Irwin Sparkes, (seen here on the right), lead vocalist and guitarist with The Hoosiers, chats with Kevin Cooper about his thoughts on a new studio album, performing at the Yanmar Stadium Nagai in Osaka Japan, the tenth anniversary of their debut album The Trick To Life and their forthcoming tour of the UK.

Irwin Sparkes is the lead vocalist and lead guitarist with The Hoosiers, who were formed in 2003. Along with Alan Sharland (drums, percussion and vocals) and bass player Martin Skarendah, they released their first single, Worried About Ray in July 2007, which reached number five in the UK singles chart, and was followed by the release of their debut album, The Trick To Life, in October of the same year.

Their second album, The Illusion Of Safety was released in 2010, followed by their third album, The News From Nowhere in 2014.

In July 2015, bassist Martin Skarendah left the band and the remaining duo began work on their fourth album, The Secret Service which was released with the help of their fans who had pre-ordered it, in October 2015. The release was preceded by EPs, The Wheels Fell Off and Up To No Good. These were subsequently followed up with two live albums; one with recordings taken from a performance at the London Islington Academy from the Tour From Nowhere in May 2014, the other titled Acoustic Songs In A Church and included twelve tracks from across the bands four albums to date, each song recorded in one take on a single day in February 2014. As both albums were recorded in 2014 before Martin’s departure they are the last albums to feature the full line-up of The Hoosiers to date.

Whilst busy rehearsing for their forthcoming tour, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Irwin how are you today?

I’m good thanks Kevin how are you doing?

I’m very well thank you and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

Hey don’t be silly, likewise. Remember it takes two to tango (laughter).

(Laughter) don’t let my wife hear you.

No I won’t, it will be our little secret (laughter). Just make sure that doesn’t go into print obviously but if it does we will then have to scream it from the rooftops. Maybe we should leave it out (laughter).

Swiftly moving on, how is life treating you?

Life at this moment in time is not too bad. As a mate of mine who is from Leeds would say ‘it’s not nine bad’ which is an awful saying but things are at present really good. I’m standing, I’m healthy and I’m breathing which is a good start I think. How about yourself, are you keeping well? It’s not just about me Kevin come on.

I have to say that I am very well thank you. I am currently keeping myself busy by doing copious amounts of interviews at the moment.

Are you interviewing lots of nice people?

To be honest I have to say that yes I am. No problems at all at the moment.

Well from my point of view I kind of think that there will be a point where some of the people that you interview will not necessarily be the nicest person in the world, but if they are doing this job then they must be doing it because they really want to do it and that makes them pretty lucky to be doing a job that they like. If they can’t hide the fact that they are a complete knob for twenty minutes or so then you really do have problems. So I promise to do my very best and give it my best shot (laughter).

Believe me Irwin, without mentioning any particular names I have in the past interviewed some of the knobs within the music business (laughter). Having said that, I can see things from their point of view. Being asked the same questions every ten minutes for a whole week must finally make you want to scream and pull your hair out?

Don’t tell me, let me guess, you had the misfortune to bump into Huey Morgan from the Fun Lovin’ Criminals during one of his infamous bad days?

Yes I did and after five minutes he stormed out (laughter).

Well don’t take it too personally as you are not the first and I am pretty sure that you won’t be the last to be on the receiving end of one of Mr Morgan’s rants (laughter). Anyway to answer your question, there are different ways of looking at it. Of course constantly being asked ‘who Ray is’ or ‘are you still worried about Ray’ after the title of our first release back in 2007 Worried About Ray, gets asked a lot and it is like well it is not the most original question but the fact that people are still after all of this time willing to ask it, normally means that things are not going too bad then with the interview.

However, I am always mildly pleased because it means that the people out there are still interested in us enough to want to know. I actually enjoy doing interviews because it is not something that I am doing all of the time and I am not constantly on the phone. However, there comes a time I guess when everyone is in the midst of an album cycle, so it is a lot fresher. So all of that means that you can scratch that question from your list right now (laughter).

If you must know I actually have no questions whatsoever about Ray’s health, his wellbeing or his accommodation (laughter).

(Laughter) bugger, that could have been interesting as I don’t think that anyone has ever enquired about Ray’s health before and certainly I have never been asked questions about either his wellbeing or his accommodation (laughter).

Right then, let’s see just how bad my questions are (laughter).

(Laughter) absolutely, and I promise that I will be perfectly honest with you.

Right then, here goes. This year is the tenth anniversary of your debut album The Trick To Life. Can you really believe that it has been that long?

No I cannot because when we play tracks off the album it is still fun to do and it doesn’t feel old at all. This time seven years ago we released our second album The Illusion Of Safety and we went ‘wow’ so obviously the people who matter in these things are obviously keeping tabs on the anniversary situations. They told us that this year would be the tenth anniversary of The Trick To Life and the good thing is that they gave us enough notice to make us think that we had better do something about it, hence the tour and the reissue of the album.

Well I have to tell you that I have played the album this morning knowing that I would be speaking to you later, and in my opinion it still sounds as fresh today as it did ten years ago. Would you agree with that?

Thank you that is great to hear but I have to say that I haven’t listened to the whole album now for about nine years. However, with the tour looming it is something that I am going to have to do in order to learn some of the songs that I have forgotten. I feel that the album was made in an era of sheer guitar pop and what struck me was the amount of compression used when mixing the album because it was mixed by Cenzo Townshend first and foremost with radio airplay in mind. So as I said I haven’t listened to the album for years, but if you are telling me that you think that then that is great to hear.

At the time of writing and recording the album, did you feel that you had something special on your hands?

That’s a funny one and I still try to understand if we did or not appreciate just how good the album was. I now write songs for other people and something that I try to learn from is that when you have got a song and there is only two of you in the room, unless you are both jumping up and down then it is probably not a very good song. However, I think that a good indication for us was when we were in rehearsals and we stumbled across Worried About Ray. All four of us who were in the rehearsal room at the time, all felt that it was something special and was genuinely better than anything else that we had written at that point. We then let someone else hear it in order to see what they thought and it was in fact that song that got us our record deal. You know that a song is good when it takes on a momentum of its own. Also it is all about timing, and we were literally in the right place at the right time because people at that time just wanted to hear that kind of music. It felt really fresh then and the idea that it still feels as fresh today is a delight to hear so thanks for that.

You are welcome and for me it proves that good songs will always stand the test of time.

That is very kind of you to say that. My train of thought is that a good song will work on two levels, firstly as a polished item in the recording studio and second as a stand-alone item played on the guitar or the piano. I personally feel that they should both work equally as well as one another. Whenever the song is played in its simplest form you should still be able to hear that spark. We always enjoy playing acoustic versions of our songs just as much as playing them with the full band so I guess that we must still be pleased with what we have written.

I should tell you that my favourite song on the album has always been Worst Case Scenario.

Really, that’s great to hear because not many people ever choose Worst Case Scenario as being their favourite.

Did you have a favourite track either to perform or to write?

That’s an interesting one actually. I don’t think that I have ever been asked that before so you can give yourself a pat on the back there (laughter). We were obviously taken aback by just how popular Worried About Ray was, especially with it being the first single off the album. However, Worst Case Scenario came to me late one night in the depths of winter and the thing is that it never got any higher in the charts than number seventy-eight. It just didn’t quite work for some reason, but I have to say that it is an absolute joy to play live and once again I am glad that you like it. I can clearly remember writing Worst Case Scenario four years before we actually got signed to a label. I never thought ‘I hope that people like this’ or ‘I hope that it sells a million copies’ there was none of that, I was merely trying to be honest and write the best thing that I could at that time and I have to say that I was really pleased with the results.

You are releasing an anniversary two CD version of the album. Have you had a hand in that and are you happy with the final product?

(Laughter) absolutely yes. Throughout the whole process we were obviously confined to the one album and an amount of tracks that worked well together but that doesn’t mean that is all that we come up with. There were quite a few songs of mine that didn’t quite make it onto the album originally and I actually found a sound file which would have originally been recorded on whatever huge mobile phone I would have had at the time (laughter). So much work went into recording those songs that it felt like a journey for me and reminded me very much of that time and I am glad that people will finally get to hear those songs. All of these tracks simply would not fit on the original album but still an awful lot of work went into them, and it is great that people will finally get to hear them.

How does it feel for you to finally see the album being released on vinyl for the first time?

Having grown up with vinyl and cassette, the album now to me, finally feels real. At last I can go home and say to my mum and dad “look, see, I am in a band and it is a real thing” (laughter). It’s hard to do that when you are pointing to statistics on your streaming figures; it’s a little bit more nebulous I guess now that we finally have a bone fide black lacquered vinyl staring you in the face (laughter). It feels really satisfying but also feels odd that we have had to wait ten years to get it.

You have mentioned cassette, did it not cross your mind at any time to release the album on cassette?

To be perfectly honest with you, no (laughter). I know that cassettes are currently having a bit of a boom but let’s be honest, they are a bit crap aren’t they (laughter).

(Laughter) well I have to say that in my opinion they were, and no doubt still are, awful.

If we put the album out on cassette we would have to sell a pencil with it in order to tighten the tape before you played it (laughter). And more to the point who the hell has still got a cassette player.

(Laughter) it’s funny you asking that because I have but that’s because I’m a boring old fart.

Have you, okay that’s interesting.

I was recently speaking to Rick Wakeman and he informed me that he still has a cassette player in one of his old Jaguar motor cars.

Rick Wakeman, good name drop there, now we are talking (laughter). So you and Rick have both got a cassette player have you; well that sounds to me like a very exclusive club. To be honest I actually do have a lot of love for cassettes because it is a knee jerk reaction sort of thing simply because I grew up with them. But as far as releasing any material on cassette then I have to say that is most definitely a no-no from my point of view.

So just how long did it take you to get the albums pressed?

God what a palaver that was; it actually took us six months to get the albums pressed. It is genuinely a huge problem. There are only a very few pressing plants still in operation and I think that another problem is actually sourcing the raw materials, that also takes time.

Where did you have yours pressed?

Eventually after taking what seemed like an age, we actually found a plant over in Holland who could press them for us. After doing quite a bit of research we found that both Holland and Belgium now have quite a few working record pressing plants. So quite a few artists are now going over there to get their records pressed.

On the subject of albums, do you currently any thoughts on a new studio album?

Actually now that it is back to being just me and Alan (Sharland) who have been the original guys for the past twenty-three years now, and who have actually been making music together since we were teenagers at school, long before bands got their big break through TV talent shows, not that we are bitter at all (laughter). It is an old school way of doing things and now that we are back to being a two-piece and knowing that the anniversary tour was coming up, we have just been tinkering away with a few songs that we have had lying around for the last six months or so and because of that I think that there will be something coming up. Let’s just say that we are dating at the moment (laughter). We want to make sure that it is something good and not just rush any old crap out.

You will be playing the album in full; will it be from start to finish or will you play it in chunks?

That’s a really good point because at this moment in time we are having chats about that very thing. For our fans I think that it is probably the only one of our four albums that they might know. It outsold all of the others so drastically and I have a feeling that they will want to hear it from beginning to end. That is my take on it at the moment but I was loving the idea of being a bit cheeky and breaking it up with a few of the news songs thrown in there for good measure. I always have the feeling that if we played the album straight through from start to finish then most of the audience would rush off home before we had even started the encore (laughter).

I totally get the fact that there are reasons as to why you go out and see a band play live and one of them is that you want to hear them playing their singles. So in answer to your question let’s just say that we are not entirely sure as yet. What’s your thought on that?

To be honest I have seen both sides of the argument. I recently went to see Peter Hook And The Light performing two entire albums. They played Substance by New Order and Substance Joy Division and I have to say that most of the audience left after they had heard the Joy Division album. On the other hand The Stranglers have played a few of their albums straight through from start to finish and that always works really well for them.

I guess it is all down to translating what it is that you have listened to in your bedroom or wherever and then suddenly there it is on the stage live in front of you in that exact same order. What always interests me is that it is never in an order that most bands would chose to play it live, it just doesn’t translate that well. So you will find that they will tinker with it or they will put a cover version in there or an acoustic version of one of their songs or whatever in order to change it dynamically. To be honest I would love to be a bit playful with it in order to amuse ourselves and try and ensure that it doesn’t go a bit stale. So we will most probably play around with it a little. In fact I imagine that it will change as we tour.

Will it be just you and Alan on the tour?

Oh no, not at all. We will have a full band around us including a bassist, a keyboard player and a trumpet player, and we have all been playing together for quite a while now. We always want it to be as big a show as possible. There is also another trumpet player together with a trombone player who used to be with us back in the early days and we are currently checking the budget to see if it is at all possible for the two of them to come along with us at least to some shows. That would be great because they really do give an extra boost to the shows.

The tour kicks off here in Nottingham at The Bodega on Friday 29th September. I have to ask you, why The Bodega and not somewhere bigger, let’s say Rock City for example?

To be fair that really is a question for our booking agent because it was his job to go through all of the offers that we had come through but I think that Nottingham is somewhere where we really wanted to not only start the tour but we also wanted to make sure that tickets for the show sold comfortably. There is nothing worse than rattling around a big hall so I would always take a sold-out smaller venue over a half full larger venue. That will always create a better atmosphere and we do at the end of the day enjoy playing the more intimate shows.

Who has musically inspired you?

Actually that is something that changes. Originally it would be everything from Prince to Bruce Springsteen and then later I would be discovering bands such as Midlake and Father John Misty, but now the people who I have more of an appetite for are Broken Social Scene and Queens Of The Stone Age who are very inventive with their production, quality of sound and arrangements. They really have come up with something that is attention grabbing and is of such a quality and which also has their distinctive sound to it.

If I had to push you what would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

My stock answer will always be that it hasn’t happened yet. I quite like the idea that I am always looking forward. However, in order to give you an answer that you can actually do something with, it could well be playing at the Yanmar Stadium Nagai in Osaka, Japan in front of fifty thousand people at a Summer Sonic Festival. Whenever you get above twenty thousand then it could be a hundred and twenty thousand, they both look like the same thing really. Having said that it really was something special. Coldplay closed the festival whilst we were more at the opening side of things but it was just fantastic for us to be there (laughter).

What was the first record that you bought?

(Laughter) it is at this precise point that my street credibility could go straight down the toilet. It was a song called She Ain’t Worth It by Glenn Medeiros featuring Bobby Brown. I marvel whenever I read someone saying that the first record they bought was by Joy Division (laughter).

Who did you first see performing live in concert?

That was The Boo Radleys at Reading University.

I was actually listening to Wake Up Boo! earlier today. I still think that it still sounds fresh despite being released back in 1995. It is a cracking summer song.

Were you really, wow. Yes it is with a hell of a chorus too.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

Wow, that’s a good one actually. That would have been Sun Kil Moon’s album Benji. It is absolutely devastating.

On that note Irwin let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been a pleasure and I hope to see you here in Nottingham. Bye for now.

It’s been great Kevin and thank you very, very much for giving me your time too. Do make sure that you come and say hi.