Featured Artist June 2007: Sparklejet

What do Nirvana, the Pixies, and Sparklejet have in common? They have all worked with legendary Chicago recording engineer Steve Albini! And where does Sparklejet differ from those other two little-known groups? Well, Sparklejet is the Twirl Radio Artist of the Month for June, 2007!

Okay, okay. So maybe you have heard of Nirvana and the Pixies. But I’m here to tell you that you need to hear Sparklejet, as well. Sparklejet hails from the unassuming California Central Valley city of Fresno. This power trio consists of Victor Sotelo on vocals and guitars, Wade “Wade-o Tornado” Krause on drums, and Geoff Anderson on bass. And when they blazed north to mount a triumphant return to Sacramento last month, Victor was nice enough to spend some time with me on Twirl Radio on May 19, 2007.

If I could pick one word to describe this band, I would choose “metamorphosis”. Or “dynamic”. Or “students of rock”. Oops–you caught me. I guess I need to pick only one word. Well, let’s go with the incredible metamorphosis these guys have undergone over the last decade.

Sparklejet started in Fresno in April of 1997. They had a rootsy, bar band sound, which ranged close to Americana music. They put out an album called “Soap”, and played in Sacramento. A lot. They were considered an extension of the flourishing local scene here (Fresno’s only 180 miles away down California’s mother road, Highway 99).

The scene changed here in Sacramento, and for Sparklejet as well. Some of the rootsier local acts (Grub Dog, Natalie Cortez and the Ultraviolets, Sex 66) broke up or moved on. And Sparklejet underwent some personnel changes. Original members Victor and Wade teamed up with bassist Geoff Anderson, and beefed up the sound. The sound became harder, and more focused.

In 2006, the guys released their most recent disc, Beyond the Beyond. They decided to take it to the next level, and worked with renowned engineer Steve Albini. They arrived in Chicago, well-rehearsed and prepared to lay down seven of the album’s eleven tracks at Albini’s Electrical Audio studios. Of the three Sparklejet albums I have heard, this is by far the best sounding one. Victor’s voice is powerful and clear. Wade’s drums snap and thump with immediacy, propelling the songs forward. The guitars are fairly incendiary. And most important to me, you can hear Geoff’s bass loud and clear on every track. To me, that is the mark of a great recording, and Albini captured the bass extremely well. At times, such as on the explosive leadoff track Message to My Ear, the bass actually sounds like a lead guitarist, in perfect lockstep with the drums. The Comeback reminds me of AC/DC at their greatest, with a tense riff played by both Victor on guitar and Geoff on bass. This frees Victor up to take his solo, with Geoff playing lead on bass.

Other standout tracks include Let’s Behind This Place, with its infectious pop hookiness. This one sounds quirky enough to be my favorite track to play on Twirl Radio. Clever Personality is a straight-ahead rocker; Bomb The Maze rocks hard and intelligently; and Knock ‘Em Around veers dangerously close to punk rock territory, with its brisk energy and 1:50 length. Wade told me, “Sparklejet is a bit more bombastic now than we were on Soap”. And Victor used the word “angular” quite a bit to describe the newer songs. Indeed–they went from a folksier rock sound to something that sounds more challenging, confident and important.

The most stunning metamorphosis is Victor’s voice and singing style. In the interview, towards the beginning, we hear Rock and Roll is Sleeping off of Soap, and then we compare it with The Comeback from Beyond The Beyond. Victor sounds like two different singers, and the band sounds like two different bands. Listen to it, and you’ll see what I mean. They now sound like they could fill an arena, and Victor could easily lead the charge.

Among their career highlights, Sparklejet has been featured in Billboard Magazine’s Best New Artist Spotlight, their music was used in ESPN’s Extreme Games, and they performed their own rendition of The Who’s Tommy in 2002. Not bad for the self-proclaimed “Second Best Band in Fresno”!

The guys are planning an East Coast tour for this summer or fall, so that when all those great bands from back east come here, we Californians can return the favor with pride and share Sparklejet. Congratulations to Victor, Wade, and Geoff of Sparklejet for being the Artist of the Month for June, 2007!

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