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The sounds of electronic music, dance music, disco, and pop have made a big resurgence in underground music over the past decade. I think that the No. 1 in Heaven record suddenly makes a lot of sense. I know a lot of people who’ve just come to that one, recently.
Russell Mael: That’s also ironic, because when we did the album and released it, it didn’t make a lot of sense to some people. It made a lot of sense to the British public and the European public. It has three hit singles from the thing, which shows that the public was one step ahead of a lot of the critics at the time. Critics couldn’t pin it down. They thought Sparks was a rock band, so how can you be a rock band if you are just two people and you are using electronics, and you’re using more club-like rhythms? Then we still had Ron’s lyrical slant to all the songs and his compositions, so it was puzzling to people when it wasn’t puzzling to us at all. To us it seemed like a kind of forward-leaning move to put what Sparks does into a completely different musical context. In time, that history has kind of been rewritten. Of course it was a great, bold move to have made! Some things take a lot of time to reassess.
You guys have been making music continuously in the record industry for decades, while the industry itself has really contracted over that time. Do you think that artists were much, much, much better off in the past? Or do you see advantages to the current landscape?
Ron Mael: I thought it was better when there was a lot more money involved! The whole idea of records has changed, nobody buys anything except, hopefully, a concert ticket. So what you are doing your music for is different than in the past, where it was frowned upon to have your music used in any commercials. Now that’s completely legitimate for anybody. The use of your music is kind of changed, and the importance of touring has been upped, just because that’s something that nobody can ever steal.
The one thing that is a positive, as far as the technical aspect, is just the recording process itself. We’re able to not have to rely on the huge companies that, you know, really don’t even exist anymore. We don’t have to beg people for money to record. We can just record now whenever we want, and do things that are maybe not as precious, and experiment in ways that we never could before when we were going into a studio in the 70s or 80s. You had to know going into that studio exactly what you were going to be doing. Now, even though we often go in with songs, we can also just sort of try things. It sort of works both ways. We obviously don’t relish the idea that everyone gets all of our music for free, but then the music that we do make is stronger, we think, just because of the actual digital recording process.
For a legacy artist with such a huge back catalog, are you seeing a personal financial benefit from iTunes or the streaming services? Does that get anything at all back to you?
Russell Mael: [loooong, hearty laugh] You know, it's a different system. It gets back, it’s just that things like iTunes, there’s no specific promotion for you. It’s just basically a record shop, where you’re in a record shop that’s sort of enormous. If people take the time to hunt around through the "S" section they’ll stumble across us. Then you get your little share of it. The thing with Spotify is a whole other thing, where it seems to me like it's great for fans in one way, in that everything is available. But the downside is the artists really do suffer financially. It’s not being accounted to in the same kind of ways as if you sold actual copies of your music.
Ron Mael: The one good thing is that before there was always the pressure, and a really short window of time that your record had to become popular. Now you can just be there for a decade or decades and its just there. There isn’t the pressure of a make or break thing which each thing that you come out with, that it has to appeal to people in a mass way. So, in that sense it’s liberating.
Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeff_klingman.