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I was listening to the box set, to songs from your whole career, and what seemed crucial to a lot of them is their bigness. How many words and ideas and instruments you could pack into them. What do you think you can get across now, with just the two of you that you couldn’t get across with a whole group?
Ron Mael: That was the challenge. When we first started doing it this way, we weren’t sure. Because you’re right, the arrangements are sometimes really complex and multipart. The arrangements are something that people notice even more than the songs. So, playing this way, the songs would kind of become more apparent. We’ve gone over a lot with our sound person, just to make sure that there’s real power in the sound, so that it isn’t that it sounds like its missing anything. It’s less people on stage, but there’s real power in the overall effect of what we are doing. The arrangements were difficult, having to find ways to compensate for all of those things. We don’t consider this an acoustic performance of our songs. We really think of this as being an alternative way of doing them that’s equally powerful. To come up with arrangements that would have that power, it took a lot of time.
Russel Mael: It kind of strikes us odd that, when we’ve gotten rid of any other band members on stage and this is just really focusing on the two of us, a lot of the comments we are getting are, “Gosh, it’s so theatrical now!” So, that means that the theatricality is coming through the songs, and people are able to hear what the core of the songs are. Whatever it is that’s eliciting those comments, it’s kind of ironic that with the fewer trappings that we have, people are taking it in the opposite sort of way. Which is great.
Between the 2008 shows in London where you played all of your records in their entirety, through hand-picking songs for this box set, and now getting ready for this tour, you’ve been spending a lot of time with old material. Is there a single time period or record that you've come to consider the purest version of Sparks? Is that just you two on stage? Or some other phantom from the past?
Russell Mael: It’s a good question. This is not the only way of presenting Sparks, obviously, because it’s been done in other formats. In a certain way this is sort of the essence of what Sparks is. We love recording and we like utilizing the studio, and making use of every thing that’s available. We enjoy making things that are, you know, honestly, more than one of my vocals, stacking up vocals and that sort of thing. So that, in a recorded way...that’s also what Sparks is. In a live way, we see that this is a perfectly natural version of what Sparks is, too. It doesn’t seem to us as something odd. It’s definitely the key elements for what Sparks has always been: Ron’s lyrical slant and his compositions, and then my vocals, and then our personalities as well. All of that is still in tact in this format.
I’ve come to a lot of your music through YouTube. I assume that’s going be true for a lot of people now coming to the band. Do you have any feelings about how these little disembodied video clips of old TV performances have really been granted a newfound life?
Russell Mael: It’s a mixed blessing, the YouTube stuff. In one sense, the older TV performances of Sparks, or things like that, I think that’s really valid, really interesting to see. The one thing that is less appealing to us is when there’s 20 second clips of something taken from the audience, where the sound is all garbled, and you see somebody’s head in front of the camera. When it’s like that, we’d prefer people just enjoy the show live, enjoy the experience. When it’s in some kind of historical context, shows that people would obviously never have seen...there’s clips that come up now that we don’t even remember we did. You know, a German TV show in the 90s or something, and you kind of think, "Oh that’s cool," at least it's preserved, that event.
I stumbled across your clips from the disaster movie Rollercoaster, recently...
Russell Mael: Sorry about that.