Loud local rockers Sparrows bask in debut US tour, exciting new releases
Adam Feibel | Fulcrum Staff
Dan Thomson picks me up in his van on the way to his band’s last rehearsal before their tour. It’s a big one—the tour, I mean, but the van as well. He tells me it’s great for sleeping in, but a real pain in the ass to parallel park.
“I could do it if I had more time,” he says. “But when I’m on a busy downtown street, I’d rather just walk further with all the gear than deal with that.”
The van will take the loud and melodic Ottawa rock band, Sparrows, through 27 cities on the band’s first American tour and longest to date. The band cut the tape in Burlington, Vt. on Aug. 31 and will head down the east coast to Gainesville, Fl. by Sept. 16, before heading right back up again to end in Rochester, N.Y.
This big leap for the band—which includes Thomson on guitar and lead vocal duties, bassist Brandon Desjardins, guitarist Devlin Morton, and drummer Rem Macleod—comes at a time of great opportunity for growth and expansion. Sparrows rereleased their debut EP, Goliath, on cassette tape through American record label Paper + Plastick, and are set to release a brand new seven-inch record they’ve been sitting on for months.
“Basically, the original plan was to have it out in May,” Thomson explains. “And then with member shifts and everything, that didn’t happen.”
The band actually recorded the three songs in February with Kenny Bridges of the well-known Brampton, Ont.-based group, Moneen. Sparrows has toured aplenty, having played about 100 gigs in 2011 after the May release of Goliath, but tours, member changes, and other delays have gotten in the way of the new seven-inch.
We’re now at the band’s practice space, in between rehearsals of the band’s 30-minute set. Thomson insisted I bring earplugs, but I forgot, of course, so he came prepared with an extra set. It’s a good thing he did, because Sparrows’ blisteringly loud and effects-laden brand of post-hardcore—influenced by bands like Small Brown Bike, Moving Mountains, and perhaps most noticeably, Moneen—ricochets off the walls of the dimly lit basement.
The band practices here three times a week, and it pays off. Sparrows’ live show is loud, tight, and perfectly executed. The members are comfortable enough in their element to have a lot of fun while playing; you’ll notice them swapping guitar picks, exchanging high-fives, and jumping off things while playing.
The current version of Sparrows has only existed since last winter, with the exception of Macleod, who was added a couple months later. Before that, Thomson played alongside a whole other group of guys.
This is more of a vacation than a tour, it’s starting to become.
The band was also supposed to do their first U.S. tour back in July, but things didn’t quite work out.
“Brandon unintentionally screwed that up,” Thomson says.
“Fuck you,” Desjardins laughs.
Thomson continues, “No, it’s true! What happened was—and this was a couple days before we were going to cross—the first promoter called us in to the border, like you’re supposed to do. And [Desjardin’s] name got flagged at the border. And because we hadn’t applied for work permits because we were going there and not getting paid, basically what was going to happen was that they weren’t going to let us across because someone that shares his name is like, a really big drug dealer in Quebec.
“So, that kind of screwed our summer a little bit, and that’s why everything’s been pushed back now.”
But this time, they’ve pulled out all the stops. In the corner of the room is a whiteboard with a list of all the things they need to do before leaving.
“I’ve been stressing about what I have to buy,” Morton says, “but then trying to remember, ‘We’re going to the U.S., they have stores there. We can purchase some of these things.'”
Morton has been acting as a quasi travel advisor for the band for this tour. On top of acquiring American SIM cards for each member’s phone, he also compiled an incredibly detailed tour booklet with information and trivia about each city they’ll stop in and each route they’ll take in between.
I pick it up and flip through each city’s history, geography, population, and more, and notable attractions like the Ben & Jerry’s headquarters in Burlington, Vt. and Yankee Stadium in, well, New York City. There are one or two pages for each city, and more for the driving routes. Seriously, this thing is almost as thick as my thumb.
Morton says later on he’ll go over all the famous graves they should visit.
“This is more of a vacation than a tour, it’s starting to become,” Thomson admits.
There are still some dates that may be switched up, but they’re playing it as it goes, with good humour. No matter how much you plan, some things will always be undecided. The show in Gainesville might get switched up, for example, but Thomson says, “Whatever, fuck it, it’s Florida. There’s water and food. And a hurricane, probably.”
I ask them what else, other than handball—a game they described earlier as essentially squash but without the rackets—they do to kill time on tour.
“Write music,” says Desjardins, but he’s not talking about Sparrows.
“We can’t say the name of the band, because it’s very inappropriate and you couldn’t print it,” says Thomson.
I tell them to try me. Morton chimes in, “It’s called Daft Cunt.” Sorry, folks. Though he says his girlfriend—a University of Ottawa student, at that—helped come up with the name.
All potential offensiveness aside, Thomson says they’re “pretty good at surviving with each other” on the road. They chat and keep themselves busy, and listen to a lot of non-musical audio.
“I’ve downloaded over 100 hours of stand-up comedy,” Morton says. I truly believe he’s not exaggerating. Louis C.K., George Carlin, Bill Cosby, Mitch Hedberg, and so on. “You can only listen to so much music,” he says.
After a good bit of hanging out with Sparrows, I grab my stuff and head out because I have a meeting to get to and because I’m supremely allergic to Macleod’s dog. But the band keeps at it, rehearsing another once or twice more before packing up. And then they’re off on vacation.