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Spartan Spotlight #4: Ian Fursa, Video Director/Editor June 6, 2019

Hey folks, we’re back with Spartan Profile #4 — an exclusive interview with video director/editor Ian Fursa. Check out our interview with Ian below where he takes us behind-the-scenes of the production of The Darling Fire’s brand new music video “Saints in Masquerade.” Here at Spartan we are fired up about every piece of content we release into the world, but this video is something special — a dark and heavily stylized journey that perfectly captures the essence of the band. Please enjoy Ian’s thoughts below on inspiration, creating an 80’s aesthetic, nostalgia, and working with The Darling Fire.

What inspires you as a director?

Everything in life! I’m very into studying how metaphysical philosophy, psychology, and social psychology play into our art and daily lives. I think the most beautiful visuals and most powerful stories are just creative ways of showing what some deal with on a daily basis in a way that strikes that same emotion.

What were the central themes or ideas you were exploring with the video?

I’d say fear of change, how that can breed within some family dynamics, and how media plays into it. This video’s story was actually inspired by my girlfriend’s family. She is a first generation American, so there is a constant duality between traditional and modern ways of living in her home. I was actually really happy when I thought up the idea of using new versus old toys to symbolize the fight against change.

Visually, the video reflects such a specific time period — what elements were important in creating that aesthetic?

I think we really got lucky with locations on this project. Some scenes are almost solely lit by the neons and arcades that were on location. This really set the tone for the video on the first day. I tried to bring that same feel to the house scenes by always having this one teal spot light shining somewhere within the scene, but since that color of light wouldn’t normally be in a house setting, it gave us a more stylized look. That lighting mixed with our choices in props, I think tied everything together to give the video a more time specific aesthetic. 80’s baby!

Can you talk about the process of acquiring all the props and setting pieces?

I am really thankful to members of the band that put a lot of hard work into the masks and some other props we used. The masks were simple white masks that Jolie and Jeronimo took the time to paint and age based on the character that would wear it. The handheld video game was treated in a similar way too. Also, thankfully the owner of the house location was a vintage collector, so the process of dressing the house set was really picking and choosing what these surreal characters would actually have in their home, while also trying to keep to a certain color scheme and time period.

The use of lighting and projections is really striking throughout the video — can you talk about the feel you were trying to create with those elements?

Well, we knew from the beginning that we wanted it to have an “80’s vibe” with the look of neons and drastic light to dark contrast. Once we decided that we were going to go more surreal with how we told the story, it opened us up to the idea of using the projector to show the media broadcast being almost imprinted onto the parents through these bright beams of light. It became a really cinematic way of blocking the TV when you want someone's attention.

Are there certain music videos that have been especially influential in your directing career?

I’d say this video was very influenced visually by films like Blade Runner 2049, Poltergeist, ET, and Close Encounters. I do try to keep up with watching current and older music videos so there are definitely some that inspire me to this day. Just to list a couple that come to mind: Jon Hopkins - "Breathe This Air, Childish Gambino - "Sober," and Kendrick Lamar - "Humble."

Can you describe the process of collaborating with the band during the production?

I had a great time working with The Darling Fire on this. I don’t think I’ve ever worked with a band that was as involved with the process as they were. Like I said earlier, Jolie and Jeronimo were such a big part of designing the props, finding locations, and just being on set with great ideas. This video wouldn’t be what it is without their help!

Are there any behind-the-scenes stories from the shoot that you’d like to share?

Ok, so the only thing I can think of is how the first filming day went! My plane landed the evening before so I hadn’t been to any of the locations before we went there to film. I really didn't think we would have been able to get all of the shots/angles we wanted for the band performance scenes with the time we had allotted at the arcade. So, morning of shoot day comes, with a lot of scheduling still up in the air, but after a fairly quick setup we got every one of the shots we wanted. Things just kept going smoothly and we were done hours before we had to be out of the location. Everyone kept talking about how it felt like time stood still for us. It really was nice and was an inspiring way to start the day.

Do you have any upcoming projects that you are particularly excited about?

Well I am pretty excited for the release of this video! Besides this though I have a few commercial projects I directed and two short films I did cinematography for that I am excited to see how they do! You’re just going to have to keep your eyes out for them.

What was your favorite arcade game growing up?

Honestly I didn’t really go to arcades growing up, but I can tell you that my favorite now is the Star Wars Battle Pod. I’ve always loved fast paced racing games and sports like go cart racing, BMX, and I even got really into building and racing drones for a bit. So, the Battle Pod seems to be one of the only games that can hold my attention for longer than a game or two.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned to Spartan Records for upcoming Spartan Profiles and updates on the The Darling Fire’s debut record Dark Celebration, available June 14th.

Spartan Spotlight #2: Mixologist Andrew Schools May 5, 2019

Spartan Records teamed up with mixologist Andrew Schools to create the label’s first original cocktail: El Espartano. Check out the recipe below, as well as an exclusive interview with the mixologist about the inspiration behind the drink, a featured artist playlist, and photos and videos documenting the creation of the drink. Stay thirsty, my friends.

El Espartano

1 1/2 oz reposado tequila
1 oz lime
3/4 oz blue Curacao
1/4 oz cointreau
1/2 oz of simple syrup
1 barspoon of St. Germaine

Add ice to shaker. Shake, rattle, and roll, then pour over crushed ice. Garnish with Black Sea Salt. Enjoy!

What’s in an El Espartano? What’s the process for creating the drink?

I am not sure how most people create cocktails, but for me with the El Espartano, I was focused on a few things: the color, the look of the drink, and the flavors. I wanted the color to represent Spartan with the blue and black. Living in North Carolina, I might have subconsciously made it a little bit Carolina blue. Once I decided on that, I wanted to find a good flavor profile for summer time, and what's a better summer drink than a good margarita? I started with reposado tequila because that's a personal favorite of mine, and then I added lime and Cointreau, which are the usual suspects for a margarita. After that, I wanted to get the color right, so I went with Blue Curaçao which really brought this concept to life. I sampled quite a few and decided the drink was still missing something. I added in a bar spoon of St. Germaine, and to me that's what really took it over the edge. I think the slight floral notes really enhanced the overall beverage. When garnishing, I have always loved black sea salt, so it seemed like the right choice — but you have to be careful with it because too much will overpower everything else. I was really pleased with the end result and overall balance. The only real problem is it goes down too quickly.

How are the qualities of Spartan Records represented in the El Espartano?

Spartan Records represents a label that is putting out music they are passionate about. It's not bound by genres and is a free-spirited. They also seem to put a lot of time and attention into the quality of the vinyl and the releases. I hope I’ve captured the label’s character and attention to detail in the drink; I think I hit the mark, but you'll have to be the judge.

Is this something that can be made at home, or does it require some knowledge of mixology?

I had the everyday home bartender in mind when I was making this. I didn't want to use hard to find ingredients. I wanted anyone who wanted to try it to be able to pick up everything at their local liquor store. Creating the drink does not require any real knowledge of mixology and can be enjoyed by just about anyone.

What led you to bartending / mixology?

I have always been into cocktails and craft beer for as long as I can remember. There is one event in particular that really put me on a course to learn more about mixology. I was visiting friends in Denver several years back, and on one of the days, we did a distillery tour at Leopold Brothers which really opened my mind to what's possible with distilling. That same day we took a drive up into the mountains to a little town called Silver Plume, specifically to a bar in an old corner store called Bread Bar For lack of a better word, it was a magical experience for me. The space was incredible, and the way they handcrafted cocktails was eye opening to me. I would just give the bartenders a spirit I liked, and they would come back with the most delicious things I've ever had, every time. I knew this was an outlet I wanted to pursue, and once I got home my learning experience started.

What is the most vivid memory you have attached to a specific drink?

There is a bar in Charlotte, NC called Dot Dot Dot and the bartender Stefan had a drink on his menu called a Truffled Whiskey Sour. It was a traditional whiskey sour with truffled egg whites. When I tasted that for the first time, I had two thoughts — this is what a whiskey sour should be, and this is how you elevate something. That was a benchmark drink for me, and I try to capture that in anything that I create.

How would you describe your artistic process in crafting original drinks?

My approach can happen in one of two ways -- I think about flavors and flavor combinations a lot. Some of my drinks come from me just thinking whether certain ingredients would play well together and then starting the trial and error process. Another way I can create is to try something somewhere and come up with an idea about how to riff or do it differently. However, most of the time I'll be doing something non-cocktail related and an idea will pop in my head.

How could you compare the creative process of crafting original cocktails with making music?

I really find the creative process for me with cocktails and music about the same. I work when I feel inspired and ideas just come to me. It's nice for me to have multiple outlets and different ways to express myself.

Where is mixology heading?

I think mixology is heading down a good path right now. A lot of places are putting an emphasis on local and homemade ingredients and getting away from premixed stuff. I think it's becoming more of a community all the time with the bartenders guild, and everyone seems to be pulling for each other.

When you are sitting at home on the couch, what are you drinking?

I have been on the biggest Manhattan kick lately and trying out lots of variations of that. I love how few ingredients it has, yet how it is packed with flavor and delicacies. It's also very boozy, which I am a fan of. I can also find myself sipping on a Miller High Life or Coors Banquet at times, as well. It's not always about the fancy drink.

What are your thoughts on the nation’s growing interest in home brewing and home distilling? Is this a good thing, or leave it to the pros?

I have mixed feelings on this, but more in the craft beer world than in distilling. I think craft beer is becoming oversaturated in some places, and instead of having a couple breweries doing really good stuff, you now how have to sort through a lot of mediocre beers to find diamonds in the rough. I think eventually that will even itself out through competition with the best breweries surviving. As far as distilling goes, I think we can see that market continue to grow, and it definitely has not reached its peak yet.

Anything else you’d like to share about yourself or your work?

I do this because I love it and that's the important thing. Pursue what you are passionate about, keep learning, never be satisfied, and enjoy the process. You can check out my cocktails on Instagram at @bwc_cocktails and my latest music project Old Faith here.

​Demons' Discourse #1: "Selling Out" April 26, 2019

Welcome to "Demons’ Discourse,” a new, episodic blog series featuring Zach Gehring from the band Demons.

In each installment of the series, Zach will share some thoughts on a topic related to the world of music and art. Readers will then be invited to respond via email to begin a dialogue on the topic. Select responses will be shared and discussed in future installments of the series. Zach will also share relevant media and an audio playlist inspired by the topic to create a fully immersive experience. The idea is provide a platform where artists and readers can push past the typical content that exists on band/label blogs and really dig into some substantive topics. The hope is that, as a result, some meaningful conversations will emerge.

So without further ado, let the discourse begin.

Demons’ Discourse #1 - “Selling Out

We’re music fans, and we’ve all been involved in discussions about music and the topic of selling out. To be sure, at this point, the conversation is perhaps tedious and tired. The notion of selling out is almost an anachronism. I would argue that it doesn’t apply in any descriptive or categorical way to this current era of the music industries or cultures. Digital media tools, and social media platforms have radically altered the playing field and opened up a proliferation of avenues through which musicians and bands can maintain creative and business autonomy. The reductive framing of “selling out” is no longer a productive litmus because so much of the labor is placed upon the artist.

That being said, I think that there’s a symbolic dimension of “selling out” that still maintains a cultural influence, albeit indirectly — it still functions as a pillar of underground music culture, a culture that Spartan Records, despite our ambitions, is ultimately rooted in. And to be sure, it functions in mainstream music culture as well. I’m interested in why the residue of “selling out” is still relevant (yes, I do believe it’s still relevant), and why its various forms still inform our interactions and exchanges.

When we talk about selling out, we reveal an underlying shared idealism — a shared belief and recognition that music is crucial to our understanding of how we see the world, and how we think the world should be. I’m not trying to say that music can change the world - that’s naive. What I’m saying is that for people like us, music stabilizes us in a problematically unstable world. When we talk about selling out, we aren’t talking about money or bullshit notions of authenticity or being “real” — we’re drawing from a map world we’re imagining or remembering, a world we were once a part of that has since been colonized by everything it was immune from and opposed to.

British sociomusicologist and rock critic Simon Frith wrote that our opinions about music and artists are “almost always entangled with social explanations.” When we talk about the music we love, and the ideal environment in which it should be experienced - we’re talking about more than music explicitly, we’re talking about more than the record label it was released on, the producer, the way it was recorded, etc. (which are just symbolic stand ins for something larger and more abstract). Rather, as Frith goes on to claim, we are talking about “a more inchoate feature of the music itself, a perceived quality of sincerity and commitment” that is “ related to the ways in which we judge people’s sincerity generally; it is a human as well as musical judgment.”

Ultimately, what we are talking about are the subjective, ethical, and cultural dimensions that drew us to music in the first place - and we impose those values on specific symbolic manifestations of music culture - the song, the artist, the rock club, the labor and revolutionary potential of creativity, the shared fabric that centers around art and rooted in community. It works differently for each of us - but we all understand. We all get it.

Selling out is a betrayal of rules. We don’t agree on the rules, but we understand that there are rules - and our conversations, the shows we go to, the music we listen to and create, the strong opinions we have - it all informs the culture and moves it forward.

Additional media:

Check out this interview where Simon Frith addresses the notion of authenticity in popular music.

Also, check out the first Demons’ Discourse playlist, titled "Selling Out Sounds Great" - a collection of songs that deal explicitly with notions of authenticity from different angles - sincere appeals (Mineral, Tom Petty), sarcastic takes (Jawbreaker, NOFX), resentful takes (Lagwagon), wise takes (The Clash), and attacks in the name of authenticity (The Vandals, Propagandhi).

Don’t forget to respond here to continue the dialogue on the topic of “Selling Out.” Again, select responses will be shared and discussed in the next installment of the series.

Thanks for reading!

Spartan Spotlight #1: Sophie McTear, Graphic Designer and Illustrator April 10, 2019

In anticipation of Surprises' debut release Natural Disaster, Spartan Records caught up with graphic designer / illustrator Sophie McTear to discuss the album’s stunning artwork. Below McTear walks us through the creative process, shares behind-the-scenes illustrations, discusses sources of inspiration, and even shares a playlist! Enjoy.

How did you, Brooks, and Spartan Records connect?

Spartan reached out to me on Halloween (spooky, awesome omen!) about a new record they were putting out. John, the owner and CEO of Spartan Records, told me he loved my illustrations and was working on releasing something with a band called SURPRISES. I was super interested, and from there our email creative process started to evolve!

How did the creative direction for the artwork evolve? Was there a defined vision going into the project or was it something that evolved organically?

John of Spartan and Brooks of SURPRISES had the perfect mix of a clear direction and vision they had in mind as well as the clear intention that they would like me to stay true to my style and my artistic vision. Personally, that balance helps me so much. Too much direction can become micromanagement, and not enough direction can be a bit daunting. I think that the direction that John and Brooks brought to the table helped me to evolve my idea and vision within my artistic style organically. We talked about a sort of “Where’s Waldo?” look, which really inspired my vision for the record cover art. It was so fun to add pinches of chaos, and little “Easter Eggs” that I’m hoping listeners enjoy.

How would you describe your creative process?

I think I tend to have spurts of creativity and motivation. I like working with a client’s vision, powering through a sketch, and working from there. I’m definitely more of a sprinter than a marathon-er, or whatever that old saying is. I like to start something and finish something, so breaking the process into tangible goals really helps me. It was really fun to work with Spartan Records and SURPRISES on not only the big picture of the artistic vision and direction they were aiming for for the album, but also working on lots of different components of the package! It was exciting to be able to work on single covers, buttons, interior layouts, and more. It really exercised my ability to work on different types of projects within one central vision. I honestly really love hearing feedback from people that I’m working with, especially when it comes to something so personal like an album (especially a debut album!). This is their baby, and I want my art to translate perfectly to their vision, as well as my own personal vision.

Did the “Natural Disaster” concept resonate with you in any way?

Definitely. I’m constantly panicking about the state of our climate, our planet, and my role within the universe! I thought it was fun to bring a bit of comedy into something so dark. I liked that about Brooks’ lyrics too. They made me laugh, but they made me think too!

How does music inspire your design work?

I think music inspires a lot of what I do. There’s not a day in memory that I haven’t listened to music. I’ve been playing music since I was six years old, so music has always been huge for me (I play violin, and now I also play synth and sing). When I got a bit older I started to get into the DIY scene, emo and punk, and a lot of that really got to me. I felt like I could really connect to it. Especially when I am creating something for a band or a musician, I am definitely inspired by the music itself. I take time to listen to the music while I’m creating, and I think that’s part of why the art for this album has really worked with both my vision, SURPRISES’ vision, and Spartan’s vision. (Oh, and by the way, I’ve had “Natural Disaster” stuck in my head all day. Thanks, Brooks!)

Talk about your style, specifically the hand drawn “doodle” aesthetic — is this something you’ve always done?

I think that my style is constantly redeveloping itself, sometimes because of external factors (i.e. when I bought myself an iPad Pro, my style completely changed! Previously I had only been illustrating using graphic shapes because the only tool I had was my laptop’s mousepad), and sometimes because of internal factors. Sometimes I just want to try something new! In the past sixth months or so I’ve really invested myself into my artwork and my personal business and I’m so glad that I have! I think even within that amount of time my style has evolved. As far as the doodle style goes, I’m not sure it’s something I always advertised, but I think that I’m embracing it more. I find that when I am more candid and a bit less polished, people seem to love the emotion that I can express. I think we can all relate to the silliness and simplicity that doodles offer. I was definitely a doodler in school growing up, so it’s funny to think that this college dropout is earning some money for the things I used to get scolded for growing up.

What else inspires you as an artist / designer?

I’m definitely inspired by color in general, creating palettes, seeing beautiful color combinations in my everyday life. I recently moved to Tucson, Arizona (well, almost two years ago), and I’m very inspired by the nature I’m surrounded by… the mountains, the sunsets, the monsoons. I’m also really inspired by the other amazing artists that live in this city, the great friends and relationships I’ve formed. I also love graphic novels and comics, specifically ones through more “indie” publishers like Image Comics or Dark Horse Comics. I also love horror movies, and I like to think that a lot of my art has a sort of whimsical, fun approach to it combined with some darker and sometimes creepy themes.

Do you have a favorite individual illustration within the artwork?

I am really proud of the illustration that I did of Brooks! I’m honestly just beginning to get into portraits of people, so I was very stoked about how the portrait of him came out. I loved the icy blue colors we were working with. Originally this actually wasn’t even on our radar, but after seeing a portrait I had drawn of an awesome drag performer online, John suggested I try illustrating Brooks. I’m so glad he suggested that because it was one of my favorite parts of the whole series. I also really enjoyed the entire record covers, front and back. I really liked the back of the cover because of the colors I was able to use (lots of purples, electric greens, and oranges). I also incorporated aliens and a demon, so that’s pretty damn cool.

Are there any other particular projects, past or present, that you are especially proud of?

Honestly this probably sounds cheesy, but I am so proud of this project! I feel like I know John and Brooks and I have literally only ever communicated with them via email and social media. I am really proud of this team for putting this altogether. It makes me really excited to see my work on the pieces that I’ve helped create, but also to see my handwriting on music videos and promotional pieces. (Should I make a font?! I’m thinking about it.) Personally, I’m also really proud of myself for putting my all into my freelance business and my online store especially because I’ve been battling with chronic sicknesses these past four months or so. I’ve been working on putting my artwork out there, especially in Tucson, and I’m really glad I have, because I have met so many amazingly talented artists, musicians, and people here.

What else should folks know about you?

I guess just that I am always happy to hear about new freelance projects, especially for other musicians, artists, and LGBTQ+ folks! I am available on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Dribbble, and email at sophiemctear@icloud.com. Talk to me about a project you’re excited about, or just like, your cats or something!

From Demos to Diamonds: Rip Room's "Complication" April 27, 2012

Great songs don’t usually come out of thin air, so it’s fascinating how the process goes from idea to a finished song. Rip Room’s guitarist/vocalist John Reed shares how the band’s “Complication” from the forthcoming Alight and Resound came about.

How did this song come together?

“Complication" was the second-to-last song written for Alight and Resound. I remember I wrote the song very quickly, one of the rare cases where I sat down and all the parts just sorta came out. But when I started to demo, I realized it needed some sort of intro. So I played the main riff on a synth – the exact one escapes me right now – and modulated it until it was basically noise, et voila – intro! I ended up exporting that intro to my sampler pedal, and the sound you hear on the record (and when we play live) is that sample run through my AC30, so it sounds extra gnarly. The other thing is we had been playing most of the rest of the record live for the better part of a year, and we were feeling pretty fire. So I remember when I finished the demo I could already hear us playing it.

Rip Room · Complication (Demo)

The iPhone has really changed how bands document songs in progress. Do you guys record ideas on your phone?

Almost all of my ideas start as voice memo recordings. With the exception of "Complication" and "Get On In The World," every song on the record started as me playing unplugged with my iPhone resting on my leg.

Based on the final version of the song, how different is the song from how it was originally conceived?

The parts were all there, but the vibe wasn't. I usually use a metronome and/or a software drummer when I record demos, so live drums always make the song livelier and more organic. The tambourine during the middle section and the handclaps on the outro also give the song a real lift. There's also bass Rhodes doubling some of the bass lines which gives everything a little more heft. Besides that, in general, there's way less guitar noise – with the exception of the shrieking at 1:14 – and Tim [Green]'s mix is especially great on this one. He really builds tension with the echo that starts at sixteen seconds in, so fun to watch him do this live in the room!

Be honest, what do you like and dislike about the final version versus the demo version?

Listening back to the demo, I forgot that I actually let the intro sample run through pretty much the whole verse! I think that would have been rad, but the trade-off might've been that we'd have to play along to a click, which we didn't want to do. Also, I sorta miss the guitar noise, but it's oddly one of the harder things to nail in the studio. The clock is ticking and you gotta ask yourself, is doing another take of feedback really worth it?

How important is the demo process in Rip Room?

I think it's a critical part of making good records, and for me, it's a writing tool. It helps us develop songs very quickly, too. I can write a squirrelly bass part as a placeholder and Sarah will know "insert prog bass line here," or I can drop in a software drummer playing a forgettable beat and Gracie will get the vibe and make it awesome.

Rip Room’s Alight and Resound will be available on May 27, 2022.