feel like crap. But as soon as you take that off and you get dressed and you do your hair and you do your face and you’re like “hey, I feel good.” I feel more like me when I make an effort, and when you make an effort with anything you feel better about it. And that’s my reason behind it, I feel better in myself if I feel like I look better. I also see the very bad side of the whole industry being reliant on how people look because it’s a natural thing. You can’t help the way you look. You can help the way you dress. But your natural face. You can’t change that. Well you can, but I’m not talking about plastic surgery here. I’m talking about the natural thing. It’s important to feel good, so it’s important to look good. Present yourself well, people respond better and you can put yourself out there better. I might be talking a load of crap and that might just be for me. But I feel like that’s right.’
Spark is very active on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook and her blog, and I asked her if it’s important for artists to interact in these ways now to which she replied, ‘It’s important. But I had Twitter before, when I was an artist obviously, but I had one that was just @JessMorgan and then I just changed it to Spark when I changed my mind about my name. [laughs] I’ll tweet about Revolving being released or I’ll tweet about being in NY or supporting Diana Vickers but I’ll also tweet about someone pissing me off on a bus if they’re staring at me or about the rain being so annoying or about whatever I’m doing. I tweet about the normal things aswell. But releasing a single isn’t every day, it’s a big deal. And not everyone does it. So that kinda warrants a blog and that. But I also write blogs about completely different things.’
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Spark is wise beyond her years. An extremely talented and intelligent young woman, she doesn’t mince her words when it comes to expressing opinions like this one on fame: ‘Fame is a complete by-product. I know for a fact there are people in every industry – film, TV, music – that want their face to be known and want people to want their autograph and want to just be famous and want to be a celebrity. And they are celebrities, they’re not artists. Then there are some artists that actually really like writing songs and get a feeling from that that they don’t get from doing anything else and they really love performing them and get a feeling from the reaction. And that’s exactly what I want to do, I want to write, I want to perform and I wanna do the artist thing. [But] in every job, it’s all about success. I mean, everyone wants to be successful in what they do. If you work in a company, and you start at the bottom by the time you’re retiring you want to be running the company. And it’s the same for artists, except that our success is measured by how many records you sell and how many people buy tickets to your gigs. So that’s the measurement. In some sort of office job, it’s about how many clients you bring in but that doesn’t get you fame. But here, how many records you sell and how many fans you get results in fame. There are some people that I’m sure don’t want fame to affect them so instead they just perform in like little venues and have a small fanbase and stay at a very underground level and are successful but it just depends on what you want. So I’m just kinda doing that and have a great team around me to make it happen.’
It’s hard to believe that Spark hasn’t even released her first album yet, but when we talked about the writing of the album and whether her diverse writing ability was a conscious decision on her part, she explained that ‘it comes very naturally. It’s a conscious decision for me to not have 12 of the same song on one album. I feel like in my set I go through different types of songs, different feelings and it keeps it very interesting for me which I feel keeps it interesting for everyone else. Because each song it’s new, they don’t sound alike. On my album, I’ll have almost a ballad and then I’ll be almost rapping then I’ll have the pure pop songs then edgier pop and then the ones that are more electro. I want it to be different. I think that way back when, albums were very different to what they are now. You used to write a whole album and you could even let it run from start to finish and the story would flow. It was one piece of art. I think that mine will be one piece of art, but showing so many different things. People have different sides to them and there are different sides to me. [The songs are] all different consciously but the way they come out at the time isn’t.’ She was reluctant to give away too much detail about the album but said that there’s ‘no title yet. “Boom” has been suggested by many people. I don’t know if that would be a great title. But it’s going to be in summer. It’s been worked on right now. I’m re-recording stuff, demos are being produced up. I’m very excited. It’s like the biggest thing. First album is a very special thing.’
So what’s next for Spark? ‘Probably another soft release single in the new year. Maybe February. It’ll be a good one. Whatever it’s going to be, I’m excited. Then an actual single. An actual release on 679 with Warner. Because [Revolving] is on Neon Gold and Shut Out The Moon was on Puregroove. [It’s] the big one next year at some time, [and] will be the actual first proper release. And then, album. Some gigs around and in between. And a little tour thing we’re thinking about early next year. That’s about it. But it’s a very crazy and exciting time.’ We then asked her if 2011 is the year of Spark which got a laugh out of her but she went on to say ‘I’d like to think so. I think that this time last year, I was at school and it was nearly Christmas time and then New Year and stuff and I wasn’t thinking this year was gonna be the way it was. 2010 completely knocked me for six. I did not expect it and has been a complete shock. It’s been very crazy. And next year, it’s supposed to be bigger and better. That’s my plan. But, I don’t see how you can beat this so I will just see how it happens. I’m just flowing.’
With such a head on her shoulder, and a lyrical intellect way out of the league of most pop stars these days, it’s not difficult to see that Spark will be a massive star. But it doesn’t come without a lot of work from a lot of people. It’s easy to forget that artists have managers, musicians, and producers, directors, stylists, record companies and PR and everyone else that help them become successful. We spoke to her manager, Jessica, after the gig and she explained that it’s a lot of work, but it’s easy. It probably makes it easier when you’ve got someone as supremely talented, intelligent and nice as Spark to work with. And when that massive success comes around, everyone involved can pat themselves on the back.
But before we leave it, you’re dying to know what she’d save if a Pop Culture Monster was eating her house aren’t you? Well, for Spark it was the most difficult question I asked her, ‘I don’t really have many material possessions, I feel like things can be replaced so I’m trying to think of the things that can’t be replaced so um… maybe this [holds up necklace] although it’s already on me. It was a gift from my manager for my birthday last year. So I’m gonna say that. It’s Vivian Westwood, and she got it for my birthday so it’s very special. And today is like our day, single release. So I’m gonna go with that, I’m feeling the love.’