sparrow and the workshop

Sparrow and the Workshop are a compelling dark Americana, folk and post-rock trio whose new release, Crystals Fall, tinkers with a wild and imaginative wall of instrumentation, from strange percussion to gunshot and whip sounds straight out of the dusty Old West. What’s even better is that though their moustaches belie something different, two-thirds of them aren’t even American at all, and they’re based in Glasgow, Scotland.

The band’s frontwoman is Belfast born, Chicago-raised singer Jill O’Sullivan, whose voice runs the gamut, with sweet inflections recalling 60′s staples like Patsy Cline at one moment, and in the next, hitting notes as powerful as the gut-wrenching PJ Harvey.  Perhaps you caught them tonight in their American debut, opening for Brian Jonestown Massacre in Brooklyn, but if not, they’ll also be at Union Hall and Piano’s this week, June 7th and 8th. We caught up with them over e-mail before they landed.

Did Sparrow and the Workshop’s sound develop slowly into what we hear today or did you have a solid idea of what kind of band you wanted to be as soon as you started writing together?

We definitely had no idea what we were doing or going for in terms of sound (maybe we’re lazy in that way), we had songs and wanted to make noise and it felt good, the three of us in a room. When it started, the first couple of months it was just me and Gregor and so I think that’s how we got labeled as folk because there were lots of harmonies and stripped-back songs, but then when Nick joined we experimented more and got louder and now we just really do what feels good, regardless of what the song before it sounded like.

Your music has an amazing meld of styles but I definitely feel an Old West/Morricone kind of vibe running through some of your songs.  Are you a fan of those classic soundtracks?

I don’t think any of us really owned any classic soundtracks but we’re familiar with spaghetti westerns, and we all like a bit of Clint Eastwood…. But it’s funny, it was only when we heard it recorded that we realized it sounded a bit like a western… it would make sense, we were enjoying making it sound ominous and evil, and I guess that’s what the Old West was all about… We must have subconsciously channeled Morricone. There’s a great band in Portland called Federale (one of the members, Colin, is from Brian Jonestown Massacre, that’s how we were lucky enough to stumble across Federale) who have recently done an album in a very old west style and it’s like a film soundtrack, well worth getting!

Jill–have you been singing since childhood–who were some of your favorite singers to listen to while growing up?  Did you have vocal training as well as violin and guitar?

Growing up, I sang all the time but only to myself, I was really shy in that respect but I could never stop humming, I used to get told off in school for it. But I never had vocal training, just violin… and then when I was older and began making up songs I taught myself guitar so I could make more sense of them, I needed an anchor… I guess growing up I was mainly listening to what my folks listened to and I didn’t have any older siblings to guide me (not like I’m bitter, erm…) but my dad had very diverse taste in music and the bands I remember liking a lot were Talking Heads, Kirsty MacColl, the Pogues, Billy Bragg and Linton Quasi Johnson…and the Cars, I thought they were great too.

–Madeline Virbasius

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