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Spartan Profile #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!

Watch the new Surprises "Natural Disaster" Music Video at Substream! April 9, 2019

Surprises has just dropped a music video for the new single and title track off the just-announced new album Natural Disaster which comes out everywhere on May 31st. Watch the premiere at Substream here!

An impressively DIY effort, Paschal explains,

"Shooting a music video myself was not in the plans, but I had a scheduling conflict with the guy that was gonna shoot the video for this song and I just sat on it for a while. I had a week open in my schedule and the gears started turning. I took a stab at making a video for another song called "Tell The World" and that kinda got me going. Two days later I shot a video for another song and by the time I got to "Natural Disaster" I was ready to try some crazy shit. The idea popped in my head and I went to attic to find some old TVs. The challenge with the video was that I knew that I couldn't sync four TVs at once. So I shot them individually, then used a 3 dollar phone app to splice the 4 shots together. It looked amazing, but the app wouldn’t render HD so I had a good buddy of mine (Wes Marvin) splice it on real editing software. That was really the 4 shots I had to work with. While I was editing it, I tried to make my limitations the thing that made it clever, so I decided to use the big text for the choruses. I figured those were good words to smack you in the face with."

Pre-order Natural Disaster on limited edition vinyl here. All pre-orders include an instant high-quality download of the single "Natural Disaster" and a full album download + exclusive bonus track "Natural Disaster" (A Capella)" on May 31st.

Debut Surprises Album "Natural Disaster" out May 31st! New Song and Pre-orders Available Now! April 2, 2019

After releasing three successful LP’s with the fan-adored band Sullivan and dozens of solo tracks over the past ten years, songs seem to emanate from all levels of Brooks Paschal's consciousness. However, Paschal’s new project Surprises is something different. It is cathartic, it is reckless, and it is personal — a striking new narrative from a familiar voice. Natural Disaster is a concentrated amalgamation of all the driving, melodic, soaring, and fragile moments that made Paschal’s previous work so appealing, but with instincts driving all direction, we're thrust into a new and unchartered creative territory.

The debut album Natural Disaster will be released on limited edition LP / digital on May 31st and we're super excited to premiere the title track today at Atwood Magazine here! Pre-orders are available now and include an instant download of the song. The first 100 pre-orders also include a 12" x 12" lithograph autographed by Brooks. Pre-order here!

Shy, Low Announces European Tour This May/June! March 25, 2019

Shy, Low returns to Europe this May/June! Don't miss them at the Dunk!festival and Post In Paris Festival as well as all across Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, France, Netherlands, and Belgium!

05.15 - Copenhagen, DK - Vega
05.16 - Skien, No - Folque
05.17 - Gothenburg, SE - Sensus Gårda
05.18 - Malmö, SE - Charlie’s Burgers
05.19 - Berlin, DE - Schacht
05.20 - DE - TBA
05.21 - Dresden, DE - Fallout
05.22 - Hamburg, DE - Astra Stube
05.23 - DE - TBA
05.24 - Zurich, CH - Dynamo - Werk 21, Zurich
05.25 - Lyon, FR - Le Farmer
05.26 - Paris, FR - Petit Bain - Post In Paris
05.27 - Lille, FR - La Bulle Cafe
05.28 - Den Bosch, NL - Willem-Twee Poppodium
05.29 - Mainz, DE - Kulturclub Schon Schön
05.31 - Liége, BE - Kultura
06.01 - Zottegem, BE - Dunk!festival
06.02 - Duisburg, DE - Djäzz
06.03 - Kiel, DE - Medusa

New Florida Man Album "Tropical Depression" Out May 3rd! New Single and Pre-Orders Available Now! March 20, 2019

The sophomore full-length album from Charleston, South Carolina noise-punk agitators, Florida Man, Tropical Depression, will be released on May 3rd. Today, we’re excited to team up with Decibel Magazine to premiere the album's explosive first single "Brain Cell." Pre-orders for the album on limited edition picture disc and vinyl are available now here and all pre-orders include an instant download of “Brain Cell.” The first 100 pre-orders also include a Florida Man orange stress ball!

Recorded by Zac Thomas (Kylesa, Black Tusk), Tropical Depression is a tangle of pummeling guitars and howled vocals that shows just how effectively Florida Man filters the spirits of the most legendary noise rock and post-hardcore scenes. There's San Diego’s angular attack (Hot Snakes, No Knife), Seattle’s sheer power (Botch, These Arms Are Snakes), Chicago’s sonic depravity (The Jesus Lizard, Shellac), and DC’s unbridled creativity (Fugazi, Faraquet) -- all blended with the band's unique brand of sweat-soaked southern grime and a dose of hardcore aggression courtesy of vocalist Jim O'Connor's gravel-throated vocals. "Brain Cell" opens the album and is a perfect introduction to Florida Man's chaotic-yet-satisfying heaviness.

The Darling Fire's Debut Album "Dark Celebration" Out June 14th. New Single and Pre-orders Available Now! March 18, 2019

The debut album from The Darling Fire, Dark Celebration, will be released everywhere on June 14th and we’re thrilled to premiere the band’s first single “For the Loveless” exclusively on Billboard. Pre-orders for the album are available now here and include an instant download of “For The Loveless.”

After years of individual success in some of the scene's most beloved bands, The Darling Fire was born of both deep struggle and deeper friendships. A veritable mosaic of indie notoriety, the band features members of The Rocking Horse Winner, Further Seems Forever, Dashboard Confessional, Poison The Well, Shai Hulud, As Friends Rust, and Strongarm among others. Dark Celebration is in many ways what you'd anticipate — energetic, powerful, melodic, and heavy; however, it is far more nuanced than you would imagine. The collective sum of the parts and the alluring heart-on-sleeve lyrics produce a more intimate, spacey and bewitching experience — an authenticity that speaks to the true cathartic nature of the project. The result of their collaboration with producer J. Robbins (Jawbox, Burning Airlines, Government Issue) is a powerful coalescence of artistry and vision — a record that five artists spent their entire careers waiting to make.

Welcome Florida Man to the Spartan Family. New Album "Tropical Depression" Out This Spring. February 14, 2019

We’re so excited to welcome Charleston, South Carolina noise punk agitators, Florida Man, to the Spartan family. We've re-released the band's self-titled debut album with updated artwork and the new bonus track "Shut-In" and it’s available now as a free download at the Spartan store and Bandcamp as well as digital services worldwide. Look for the band's new album Tropical Depression out this Spring.

The band’s sound is a tangle of pummeling guitars and howled vocals that captures the combined spirits of the most iconic noise rock and post-hardcore scenes of the past. Their music packs the razor sharp riffing of San Diego (Hot Snakes, No Knife), the sheer power of Seattle (Botch, These Arms Are Snakes), and the unbridled creativity of Washington, DC (Fugazi, Faraquet) -- all filtered through the band's unique brand of sweat-soaked southern grime.

While their sound may be as unnerving as a Google search of their band name, their roaring music and fascination with the bleaker side of life comes from much more natural origins. Made up of O'Connor on vocals, guitarist Andrew Barnes, bassist CJ DeLuca, and drummer Jonathan Peace, Florida Man's members are all longtime friends and collaborators from the southeastern punk and hardcore scenes. Barnes had spent years playing drums in other bands and was reacquainting himself with guitar after the end of his most recent project, and as the riffs began to pile up he turned to his like-minded friends and fans of all things distorted and aggressive. The name Florida Man was chosen as a tribute to the underbelly that often inspired them sonically and lyrically, and before long their raucous live show had spawned a substantial local following and even led to the band performing at Hopscotch Music Festival. Now as part of the Spartan Records family, Florida Man are gearing up for a big 2019 with a new full-length Tropical Depression this Spring and heavy touring on the horizon. Be on the lookout for new music, pre-orders, and more soon!

Shy, Low "Hiraeth" Second Pressing Available Now! January 30, 2019

A new second pressing of Shy, Low’s landmark 2015 album Hiraeth is available now on two stunning variants that were inspired by the album title’s Welsh origin and the wildflowers that appear on the album cover. Both the “Cowslip” and “Forget-Me-Not” variants are limited to only 75 copies online, so act fast! Order here.

Watch Dearist's New Music Video for "Colours" at The Noise! January 17, 2019

Wolverhampton, UK rockers Dearist are debuting their new video for "Colours" on The Noise. The song appears on the band's sophomore LP Sonder which is available everywhere now.

Lyrically, the track deals with a random and devastating event that shook the lives of frontman Adam Binder and his wife. Binder explains:

"The lyrical content is quite dark, I don't think I've spoken before about what this is about, but I will. Basically a few years ago I saw my then girlfriend (now wife) get hit by a car and I think about the things that happened that day often and how lucky she is. But its inspired by how she must have felt as she lay there in the road waiting for the ambulance to arrive. It's not specifically about her on that day, but more about anyone that has been through an experience like that."

Win a One-of-a-Kind, Handmade Effects Pedal from Man Mountain! December 29, 2018

Man Mountain
loves effects pedals and on their latest album Infinity Mirror they all used the legendary ProCo RAT pedal heavily. Now, we're giving you the chance to win a one-of-a-kind pedal that was personally hand-soldered and built with an unmatched level of care by the band. It's a faithful recreation of the famous RAT, but with much higher quality components and true-bypass switching. Enter to win the pedal, a rare Infinity Mirror test pressing, Man Mountain beard oil, and much more here. Contest ends January 11th!

Welcome The Darling Fire to the Spartan Family! Debut Album "Dark Celebration" Out Summer 2019. December 3, 2018

We're beyond excited to welcome The Darling Fire to the Spartan family and will be releasing their J. Robbins-produced debut album Dark Celebration next summer.

While the band name may not ring a bell, the lineup for this Florida 5-piece consists of some respected players within the indie/emo scene, including Jolie Lindholm (The Rocking Horse Winner, Dashboard Confessional) on vocals/guitar, Jeronimo Gomez on guitar (Poison The Well, The Rocking Horse Winner, As Friends Rust), Steven Kleisath on drums (Further Seems Forever, Shai Hulud, Strongarm), Gregg Moore on bass and Matthew Short on guitar.

Jolie says, "We're so excited to join the Spartan family and to start this journey all over again with them! We're looking forward to seeing what the future holds. It's great to be part of a label that's supportive of the artists they release and that understands our music.”

The band will play their first show on December 7th at Voltaire in West Palm Beach, FL and details can be found here.

About The Darling Fire:

When immersed in darkness, the absence of light can be disorienting. Sounds are amplified, minutes are elongated, and thoughts become unharnessed. But after some time, your senses start to adjust. Nondescript features become more defined, muffled sounds become more audible, and tied tongues become more articulate. From the darkness, a sense of clarity can emerge and vision can develop from its own absence.

After years of individual success in some of the scene's most beloved bands, The Darling Fire was born of both deep struggle and deeper friendships. "Jeronimo and I had a particularly difficult end of the year in 2017," says vocalist/guitarist Jolie Lindholm. "We’d been wanting to write music together for awhile, but life kept getting in the way. The tough time we were having made us realize that life is short and there was no better time. We didn't specifically set out to start a band, per se. It just began to materialize as things started changing, once we started to share what we were working on. It almost took on a life of its own and kept pushing us to move forward, to make this into a real thing."

Looking at the The Darling Fire's impressive roster, the band's debut release, Dark Celebration, is in many ways what you'd anticipate — energetic, powerful, melodic, and heavy; however, it is far more nuanced than you would imagine. The collective sum of the parts and the alluring heart-on-sleeve lyrics produce a more intimate, spacey and bewitching experience — an authenticity that speaks to the true cathartic nature of the project. "The album is really a celebration of dark themes and experiences that have occurred in our lives both personally and distantly," says guitar player Matthew Short.

The dark times referenced as the catalyst for the record are not superficial or childish in nature. Dark Celebration is the recorded process of collective coping — real people, real obstacles (sickness, death, loss), and real healing. "The lyrical content comes from these struggles, as well as an observation of the oddities of this life," says Lindholm. "The frustration, anger, and sadness of what we had been through gave us plenty of material to work with. Our drummer Steven coined the term "Dark Celebration" in passing when referring to the direction our music was going and it stuck. While we've each had some struggles in our lives, we wouldn't be where we are at this moment if not for those dark times."

Selecting the right producer to bring the Dark Celebration vision to life was of paramount importance. In all the band’s discussions, there was one name that seemed appropriate for a project of this magnitude — J. Robbins. Aside from the list of impressive production credits (The Dismemberment Plan, The Promise Ring, Against Me!), Robbins was also a formative member some of The Darling Fire’s favorite bands (Jawbox, Burning Airlines, Government Issue). The result of this collaboration was a powerful coalescence of artistry and vision — the record that five artists spent their entire careers waiting to make. "This band feels like a family," says Lindholm, "We’re all facing the challenges of what is to come together, with eyes wide open. Regardless of where we are in our lives, there is always the opportunity to start anew — to find fresh inspiration and kinship."

Without evoking too many cliches, while the darkness can be disorienting, there is a beauty in its temporariness. It requires a great amount of courage to confront the unknown in its purest form, but rarely is regret the outcome of this process. Stay tuned for more information and look for the band's debut album Dark Celebration out Summer 2019.