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Director Edgar Wrigh, along with the iconic musical siblings, Ron and Russell Mael, talk to Yahoo Entertainment about their new documentary, The Sparks Brothers.
- How many albums are there?
RUSSELL MAEL: 25 albums.
- Are you brothers?
RUSSELL MAEL: We are brothers.
- How did you first meet?
RON MAEL: We are brothers.
LYNDSEY PARKER: I want to congratulate you and commend you, and all of you guys, on this awesome film, The Sparks Brothers. And there's all these great testimonies. And I'm going to just cut to the chase because there was one. It's in the trailer. It's a theory that I think tracks. Jack Antonoff says that--
JACK ANTONOFF: All pop music is rearranged Vince Clarke and rearranged Sparks. That's the truth.
LYNDSEY PARKER: It gets very meta. Vince Clarke's actually in the film himself. I don't know if he believes in that theory. So I want to ask all three of you if you agree with that.
RUSSELL MAEL: Jack Antonoff is a great producer and a musician, so he's got to be right.
RON MAEL: I mean, the good thing about the documentary-- I mean, one of the many good things-- is that other people could answer those kinds of questions for us without us sounding like arrogant bastards. So it was extraordinary to us to hear-- because we work in such a confined kind of way-- to have other people explaining what our music had meant, at least, to themselves, and also just in a broader sense. So it feels much more comfortable having Neil Gaiman talking about us than having us talking about us.
EDGAR WRIGHT: I think there's another thing that Beck says in the documentary, which is like-- I think there's obviously people that will acknowledge an influence from Sparks. There's people who won't acknowledge it, and then there is a third generation of bands who like, Beck points out, maybe don't know that their lineage goes back to Ron and Russell.
- They may have given birth to other bands who don't even know that the lineage goes back to them.
EDGAR WRIGHT: One of the reasons for doing the documentary is to kind of show the chronology. So I'm sure-- I mean, I've actually heard that from some people who've watched the movie and said, they watched it and had this kind of growing sense of like, oh, I see. That band that I like don't quite sound quite so original anymore.
LYNDSEY PARKER: I think you can tell from the jacket I'm wearing, my entry point was Angst In My Pants. I'm wearing this for you, for you guys, for you, Russell. It's a solid look. Holds up.
RUSSELL MAEL: Yeah. Yeah. I like it. Looks better on you than on me.
LYNDSEY PARKER: I very much disagree. Do you still have that jacket, Russell?
RUSSELL MAEL: I do. Yeah. Yeah. It's in the vault.
LYNDSEY PARKER: Awesome. That belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but I'm so glad you're getting this Hall of Fame style treatment with this documentary. But I do want to ask, since we're talking about Angst In My Pants and that was my entry point, can we talk about the I Predict video for just a minute? Cinematic classic in its own right.
RON MAEL: I suppose it is, yeah. There are things that that video, to the people that haven't seen it, is me doing a bit of a striptease that I thought was a good idea in 1981, and probably wouldn't be considered such a great idea at the present time. But somehow that-- you know, anything that's a video is forever. And people mention that now, all the time. It stands out, maybe, just because of the sheer embarrassment of watching it, I suppose, for people, but--
LYNDSEY PARKER: Sheer joy.
RUSSELL MAEL: Sheer joy, yeah.
RON MAEL: I don't know-- I don't know about-- I don't know about that. But it actually was directed by Frederick Elmes.
EDGAR WRIGHT: David Lynch's DP.
RON MAEL: Yeah. David Lynch. There was the rumor that David Lynch directed the I Predict video, but it actually was his DP. And it was really-- one thing was, they needed a cast of seedy-looking people around the stage in front of me, and rather than going to professional extras, they just went just out on the street to kind of a homeless shelter and found people. And the people were really extraordinary, because they really were very natural and really into cheering on me as a stripper, which I don't know, said something about their own problems.
LYNDSEY PARKER: Did MTV even play that? I don't recall if I saw it on MTV back in the day.
RON MAEL: I'm not sure if they did, but apparently too many people have seen it since. And in one way or another, I would really like to get that erased from my history. But that's the way it is.
LYNDSEY PARKER: Well, you'll have to take that up with Edgar because it's in the film.
RON MAEL: Yeah, I know. I know.
LYNDSEY PARKER: Got to do an edit or something.
EDGAR WRIGHT: In the trailer.
LYNDSEY PARKER: It's in the trailer. I'm just saying, it was a relevant thing to ask about. I think it's obviously a classic that holds up. There will be people who are watching this film who maybe didn't know as much about Sparks before they took this deep dive, two hours and 20 minutes long. I do want to ask you, Edgar, you had the kind of two audiences to cater to, the super fans like yourself, and also sort of introducing the band to a new audience. What was the challenge of that for you?
EDGAR WRIGHT: It was quite easy in a way because I think you just kind of let the people tell the story from their perspective, in the sense that there's no minimum amount of knowledge you need to know about Sparks. Some people could be in the documentary and only know one album, and other people could be super fans. So there's no right or wrong opinion on it. And I think also, a lot of music documentaries sometimes make the mistake of assuming you know the artist already.
And so that can be great if you're already a fan, but if you're watching the documentary to learn to love them, it's sometimes tough. So with that sense, it was-- I just wanted to sort of let people fall in love with Sparks and just hear some of the songs. So even if you know-- maybe you've only ever heard Angst In My Pants, and there's like 24 other albums, you know?
LYNDSEY PARKER: Yes. There are 25 albums. This is a good one, but there's 24 other ones that you got to check out. Again, if someone is deciding to go on this mission to explore the Sparks catalog, what would be the best entry point?
RUSSELL MAEL: Probably getting one of the Best Ofs.
LYNDSEY PARKER: Fair enough. That makes sense.
EDGAR WRIGHT: The thing-- and maybe the documentary sort explains this a little bit-- is that I did find that sometimes when I talked to people like Sparks, even people who knew who they were, they'd say to me, oh, I'd like to get into Sparks but I'm sort of daunted by their discography. And in a way, I think it's because, obviously, there are several classic albums. But no one album tells the whole story.
When people ask me that question, I whittle it down to about five, which at least gives you like a fifth of the discography and an idea of the shape of it.
LYNDSEY PARKER: And the five, can you rattle them off real quick?
EDGAR WRIGHT: Kimono My House, Number One In Heaven, Angst In My Pants, Lil' Beethoven, Hippopotamus.
RON MAEL: Or a Vince Clarke album.