ROCKIN’ HARDER THAN SHE DID ON HER
INTERNATIONAL HIT DEBUT ‘BREATHE EASY,’
THE MELBOURNE-BASED SINGER/SONGWRITER
SNAGS A 2011 HOLLYWOOD MUSIC IN MEDIA
‘BEST BLUES ARTIST’ NOMINATION FOR HER
NEW SELF-TITLED FIVE-SONG EP
* * *
The First Single, Now in Rotation on Mainstream Radio in the U.S.,
is ‘Calendar Years’ Featuring Willie & Joe Chambers of the Legendary
‘60s-‘70s Gospel/R&B Group The Chambers Brothers; Another Track,
“Feel The Love” Was Remixed by The Grammy Winning KlubJumpers
(Lil Wayne, Eminem, Jennifer Lopez, Madonna, Black Eyed Peas)
One of the many glowing reviews Jessie Sparks scored for her 2007 full-length recording debut dubbed it “cool rolling thunder from Down Under”—fine praise for a heartfelt, musically breezy project called Breathe Easy.
Her fans across Australia and the U.S. better take a deep breath, though, because the Melbourne based singer/songwriter has been digging in these past few years, rocking harder and edgier than ever before.
She’s always earned comparisons to greats like Janis Joplin and PJ Harvey, but on her explosive new self-titled five-track EP, Sparks’ deeper blues and soul influences are being touted for the first time.
The proof is in the accolades; immediately after Breathe Easy was released in the U.S. she received music placement in “Rad Girls,” which aired on Mav and Fuse TV. MAC Cosmetics became an official sponsor of Sparks, who is an ongoing supporter of their global community outreach programs. She received four official nominations for the 2010 Grammy Awards and won “Best New Artist/Band” in the 2010 MusicBiz Pro contest. “More Suitable Type,” the smoldering opening track from the new EP that vents angst of wanting what you can’t have or shouldn’t need, recently placed as a runner up in the international music contest Song of the Year.
At the Hollywood Music Awards in 2008, Sparks was nominated for “Best Female Vocalist” and won “Best Adult Contemporary Artist.” At the 2010 Hollywood Music In Media (HMMA) Awards, she was also up for “Best AC Artist.” But at the 2011 HMMAs, she is nominated for “Best Blues Artist.”
What a difference a few years—and a brilliant batch of powerful new songs—can make.
“As an artist, I was definitely in the process of exploring as well as pleasing others when I was laying down Breathe Easy,” says Sparks. “When I perform at private functions and corporate events with my duo, trio and my band, they tend to prefer a double bass rather than electric—more ambient, beautiful music—so that had an impact. Plus, one of my biggest musical influences and supporters, but also my harshest critic, is my 86-year-old grandfather, and he is heavily into classical jazz.
“But all that was just a warm up for what I’m laying down now,” she adds. “I’ve been listening to rough, gritty musicians since I was small, and I knew the time had come today to start playing with cats I could let loose and get down and dirty with. It’s not fully rock and roll, more rock with dashes of soul, but I am so flattered that people are catching onto the blues vibe. I’m feeling good and at home in this fresh musical pocket—the real Sparks.”
Adding some classic R&B authenticity to the mix on “Calendar Years” are the infectious harmonies of Willie and Joe Chambers, two of the five brothers from the soul-gospel group The Chambers Brothers, best known for their 1968 hit “Time Has Come Today.” The ensemble was part of a wave of artists who integrated American blues and gospel traditions with modern psychedelic and rock elements.
“Calendar Years” recently hit mainstream radio stations across the U.S., already climbing the commercial charts over the top of many other major artists.
While in Los Angeles gigging in 2008, Sparks struck up a friendship with the brothers one night at the bar of the intimate venue The Kibitz Room at Canter’s Deli. The next evening, she took the stage with them, sowing the seeds of a future collaboration. “We just bonded during my visit,” she says. “Joe said we should write a song for each other just as a passing comment one night. When I got back to Melbourne, I realized that in a musical mate way, I was in deep love with two foreign men in their ‘60s. I then slowly wrote “Calendar Years” about the universal potential of love despite a large age difference. The idea is that everyone has the right not to be lonely.”
An even deeper affirmation of Sparks’ evolving musical soul is the fact that the driving, mid-tempo “Feel The Love” (also on the new EP) is currently being remixed by Grammy winning producers KlubJumpers, best known for their dance remixes for superstars ranging from Mariah Carey and Jason Derulo to Pussycat Dolls, Britney Spears, Lil Wayne, Madonna and Michael Buble. “Feel The Love” was inspired by a brutal attack endured by a good friend, and the power of the mind to heal and rise in its aftermath.
The other tracks on Jessie Sparks are the mid-tempo power ballad “Untouchable” (a declaration of pride about her free-spirited lifestyle and her inability to be boxed in or tied down) and “Bow Down,” a passionate invitation to embrace all her quirks and flaws, diversity and inconsistencies. In the bridge, she sings, “I’m rock and roll/old school soul/jazz when I want to be/don’t suffocate me… not a jack of all trades but a master of me.”
Another key part of Sparks’ creative evolution is the group of powerhouse musicians she surrounded herself while recording the EP at The Hit Joint in the Silverlake area of Los Angeles, under the sonic expertise of engineer and mixer Michael Garza. Her lead and rhythm guitarist Louis Metoyer has played on Grammy winning recordings and international tours with an exciting array of greats from across the spectrum: Lenny Kravitz, Bruce Springsteen, Toni Childs, Stanley Clarke, Terence Trent D’Arby, Macy Gray and, yes, The Chambers Brothers.
The lineup is completed by skilled energetic drummer Matthew Oloffson, and Warlock, a unique electric bassist and multi-instrumentalist who passed away suddenly and unexpectedly a few short months after Sparks completed the EP. “This makes these tunes all the more special and significant,” she says.
While recording in L.A., Sparks also chose to share her latest tunes at a few select live music venues, performing solo on keys or as a duo alongside some of the industry’s most notable musicians. She jammed with guitarist Leo Nocentelli from funk music pioneers The Meters, Robb Lawrence (guitarist and author of “The Les Paul Legacy”) and guitarist and film composer Willie Aaron. The hotspots the singer hit during her working visit include Aqua Lounge, Aura Nightclub, Good Hurt Nightclub, Hallenbeck’s Café, The Coffee Gallery Backstage, The Mint, Trip, Sam Ash Music and The Kibitz Room.
Continuing to gain widespread recognition for her unique sound and awe-inspiring live performances in Australia, Sparks has played everywhere from well-known cafes, bars and nightclubs to major festivals and events, including shows at The Queenstown International Music Festival in New Zealand. Sparks keeps a very active writing and gig schedule, and has lent her time and talents to numerous and diverse local and international charity organizations.
Beyond ongoing benefit appearances for national groups like Breast Cancer Network Australia, Ovarian Cancer Research, The Freedom Foundation, Bone Marrow Donor Institute, Youth Challenge Australia and gigs for the elderly and unwell at various Victorian facilities, Sparks has performed sets to raise money and awareness for child slavery in Africa, poverty stricken communities in Guatemala and Burma Band-Aid (dedicated to relief for people in that country devastated by the cyclone in 2008).
Closer to home, she did a benefit for Rise Above The Blaze to help those affected by the 2009 Victorian bushfires. While writing and compiling the songs that would ultimately evolve into Breathe Easy, Sparks also performed during the 2006 Commonwealth Games, the largest sporting event ever to be staged in Melbourne; over 70 countries participated and the Games were opened by Queen Elizabeth II.
“I know I’ll dig jamming until I’m old and gray regardless,” Sparks says, “but to share my sound with a wide and eclectic audience, hoping to console, energize or at least get someone’s hand tapping on the steering wheel, whether in gridlock traffic or on an open road, is simply what it’s all about. As mad as it sounds, my satisfaction peaks from doing and trying and creating—the process, more than any successful reception that follows. Addicted to being productive, I have learned to become more focused on the joy of the journey rather than fretting about the ultimate destination.”