Seven years after the passing of Mark Linkous of Virginia based experimental indie rock / folk act SPARKLEHORSE, Glasgow based DIY label Oh!Dear Records asked some of their friends to reinterpret Mark’s original offerings, and make his songs explode in their bedrooms, in their own way. An intimate celebration, which focuses on the creative/working/recreational space of each musician involved resulted in an entirely self-produced, self-promoted, D.I.Y project, with zero budget and a great desire to celebrate life, death and miracles of one of the most loved and missed voices. “A Room Full of Sparkles – a tribute to Mark Linkous” reinvents hugely successful and less known works of Mark Linkous and approach their fragility in their own varied way, which well represents the complexities off the original author. We have teamed up with some of the contributors to learn more about the project, their view on the masterful songwriter and the heartbreaking silence after a loss of an inspiring artist.
Mark Linkous of the influential rock band SPARKLEHORSE committed suicide on March 6th, 2010. He was 47. Mark delivered a number of experimental, folk and psych tinged rock albums and collaborated with several artists including Radiohead, PJ Harvey, Christian Fennesz, Danger Mouse, and Tom Waits.
“I’ve been trying to write really simple songs to make them sound like they’re coming out of a satellite that’s crashing into a gas giant or something”. / Mark Linkous
Thanks so much for taking some time with us! Can you please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your relation with Oh!Dear Records?
C. L. Henderson: I’ve know Tea Campus, creator and manager of Oh!Dear Records for many years. We had never really collaborated on anything through her label but it was only a question of time really.
HOW WE GOT GIRAFFES: We are How We Got Giraffes, a four piece band from Glasgow, consisting of two Italian guys (guitar / vocals / keyboard), a French girl (double bass) and a Scottish fella (drums) playing a kind of noisy and layered indie rock. I am one of the two forementioned Italians, and I met Tea from Oh!Dear Records here in Glasgow through common friends several months ago.
LOVERS TURN TO MONSTERS: Most of my live appearances are in bars and venues around Glasgow. Tea caught me by chance in one of our favourite venues BLOC+ and we’ve been talking online and occasionally crossing paths since then! I started following her work with Oh Dear! Records as soon as I could!
TYNDALL: Hello! I am Stella, from Tyndall. We met Oh!Dear Records, in the person of Tea Campus, thanks to our friend Tiziano, who sings and plays guitar in the amazing band called How We Got Giraffes.
PLEASE DON’T SAVE MARY: First things first, thanks to you for this article and thanks to Oh!Dear Records as well for realizing such a good compilation. We are Zoe (lead vocal and guitar), Costanza (bass) and dANi (guitar, pedal and other toys) aka Please Don’t Save Mary from Bergamo . Our relation with Oh!Dear Records is pretty thin, we have never heard of them but we’re really looking forward to meeting them.
SPACEPONY: We are the Spacepony, born and raised in outerspace.. just kiddin’..
A mutual friend, knowing our love for Sparklehorse, put us in contact with Oh!Dear Records… so a virtual relationship but we hope to meet soon with Sweet Tea.
How did you get hooked to take part in this project?
C. L. Henderson: She just asked me if I was interested in taking part. I was thrilled and accepted immediately.
HOW WE GOT GIRAFFES: Being a Sparklehorse fan, it’s been pretty easy to get hooked, really. The idea of taking part in a collective tribute to an artist we admire was sufficient, even if we don’t usually indulge in playing covers. We felt this was a special occasion.
LOVERS TURN TO MONSTERS: Anyone who catches my live show or comes across my music online can instantly gather I have a fondness for the more melancholic side of life. That and a love for scratchy raw recordings. I could list a million people who nail both those ideals and Mark Linkous would rank pretty high!
TYNDALL: Tiziano told me Oh!Dear records was looking for bands to perform Mark Linkous’ songs for a compilation, and I quickly answered proposing the song I would have liked to play: originally I should have performed it with my band, The Please, but we suffered an halt in the recording process since a huge storm flooded our studio. I was left with the only possibility of recording it myself, so I decided to start a project that was sleeping in the back of my mind since a long time, and that’s how Tyndall was born.
PLEASE DON’T SAVE MARY: A few months ago we covered Sparklehorse’s Cow. Costanza’s friend told us about the compilation project that we immediately joined. Cause there are lots and lots of interesting people, who are really always trying to do something interesting, also giving our band the possibility of being in a compilation outside our country for the first time and expecially permitting us to realize our 13-year-old kid dream of trying to make our own music.
When did you first discover SPARKLEHORSE and what was it that drew you to Mark Linkous’ art?
C. L. Henderson: I actually discovered Sparklehorse quite late on, I must have been about 20, and it was Tea herself that inroduced me to them. I like the feel of Linkous’ songs, the timbre of his voice, the noises and sounds he uses in recordings, the lyrics especially, they are key to me, very important in drawing me to artists and musicians.
HOW WE GOT GIRAFFES: It was in the early 2000s, I can’t recall exactly the year, but I remember that the first song by Sparklehorse I’ve ever heard was actually a cover too: Wish You Were Here, which they recorded with Thom Yorke singing from a phone (or something like that). I was into Radiohead a lot at the time, so I stumbled into that song and loved the intimate and detached way it was performed and, especially, sung. I then started listening to other Sparklehorse material and was lucky enough to see them live once, in Milan. It will be ten years ago in May.
LOVERS TURN TO MONSTERS: I was fairly late at discovering SPARKLEHORSE. I took part in a similar project in my early twenties in 2010 celebrating the works of not only Mark Linkous, but other artists lost to mental health issues such as Eliott Smith and Vic Chestnutt. I recorded a lo-fi version of Elliot Smiths Biggest Lie and begun to binge listen to Sparklehorse and Vic Chestnutt who I wasn’t aware of at the time. My love grew and I actually winded up contributing a version of “The most beautiful widow” I’m still very proud of!
TYNDALL: I discovered Mark Linkous the night he shared the stage with the australian band Dirty Three in Milan, something like ten years ago. I remember I was there with my boyfriend and the both of us were overwhelmed by his performance. Since then, I listened to vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot so many times I almost know it by heart.
PLEASE DON’T SAVE MARY: We first bumped into Sparklehorse one night talking with dario at No Elevator Studio in Bergamo, he must have shown us some video about In The Fishtank or something and then the Sad And Beautiful World videoclip. We were firstly impressed by how all the sounds could stand together in such a pleasurable way for our hearing and watching the videoclip gave us this idea of totally annihilating sadness which came from the lyrics and the harmony getting on really well with the lofi visual part of the work, those to parts supporting one another and well it’s basically it.
SPACEPONY: Probably I heard “Someday I’ll Treat You Good” in 1996 in a compilation that gave me a store in NY. At the time, the music world had yet to resume after the death of kurt cobain, and I gave him not really matter. A few years later I was struck by the sounds and the strange frequencies of Good Morning.
Photo by Danny Clinch Photography
What’s going through your mind as you perform this track? What made you decide to pick this particular song as your contribution to this project?
C. L. Henderson: It was a short song, simple in strucure and chord progression, perfect to mould to my style, and work on creativity a little bit, so as not to just redo the original track which I think is just boring. Incidentally the song title is also the title of one of my favourite books, Condrad’s famous Heart of Darkness, do I kind of tried to play on that, giving it a muddy, dark feel. At least that was the intention.
HOW WE GOT GIRAFFES: The choice was agreed by all the members of the band after we put forward a few “candidates” each. Not all of us were so familiar with the Sparklehorse opus, but I think we all got the feel of the song and of the whole tribute project. Personally I felt it to be a very bittersweet song, about love and longing but perhaps also loss or even death. The cover we recorded it’s a slight detour from our usual more brash sound, and we rendered it a little more upbeat in comparison to the original, I guess, but I think – hope – we preserved most of its spirit.
LOVERS TURN TO MONSTERS: I’ve yet to find a Mark Linkous album I don’t enjoy but nothing speaks louder to me than “vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot” so I knew I was going to tackle another number from that. Spirit Ditch is an all time favourite, but if you haven’t yet. I reccomend checking out that other cover album too and hearing RM Hubberts amazing version. So Saturday it is!
TYNDALL: I chose Homecoming Queen because I have a clear memory of the first time I listened to it, the night i mentioned before: it moved me so much I almost cried, watching dancing couples, rainbows and flying horses parading right out of Christina Vantzou‘s beautiful animated video. While I was recording it, the memories from that night flooded back in my mind.
dANi of PLEASE DON’T SAVE MARY: Generally i try to get my mind to relax when i play music, on the other end i’m always anxious about kicking in the wrong pedal and fuck it all up, so basically i tend to simplify played notes in favour of pedal sounds and the main reason why i suggested the others hammering the cramps is because i can play just one chord straight during the whole verse, letting stompboxes do their works; other reasons why are that cow had already been taken and we couldn’t send ODR our version we recorded and filmed live few weeks before – also, the one we chose is a simple song and the guys at the studio didn’t have much time for mixing and mastering.
SPACEPONY: It was very difficult to choose a song and give it new life, respecting somehow what mark he left us and taught. we were undecided about another 10 songs but, fortunately, many had already been chosen by other bands in the project.
Playing this song live is like entering a magical forest..
Looking back at many lost lives of artists, who committed suicide, it’s not hard to be infused with a range of emotions like sadness, but also disappointment. Have you experienced a beloved artist’ suicide while being a huge fan? What questions and unresolved views about suicide did it raise?
C. L. Henderson: I haven’t actually. As said before, I discovered Sparklehorse after Linkous’ suicide. I remember Mikey Welsh‘s (Weezer bassist) death and being quite shocked by it and how it came about. It wasn’t suicide, or at least it wasn’t recognised as such, but the circumstances were very strange and suspicious. I really don’t like to talk about suicide in general terms as I believe that each case is different and particular in itself and it’s very difficult and misleading to apply standard dynamics, rules and interpretations to the act, or to the attempt. Only certainty is hearing about it makes me terribly sad.
HOW WE GOT GIRAFFES: Obviously it happened with Mark Linkous, and Elliot Smith too. What passes through a mind each second it’s a mixture of thousands of threads, I believe, and the thought of one of them taking control and making a decision with such tragic consequences is really scary. It’s something I think a lot of people experience, just for a second, and then it vanishes. Of course pain – any kind of pain – can make those thoughts more prominent and persistent. And in the end it’s a choice I wouldn’t dream to condemn, even if it’s quite distant from what I personally feel.
But speaking of an artist loss more in general, there’s definitely one which shocked and hurt me deeply, and it’s Nick Talbot’s death a couple of years ago. At 37 he was one of the most talented songwriters of our generation, and Gravenhurst is still one of my favourite acts.
LOVERS TURN TO MONSTERS: I’ve been lucky enough so far to avoid this aspect of life. But after last years mass loss in the creative industry, the next big death in the family doesn’t seem too far away. I’ve certainly questioned a lot about living a creative life and what it means to be truly creative after the deaths of David Bowie and especially Adam Yauch of The Beastie Boys. Two very influential artists in my life!
TYNDALL: I already was Mark Linkous’ big fan when he died, so it struck me violently, just like Vic Chesnutt‘s death two years later.
When you love someone’s music, you end up feeling emotionally tied to him, sometimes even thinking he’s speaking on your behalf. That’s why Mark and Vic’s deaths triggered many questions about me, my life, which are still waiting for an answer. I think this is music’s most beautiful effect on me, it’s always a challenge, it generates thoughts that lead to a special kind of introspection. Usually I don’t find any answer in music, but questioning myself is enough.
dANi of PLEASE DON’T SAVE MARY: I can’t think about any really important artist suicide in my life right now, probably because none hit me bad enough. concerning emotions i think i can’t be disappointed about any human being taking his own life, i am generally attracted by their backgrounds, cause i think most of the answers can be found there: i mean, if you think about say kurt cobain or elliott smith, they were extraordinary feeling people, i mean they felt a lot about what was around them and for some reasons they got to know they were pretty much the only ones; of course i’m not saying this is the only reason for their suicides, alcohol and drugs were there as well, but i’m really into kepping those two on the back burner and trying to look for something else.
SPACEPONY: I do not know how to explain the level of despair and irrational choice that can take you to suicide. a struggle between the soul sensibility and heaviness inside the heart.
I met Vic Chesnutt few months before he died and I lost a friend a long time ago.
Photo by Rik Rawling.
Apart from Mark, have you had any other creative mentors? If you could point to one, who had the biggest impact on you lately?
C. L. Henderson: Yes, too many to mention. In general maybe Neil Young and Lemmy Kilmister. For this project and this track in particular I would say main inspirations were Lou Reed, Elliott Smith, The Strokes, a lot of 50s music, t-Rex, Bauhaus, Devendra Banhart. I was listening to a lot of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds while arranging and recording this track.
HOW WE GOT GIRAFFES: We all have a lot of them of course, and way too many and diverse to list them all, but lately I’m particularly obsessed with Jason Pierce (Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized) and since I’m not the only one in the band feeling this way, that’s who I would pick.
LOVERS TURN TO MONSTERS: By far the artist who’s had the biggest influence on my work is Lou Barlow of Dinosaur Jr/Sebadoh. His style of song writing, how he records and how he performs live are just perfectly suited to my outlook in both life and creativity. He’s like a post impressionist painter, focusing more on the emotion that flows from the art he creates rather than focusing on perfecting every last note and nuance. He’s definitely the cause of my ventures into cassette recordings and my love of the baritone ukulele!
TYNDALL: Should I mention the most important mentor of all, I’d say Michael Stipe: I started listening to R.E.M at 14 and never stopped, songs like Half a World Away or Nightswimming are the frame on which my entire musical soul is made.
As for the present, I just fell in love with Mount Eerie’s new record, “A Crow Looked at Me”. Mount Eerie has always been a great inspiration for me, and this new record is so deeply personal and universal at the same time that I am repeatedly listening to it, trying to absorb every image, every word
PLEASE DON’T SAVE MARY: We all come from different musical backgrounds and as everyone who’s asked this question we have to reply that it would take ages to explain all of that. Anyway, the whole mix of our influences gave birth to our Hammering The Cramps.
SPACEPONY: I have many, but first I put Jason Lytle (Grandaddy) who always manages to amaze me when he release a new record.
Thank you so much for your thoughts. Feel free to wrap it up and share some details on your new creative ventures and plans for the rest of the year. Thanks so much for your time!
C. L. Henderson: I’m now in the middle of recording a some songs. I will definitely release them between May and October. Maybe a little at a time as singles, maybe in the form of an album, maybe with Oh!Dear Records. Who knows? There’s definitely stuff coming up though.
HOW WE GOT GIRAFFES: We’re about to finish our (almost) spring tour in Scotland and Northern England, and then we’re going to record four new songs starting next week. They will end up in our second EP, which we’re planning to release before the summer.
LOVERS TURN TO MONSTERS: Lovers Turn to Monsters has been my on-going musical (and occasionally more) project for around ten years now and I’ve no intentions of stopping. Plenty more gigs, lo-fi recordings,and a release of a full band studio ep hopefully by the end of the year.
TYNDALL: Thank you for my first interview as Tyndall!
From now on, we’ll go on releasing other people’s song recorded in small and cozy rooms, my aim is to build an emotional music diary of a particular time of my life, blending music, narrative and the kind of pictures you take everyday, but usually never show to anyone.
SPACEPONY: We are recording an album involving awesome artists/friends but for now we can’t talk about it ;)
Art by Murray Somerville.