You can't change your roots.
Like the digits of a massive pine staking its claim in the forest, roots are those elementary slices of stimulus that feed a life dedicated to music. While they may waver and twist, roots only grow stronger; more determined to grip solidly, burrow deeper and make their presence obvious on the surface.
Such an analogy perfectly encapsulates the musical saga that is Jay Sparrow. Raised and currently implanted in Edmonton, Alberta, Sparrow celebrates the release of his first full-length solo album, In Our Time, on his own Break Pattern Records label, a venture dedicated to supporting diverse independent artists.
Initially staking his claim in the world of music via punk outfit The Murder City Sparrows, over the past two years, Jay Sparrow has blossomed as one of Canada's most forthright and enterprising young singer/songwriters. After approximately four years of traipsing across the nation with his band, a genre-driven epiphany altered Sparrow's course. While The Murder City Sparrows had money coming in, shows booked, video rotation and popularity to support their drive, they didn't have what mattered: Sparrow's heart.
“I was listening to my iPod one day and I realized that I had no punk music on it. Out of thousands of songs, there was nothing comparable to the music I was out playing night after night. In the middle of a Steve Earle record, I understood how that sound just feels more important to me; makes more sense to me. That tour ended up being the last time I performed that sort of music.”
Immediately shifting gears, the punk-influenced, folk-driven, twang-induced incarnation of Sparrow was born and debut effort The Running thrust into the accepting world. Followed up quickly by the more streamlined and confident sophomore opus Good Days Gone By, the stage was set for Sparrow's fall 2010 releases, The Tempest Line and In Our Time. Defined as Guthrie meets Rotten with Northern roots, In Our Time is easily Sparrow's most adventurous work to date.
“I've always been a singer/songwriter with songs that were punk but I think this style I have comes from the unique experience of growing up in Alberta,” he winks. “You had parents listening to Merle Haggard and Woodie Guthrie but kids embraced Green Day, NOFX and Propagandhi. It festered into a weird listening habit between two genres that became this...thing. Still, this is where I belong. I feel my songs translate best in this world.”
When recording In Our Time, Sparrow strove to let his muse take hold and push personal boundaries creating an exercise in innovation, invention and improvisation. In Our Time features hints of blues, rock, folk and country, realizing what's sure to become Sparrow's most celebrated album to date.
“Everything I do is about breaking patterns; not repeating myself,” he states in relation to In Our Time. “It all started with The Running; it was a big departure for me artistically. Each time I write a new song or record a new album, I force myself to push my creative boundaries again. As much as The Running was a departure from Murder City Sparrows, In Our Time is a departure from The Running.”
With achievements including winning the acclaimed CBC Great Canadian Song Quest—a competition naming 13 artists, including Joel Plaskett, Hawksley Workman and Martha Wainwright, as ambassadors for their province, penning tunes in its honour—under his belt and a fan base that grows exponentially each day, Sparrow's swings keep connecting. In Our Time continues to showcase Sparrows strength and diversity as a songwriter and clearly indicates he's a mainstay on the Canadian roots music scene.
“You gotta make your own system,” he concludes. “I've no unreasonable expectations about it, though. I care more about the longevity and creativity in music than immediate and fleeting success. Still, you have to create the infrastructure to make that happen, which is what these albums are to me. In the grande scheme, I just want people to hear the music; to keep doing what I'm doing and share in what I've been working so hard on. I'm willing to take large risks and face some failures at this as long as it's something different and exciting for anyone who appreciates that effort.”