Star Scene: Jim Ward ~ SPARTA

Jim Ward, At the Drive-In, Photo by Mary Boukouvalas

 

Jim Ward’s scene is “being surrounded by some open-minded, adventurous, supportive folks”.  The founding member of At The Drive-In, SleeperCar, Sparta, and also his own solo work, Ward is an unassuming musician who adamantly states: “That’s it. That’s who I want to be around. That’s how I want to be. I want to be open-minded, I want to be supportive, and I want to be adventurous. So, that’s my scene”.

Ward has always been open-minded and progressive himself. His musical journey begins with his “parents’ record collection”.

He states, “I gravitated towards Billy Joel. I have a very outspoken love of Billy Joel, and Beatles, Led Zeppelin, kind of all the stuff that my parents listened to. My parents grew up in the ’60s. so we had those records around the house. There was a point where I sort of broke away and got into big band, like Benny Goodman, especially when I was about 11 or 12. Which nothing makes you cooler in sixth grade than listening to Benny Goodman.” He laughs, adding, “I was very popular.”

Benny Goodman and being on the outer allowed Ward to find himself and his love of music. “I think that sort of allowed me a quick introduction to the punk rock scene, which was filled with all the misfits and weirdos and outcasts. So I fit right in. And then from that point on, it was kind of true love for me. Starting with the Subhumans, the UK Subhumans, and then discovering Dischord Records was sort of life changing for me.”

A natural progression towards making his own music, Ward states, “I was in bands from 13 on, pretty much. So I played bass in little punk bands. I was absent from music class in seventh grade the day that everybody picks their instruments. So when I came the next day, the only instrument left was electric bass because we were all tiny, basically – we were all 11 years old and nobody wanted to tackle that. And I was absent, so when I got there, they said, ‘Well, this is the only thing left’. So I learned rudimentary like one, four, five kind of progression. And we played for nine weeks and I was just kind of hooked from there on. My parents helped me buy a $100 pawn shop bass. And I just started learning Pixies records and Dead Kennedys records and anything I could just dig into.”

“Then when I was 16, I sort of lied my way into a band, said I played guitar when I didn’t really play guitar. Just kind of made it up as I went along, and said, ‘Sure, I can sing’ even though I wasn’t really a singer. And I never looked back. Once I started writing songs on guitar, it changed for me. That was kind of my band in high school but they didn’t want to tour. So we broke up when I graduated from high school at 17.”

Jim Ward, At the Drive-In, Photo by Mary Boukouvalas

“Then I started At the Drive-In from there, specifically just because I really wanted to see the world. I didn’t care about the whole sex, drugs, and rock and roll thing. None of that meant anything to me except rock and roll. I just wanted to go places and play songs. That was it. So I was pretty obsessed and focused on just getting out and seeing stuff. I loved Jack Kerouac and I just wanted to explore.”

Travel he did. Australia was always on the tour schedule. Ward describes Australia as his “favourite place in the world, besides home”. He describes his first visit as one of his standout moments. “Well, one, as a young man, it was the furthest place I had ever gone. And I met some lifelong friends there. I mean, talking about Chris [Martin, Coldplay] playing on the last track, that’s where I met Chris. That’s where I met all the Coldplay guys. On the Big Day Out tour. I got some lifelong friends. But I always say this, Australia is the closest thing to West Texas in a foreign country for me. So the people, the attitude, the sort of the independence – it’s very West Texan. And the sunset. So there’s two sunsets in the world that I would remember forever. One was in Melbourne and one is almost every night at home.”

Ward is constantly making music though the last time he released music with Sparta was fourteen years ago. Sparta’s new album Trust The River is out now via Dine Alone Records. Ward describes his songwriting and recording process for this album as “evolving”.  He states, “I’m not super prolific, but I do tend to record albums two or three times before I release them. But with Sleepercar records especially if I’m in charge. If I’m in charge, then that’s the case. If it’s a band situation, that’s different, because everybody has input. But I’ll usually record songs multiple times and sort of figure it out as I go along. So, I would hope that evolving is the way that I can describe it. I never go back and try and figure out what was successful. I know there’s songwriters that do that, but for me, the craft of songwriting is exploring places I’ve never been and using the tools that I’ve gotten good at.”

“So it’s a combination of both,” Ward continues, “I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel every time. I’m just trying to find something that excites me that I want to listen to, ultimately. I mean, I write for myself. I’m selfish when it comes to that. I don’t write for other people. It doesn’t matter if people like or don’t like what I do. I never hold a grudge, which is… After not making a record with Sparta for 14 years, I got a few comments on social media or whatever, from people who were like, ‘I don’t like this’. And I’m like, ‘That’s fine. 100% it’s okay. You don’t have to like it. We’re not in a long-term relationship, do whatever you want’.”

Ward is constantly making music, though the last time he released music with Sparta was fourteen years ago. Sparta’s new album Trust The River is out now via Dine Alone Records. Ward describes his songwriting and recording process for this album as “evolving”.  He states, “I’m not super prolific, but I do tend to record albums two or three times before I release them. But with Sleepercar records especially if I’m in charge. If I’m in charge, then that’s the case. If it’s a band situation, that’s different, because everybody has input. But I’ll usually record songs multiple times and figure it out as I go along. So, I would hope that evolving is the way that I can describe it. I never go back and try and figure out what was successful. I know there’s songwriters that do that, but for me, the craft of songwriting is exploring places I’ve never been and using the tools that I’ve gotten good at.”

“So it’s a combination of both,” Ward continues, “I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel every time. I’m just trying to find something that excites me that I want to listen to, ultimately. I mean, I write for myself. I’m selfish when it comes to that. I don’t write for other people. It doesn’t matter if people like or don’t like what I do. I never hold a grudge, which is… After not making a record with Sparta for 14 years, I got a few comments on social media or whatever, from people who were like, ‘I don’t like this’. And I’m like, ‘That’s fine. 100% it’s okay. You don’t have to like it. We’re not in a long-term relationship, do whatever you want’.”

Fans of the earlier offerings from Jim Ward, and Sparta, do love this album though. Ward is unassuming in his response; instead he thanks the fans for their support. The album starts with Class Blue, and Ward explains the reason for that, stating: “It has the longest intro of the whole record, I think, pretty much. And it felt like when you get to a party and you have to acclimate because everybody’s at a different level of drunk when you get there. You go, all right. That section over there is way too rowdy. That section over there seems like they’re on their own trip. And I want to find the spot where I fit in. So, I think subconsciously, what I was doing was saying, ‘All right, everybody, I know it’s been a long time. And there’s different people around and I’m in a different headspace. So I’m just going to give you this kind of long-ass acclimation period’.”

Ward continues, “I didn’t quite get to my goal that was to repeat, ‘We’re going to die’ five times, which is a mantra that my dad… This is a weird story. The reason that I wrote those lyrics is something that my dad does. He has an app on his phone that tells him five times a day to repeat that he’s going to die so that he appreciates life. It’s not negative thing at all. I assume it’s a Buddhist mantra or whatever. But I loved the idea of writing a song with that. Like the first part is about a girl who’s obviously a party girl. She’s got ‘a polite amount of cocaine’. It is just reminding yourself that life is to live. There’s several times in the record that I say that, but it’s something that I really believe in. Part of admitting that, is also admitting that this party is going to stop so let’s enjoy it.”

“Then the ‘you set me free’ part is referring to the hangup. Like just get out of your own way almost. I’m just pretty much a rock and roll guy. But in saying that, my career… we spent a lot of time talking about this in the studio me and David [Garza] because he’s also like my spiritual guru, he’s not just a producer and musician. He’s somebody that has helped me throughout my life, navigate some of the real ups and downs of this career. So part of the stuff that we talked about in the studio was him saying like, ‘You got to let some of the shit go’. Like the stuff that you carry around. I have some real baggage, everybody does, but I’m going to be 44 pretty soon. And out of all of those years, everybody goes through shit. Everybody carries baggage. Everybody needs to just let go sometimes. And for me, it’s that. Just get free. Let’s get free of that shit.”

Cat Scream was “an interesting example of recording a song multiple times”. Ward explains, “It’s kind of the most aggressive and shortest, to the point song. When we were playing it live in 2018, I changed the way that I sang it and changed the way that it felt for me. So being able to rerecord it in the session was awesome. I would love to be able to do that more, tour on songs before they are on a record. It’s so rare for us to do that.”

With Turquoise Dream, Ward explains, “That was a song that came from being at home and getting in an argument, a regular marital argument. And going to the studio and just being reflective and blue and trying to process what the argument was about and what is going on. Being married, I’ve been married a really long time. So trying to figure out how to keep getting better at it is important to me. And I wrote that riff, and that riff been around for probably four years. Because I’ve been working on that song for a while. It hasn’t really changed that much.”

“Again,” Ward continues, “I probably took like 25 songs to David and he helped me whittle it down to the 15 and then we recorded those. Then we whittled those down to about 10, obviously, that you hear on the record. So some of the stuff is just waiting for the right time.”
Spirit Away is a hauntingly atmospheric song, reminiscent of a Nick Cave ballad, which Ward explains is “purely fictional”.  He states, “This is one of those songs where I loved the riff and I loved where it took me emotionally, and I let my imagination go. When I did, I wanted on this record to be able to start introducing a different way of singing. So I’m known almost always for this high scream. As I get older, I want to introduce, ‘All right, I got other things that I want to do’. And this is maybe the right song to do it. When I wrote it, I specifically left the female part, the choruses, empty. And then I sent them to Nicole [Fargo] and said, ’Listen to this, write it from the female perspective. I have no instruction, whatever you want to do’. And, maybe an hour later, she sent me a quick sketch of it, vocally and lyrically. And I was fucking blown away.”

Another track that Ward feels especially connected to is Miracle. He explains, “Miracle was a really special song because it what you hear on the record is the third time we played it. I wrote it in the moment in the studio, went through it twice with the guys. The third time we went through it, David said, ‘I think you should come in and listen, because I think it’s pretty amazing the way it is’. I went in, I listened to it, I wrote all the lyrics and the vocals, and right away recorded it. And haven’t touched it since then. I love that song because I feel blessed by that song coming into my life. I don’t think I had anything to do with it. I just feel like it came and did what it wanted to do. I was just the vessel for it – and as hippy dippy as that sounds, it doesn’t happen very often. So, it was the least laborious thing I’ve ever done musically. It just came out and I think I just love it because of that.”

Empty Houses is a Matt Miller song. Ward states, “So he came in with all the music. I played the guitar part that he recorded, that he wrote, I didn’t change one thing. And then he wrote some lyrics and I wrote some lyrics. That first line is his, which is pretty perfect. He wrote that, I wrote the melody. It was a good collaboration. I told him ‘If you want songs on the record, bring finished songs. We’re not really going to jam and create stuff in the moment. If it happens, it happens. But if you have stuff written, bring it in’.”

Trust the River’s final track is No One Can Be Nowhere, allowing the listener to believe that the party will go on forever. Ward states, “So that song, I recorded a couple of times. Never was super happy with it. And the actual recorded version before I sent it to Chris was seven minutes.  I sent it to Chris to play keys on. He face-timed me and was like, ‘Can I please cut the song up? Because, one, I love listening to you scream. And, two, the song’s too fucking long. So can I cut it up?’ And I said, ‘Well, yeah’. I mean, he’s written some hits, so I trust him. He’s a good friend. And he played keys and sent me that, the cut up version. And I loved it. So that’s why he’s credited with the arrangement on the record as well.”

Ward continues to revolutionize ideas – whether in music or in politics. Even with Covid, quarantine, and restrictions to life, Ward continues to make music, run his and his wife’s restaurant, ELOISE,  and donate his time to helping those in need.

“Well, the thing is I love Texas very much. I love West Texas. We have a Republican controlled state government. They are doing a terrible job of this. My second half of life will be more involved in these  things. Like more politics, more activism, because I think in this life I’ve acquired some lessons and I’ve acquired some tools and skills that I think that I could implement to do something. Not just bitch about it, but to actually do something. The politics of the States right now are awful. And it’s embarrassing, as someone who travels the world, to be American right now. I think that people will give us a break as soon as this dude is gone. We need to get rid of our governor.”
“[Leadership] is a worldwide problem. And the pendulum swings … we’re having a real reckoning in this country right now with the way that we’ve treated black folks and indigenous folks. And I hope that it keeps going. I am 100% behind the movement and whatever I can do as a white American male, I will do. Whether it’s staying out of the way or whether it’s just being an ally, whatever I can do, I will do. I love my country. And I think that we’re going to pull through. I think that we’re going to make a good turn. We’re a young country. You guys are a young country. We’re both  in the same boat. I think we have time to change this and to be good global citizens. So I’ll keep at it. I don’t have anything else to do.”

If that is not enough, you can have a beer with him on Instagram every Friday night while he interviews friends and personalities.

Trust the River is out now.

Ward, and Sparta, will be touring the album as soon as allowed.

Jim Ward’s sound in food form is a “chille relleno”. “It’s a Mexican dish, but it’s kind of been bastardised by us. It’s just like a mishmash of Mexican and American culture. And we’re sort of not the first world and we’re not the third world, it’s just a weird… El Paso’s a weird port city. Things get kind of bastardised here. So I think that my music is probably a bit of that. I think it’s a bit of the West Texas version of a Mexican dish… That’s what I want it to be, at least.”

Photos of SPARTA by Mary Boukouvalas

 

 

 

 

Trust The River is the band’s first full-length studio album since 2006. Listen to Trust The River here.

 

ACCLAIM FOR TRUST THE RIVER:

“That quick progressions from writing to recording gives “Miracle” an immediate, raw feel. Driving drums and bass provide a fresh feeling of relief in the face of hardship, as Ward sings, “You asked me to wait/ Sometimes miracles come late.” There’s clearly torment in that plea for patience, but with the propellant instrumentation, there is also hope.” CONSEQUENCE OF SOUND

“Miracle” delivers that raw sound as if the band wrote and recorded it right then and there.” MXDWN

“”Miracle” will inspire you to live in the present.” SPIN

“This one almost sounds like a post-hardcore version of War-era U2.” BROOKLYN VEGAN

“Built on swirling riffs and cathartic bursts, the track takes you on a spin letting you vicariously unleash all your inner angst from your system.” AUPIUM

TRUST THE RIVER TRACKLIST

1) Class Blue
2) Cat Scream
3) Turquoise Dream
4) Spirit Away
5) Believe
6) Graveyard Luck
7) Dead End Signs
8) Miracle
9) Empty Houses
10) No One Can Be Nowhere

FOLLOW SPARTA:
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Sparta, the band featuring Jim Ward, released their long-awaited new album Trust The River via Dine Alone Records.

MORE ABOUT JIM WARD

When it comes to his long and fruitful career in music, Jim Ward has no ulterior motives. He’s not guided by vanity or money or some grand narrative in which he’s the central player. It’s all about the song, the melody, the lyric. It’s all he needs to tell him where he’s headed.

“I’ve always been a fan of listening to what the song wants to do and not forcing it,” Ward says of his embarking on the journey of writing and recording a new Sparta album, the first offering in more than a decade from the seminal post-hardcore outfit.

“I’ve never sat down and said,“I’m going to write this kind of song.” Or listened to what was popular to guide me. I’ve never had that inclination. Never.”

It’s Ward’s commitment to following the song’s muse, full stop, that’s led him to this point. Or rather, what’s help guide the natural progression in a multi-dimensional talent’s musical life–one where genre, style, tempo and even band demarcations are merely a signpost of where he resides at any current moment.

It’s why in late-2017, when he began writing music for what became Trust The River, the forthcoming new Sparta LP, Ward relied exclusively on how the music made him feel when determining where it should land.

The specific song, he recalls, was “Cat Scream,” a barreling whiplash of pent-up emotion, and immediately upon completing its writing, “I knew what family it belongs in,” Ward notes.“And I know exactly what family that is. It’s Sparta. And that family has not lived its full trajectory.”

It’s true: while he’s performed in various bands and under several monikers over his long and winding career—from the iconic post-hardcore band At The Drive-In, to a slew of solo titles under his own name and, recently,hisalt-countryproject, Sleepercar —Ward is the first to admit that Sparta was and never has been finished. It’s why a few years back,when he began making heavier,moreriff-ladenmusic, it was a no-brainer, he says, for him to ring up his friend and bandmate of more than 20 years, bassist Matt Miller, and begin work on what evolved into Trust The River.

“I’ve made a real point to never break up a band,” Ward says when asked if Sparta had ever been on hiatus or even dissolved completely in the years since 2006’s Threes. “I’ve never had a press release say, “We’re done.” Mostly because if you look at my history it’s filled with on-and-off-again projects. It’s filled with tragedies and reunions and tragedies again. As much as I can control it, I don’t want there to be permanence. So here we are.”

Being here right now means sitting with a monumental new album courtesy of one of rock’s most poignant storytellers. “I enjoyed writing the record more than anything. It’s the thing I love doing the most,” Ward says of a multi-month songwriting process that culminated in some of the most inspired recording sessions of his career,with help from Miller and drummer Cully Symington, and guitarist Gabriel Gonzalez. Also joining them was Austin-based musician-producer, David Garza, whom Ward describes as “ a better musician than anyone you’ve ever met,” and who Ward says was crucial in helping guide Sparta towards a cohesive record. Additionally, Garza’slack of pretense about what constitutes a Sparta record, Ward adds, was key to creating a fresh new offering.“He knows Sparta but he doesn’t know anything really about it,” Ward says of Garza, who he adds kept the sessions “loose and collaborative with no rules.” “So the attitude going into the sessions was simply that we were just going to have fun and maybe eat some breakfast burritos.”

 

About Mary Boukouvalas 1249 Articles
Mary is a photographer and a writer, specialising in music. She runs Rocklust.com where she endeavours to capture the passion of music in her photos whether it's live music photography, promotional band photos or portraits. She has photographed The Rolling Stones, KISS, Iggy Pop, AC/DC, Patti Smith, Joe Strummer, PULP, The Cult, The Damned, The Cure, Ian Brown, Interpol, MUDHONEY, The MELVINS, The Living End, Foo Fighters, Smashing Pumpkins, Rage Against The Machine, The Stone Roses –just to name a few - in Australia, USA, Europe and the Middle East. Her work has been published in Beat magazine, Rolling Stone magazine, Triple J magazine, The Age Newspaper, The Herald Sun, The Australian, Neos Kosmos, blistering.com, theaureview.com, noise11.com, music-news.com. She has a permanent photographic exhibition at The Corner Hotel in Richmond, Victoria Australia.

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