RICK SPARKS
Half Moon Bay
(Rick Sparks Music)

 

With a timely dose of sonic brain relief, Rick Sparks channels the music gods on his 2018 CD, Half Moon Bay. A fine follow up to Rick’s 2017 CD Nightfall London, the ten track Half Moon Bay features a wealth of new original music along with a decidedly Southern California influence, especially when you consider there’s several Brian Wilson classics, redone here in Rick’s New Age / contemporary instrumental music style. Fascinating to note here is the album title track, “Half Moon Bay”, itself a cover of a Brian Wilson instrumental from 2015’s No Pier Pressure, Rick adds, “How natural that Brian titled his song “Half Moon Bay” after a little surfing community on the California coast. That song was the perfect choice to be the title cut on my new album.” Rick cites his strong religious beliefs as the foundation for his spiritual approach to music to which he adds, "I can’t imagine not having the inner peace and assurance that comes from my Christian faith. It’s so natural that whatever is in the heart of an artist will be evident in his or her music. In a world that is increasingly dark and worrisome to all of us, producing music that helps the hearer experience peace and beauty is such a privilege for me… it’s basically an outgrowth of the peace that comes from my faith in Jesus Christ. He created the universe, He gave us the priceless gift of music, and He proved His love for us a long time ago on an old rugged cross." A gifted musician who grew up in the heartland of the American south, Rick Sparks transcends musical borders on the brilliant and soothing instrumental sound of Half Moon Bay, an album that, as Rick appropriately states, “feeds the soul, inspires and uplifts.” www.ricksparksmusic.net



 

 

mwe3.com presents an interview with
RICK SPARKS



mwe3: Can you tell us where you’re from originally and where you live now and what you like best about it? What states have you lived in and have you done much traveling to other countries?

Rick Sparks: I was born in Atlanta and moved to Tennessee when I was 7… my family are all from the Smoky Mountain region. I always feel like I’m home when I’m in the mountains of East Tennessee. There’s an incredible beauty but also mystery and aura in those mountains. I think part of it comes from the heritage of the Cherokees who called those mountains home. Over the years we’ve lived in Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas, Arkansas and finally South Carolina, home for us now for over ten years. South Carolina is a beautiful state with access to both the beach and the mountains, a very friendly and welcoming place to call home. Other than an anniversary trip to the Caribbean several years ago, we’ve never been out of the U.S. but we love the cultures and people of other lands, especially Europe and the Far East.

mwe3: What is it about religion and the spiritual power of music that inspired you most to make a career in music?

Rick Sparks: Growing up in small country churches in the 1960s, I was immersed in the same southern gospel music that Elvis knew and loved since childhood. In a similar way to my friends in the black church, I learned as a child that you could intertwine the joy and beauty of heartfelt music with faith in Christ. We were always in the Baptist church, where I started playing piano publicly when I was 15.

mwe3: How did your career as a Top 40 radio DJ back in the 1970s and ‘80s give you unique insight into the world of pop music?

Rick Sparks: I love Tom Petty’s comment about pop music: “Every generation thinks their music was the best, but in my case, it’s true.” There’s a reason for the huge popularity now for the pop, rock and R&B of the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s – it was just flat good. I had the great fortune of playing those songs on the air in the 1970s and ‘80s. As both a radio guy and a musician, I was in awe of how finely crafted a lot of that music was, from artists who really cared about making something worthy and not just commercial with their art. From The Beatles and Beach Boys to James Taylor, Stevie Wonder, Linda Ronstadt, and The Carpenters, the artistry and care taken in those recordings is still very evident today. They definitely had a part in inspiring me to give my best effort as a composer and recording artist.

mwe3: Did gaining a masters degree affect your love of music and your abilities as a musician and composer?

Rick Sparks: I think a music degree definitely helped me with the technical aspects of composing and performance. Also, like Brian Wilson and so many other great pop artists, it gave me an appreciation for classical music. I eventually came to realize that the iconic music of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms was produced by musicians who were driven by the same deeply felt emotions that the best musicians of any era experience and express in their music.

mwe3: You’ve recorded four solo albums since 2014. How would you say that your 2018 album Half Moon Bay is different from your other albums? I thought Nightfall London was great but I’m thinking Half Moon Bay is even cooler.

Rick Sparks: Great question! Each of my 4 albums since 2014 has been a bit different than the others… each has had a particular theme, as suggested by their titles. From Endless thru Matilda’s Flowers, Nightfall London and now Half Moon Bay, a unifying theme or concept for each album really helped inspire the music for that album. With Nightfall‘s atmospheric album cover of Westminster Bridge, the Thames River and Big Ben at night, the mood was chill but a bit more classical, especially in my use of strings which was inspired, in part, by the great Sir George Martin. He used a classical string quartet to great effect with “Eleanor Rigby” and other songs. I love the beauty and craft of what he did with classical instruments to enhance the Beatles’ songs during that era. With Half Moon Bay, the mood is still down tempo, but maybe in a more contemporary way than my previous albums, especially given the inclusion of three Brian Wilson songs.

mwe3: Would you say that your 2015 album Nightfall London is similar in a kind of pop / New Age instrumental mode as your 2018 album Half Moon Bay? I ask that because you’ve said that Nightfall London was influenced by Beatles producer Sir George Martin, while Half Moon Bay was influenced by Brian Wilson, founder and guiding light of The Beach Boys, so there’s a definite connection there.

Rick Sparks: Absolutely! Both albums were inspired in part by contemporary, and timeless, pop music/musicians. While they could definitely be innovative in their approach to composing and recording, George Martin, Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson seemed to most favor melodic songs with traditional structures. Likewise, I’m most content in my music when I take a Neoclassical approach in both the sounds I use with piano, strings, flute, choral voices, as well as to write distinct, and hopefully lovely, melodies in traditional song structures.

mwe3: How would you say that Jesus Christ affects your music? Clearly, God gave Brian Wilson a unique gift that benefits mankind as has been proven for the past 55 years. There’s a kind of hopelessness in the world these days, so how can God help mankind through these times?

Rick Sparks: I love Brian’s quote that “music is God’s voice.” Brian also has said since the 1960s that God gave him his songs. In my liner notes on Half Moon Bay, I dedicated the album in part “to Jesus Christ – your love and mercy fill my life every day.” In John 14:27, Jesus told His disciples, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” I can’t imagine not having the inner peace and assurance that comes from my Christian faith. It’s so natural that whatever is in the heart of an artist will be evident in his or her music. In a world that is increasingly dark and worrisome to all of us, producing music that helps the hearer experience peace and beauty is such a privilege for me… it’s basically an outgrowth of the peace that comes from my faith in Jesus Christ. He created the universe, He gave us the priceless gift of music, and He proved His love for us a long time ago on an old rugged cross.

mwe3: Brian’s 2015 album No Pier Pressure featured the original version of “Half Moon Bay”, which is also the title of your new album. Brian’s song was originally also an instrumental. How do you feel your version is different? Interesting that Mark Isham, one of the great instrumental music composers is also on Brian’s 2015 version.

Rick Sparks: I love that song. It made such an impression on me the first time I heard it, I knew immediately that I would record it. I think the song Half Moon Bay expresses Brian’s heart as a survivor who has finally found a place of peace in his life. Mark’s trumpet solo is magnificent and really gives the song a beautiful character. My version is a bit more chill, a bit quieter, but it still follows Brian’s arrangement and overall ambience.

mwe3: You call Half Moon Bay summer chill music. Is that mainly because of the three Brian Wilson covers? What makes a good summer inspired album or song in your estimation and would you consider making an album devoted to the four seasons? What are your favorite summer songs?

Rick Sparks: Another great question! I think the ambience for Half Moon Bay was suggested, in my mind, by the fact that a lot of us experience the ocean as a place of escape and well-being. It’s a place where we can relax and soak in the sun, the water, the blue sky and the pleasant company of others. Alternately, it can be a place of solitude. Regarding albums devoted to the seasons, George Winston did all right with that concept, didn’t he? Brian’s songs with The Beach Boys are always great at evoking summer, but some other summer favorites of mine are “Summer Breeze” by Seals & Crofts, “Saturday In The Park” by Chicago, “Summer Rain” by Johnny Rivers and “Hot Fun In The Summertime” by Sly & The Family Stone.

mwe3: The lead off track on Half Moon Bay, “Sand and Stars” is quite haunting too. It has a kind of George Martin-esque melody that for some reason reminds me of London and even the Beatles, the band that George Martin produced. What inspired “Sand and Stars” and would you say it’s a good way to open your new album?

Rick Sparks: I chose “Sand and Stars” for the lead track because it introduces all the elements you hear in the rest of the album, both musically and thematically, framed in a simple piano melody that, for me, evokes a nighttime walk on a white-sand beach under a starlit sky. The ethereal elements, opening strings and angel-voice bridge, were suggested by the endless expanse of the night sky over the beach. The strings probably reflect some George Martin influence, either single violin or a string quartet.

mwe3: Track three is an original called “Sunlight In Her Hair”. How did you recreate the string sounds on the track? It’s an interesting track in that it sounds multilayered. What synth keyboards do you feature on the track and could you tell us what pianos and synths you play on that track and also on the entire album? What other instruments did you feature on that track? It’s just amazing how real the string sounds are.

Rick Sparks: I used much more guitar on this album than my earlier albums, including electric guitar, to give a contemporary ambience to the songs, as well as a nod to Brian Wilson and the Beach Boy heritage. I used an acoustic guitar sound to frame “Sunlight In Her Hair” from beginning to end, starting simply and building throughout the song with the addition of strings to do countermelody with 3 and 4-part harmony.

All the sounds are from my Yamaha MOX8 synthesizer workstation, which has the MOTIF XF sound engine. They’re all digitally sampled from actual instruments, so they do sound pretty real when used appropriately. My piano sound of choice is the Full Concert Grand on the MOX8, sampled, I think, after Yamaha’s CFIII concert grand piano. I love Yamaha’s piano and string sounds Romantic Strings, as well as the Nativity voices I used on Half Moon Bay and my other albums. I arrange those as either single-voice or 3-part harmony, which Brian Wilson describes as “sounding like angel voices”… appropriate for a voice called Nativity. The acoustic guitar voice is 2 Steel Strings, the electric guitar is Dual Coil 80s Clean, flute is Sweet Flute, bells are J Pop.

mwe3: “You’re So Nice” kind of reminds me of Brian Wilson, even though it’s a Rick Sparks original. Maybe it’s the chord sequence. I also sense a little Satie classical kind of influence. Were you also influenced by classical composers like Satie or more by pop melodocists like Brian Wilson and even Burt Bacharach? Would you say, “You’re So Nice” has a kind of minimalist undercurrent?

Rick Sparks: “You’re So Nice” is the only piano solo on the album – as a pianist, I wanted to do at least one solo. As with Brian, piano is and will always be my favorite instrument. I improvised “You’re So Nice” from beginning to end in one take, taking the “less is more” approach to compose a simple, sweet song. The title may have been prompted by Meghan Markel’s supposed response when her friend suggested she meet Prince Harry: “Is he nice?”

As with Brian Wilson, I usually compose a melody around chords. In this instance, I started with two major-key chords and then adapted those chords with a descending pattern using inversions… also like Brian. A pretty and effective approach that yielded a lovely, sweet song. No influences from others that I can think of… except I notice that I’ve mentioned Brian 3 times in this answer!

mwe3: “Ocean Blue” kind of gets back to the ocean theme that seems to permeate the Half Moon Bay album. What other kind of influences inspired “Ocean Blue”? For some reason, I feel the track also has a kind of progressive electronic influence and it’s very haunting too. Does the track start off with guitars?

Rick Sparks: Yes, electric guitar frames the entire song. The title was suggested by Dennis Wilson’s only completed solo album, Pacific Ocean Blue. Because of that, Dennis was on my mind as I composed this song – it could be a poignant tribute to his love of the ocean. I tried to capture the grandeur and beauty of the sea, with angel voices lending a peace and sacredness which I think Dennis might have sought thru his love of the ocean.

mwe3: “First Light” is interesting in that is almost sounds like a segue following “Ocean Blue”. Did you consider joining them as a suite? Is “First Light” kind of an early morning type song and do you write mostly in the morning or night?

Rick Sparks: That’s a wonderful idea, Robert – it might well have been a suite. It’s a quiet, minimalist mood piece with just a touch of angel voice to double the piano melody and create a peaceful ambience. This is another song evoked by the sea, in this case, sunrise over the water. I write whenever the inspiration strikes... day or night.

mwe3: “Lonely Sea” is another Brian Wilson track, this time written with the late Gary Usher. What’s your connection to that song? Wow, it goes way back to the summer of 1963. Happy days indeed. It seems like The Beach Boys were one of the first bands to write and sing about adoring the ocean or as Brian and Gary called it… the lonely sea. Were you able to hear his Gary’s album Celestium from the early 1980s?

Rick Sparks: I love “Lonely Sea”, it's one of those hidden gems in the Beach Boys’ catalog, which features Brian’s wonderful, plaintive solo. I’m amazed that I’d never heard the song until I found it while searching through Brian’s songs in research for Half Moon Bay. It’s now one of my favorite Beach Boys songs. I loved Gary’s contributions as a collaborator for Brian… I will have to give Celestium a listen.

mwe3: “Whisper In the Wind” is sort of a reassuring moment after the expansive “Lonely Sea”. Maybe being back on land again isn’t so bad. Did you set out to make a kind of comforting type of song with “Whisper In the Wind”?

Rick Sparks: I did, Robert. Whisper In the Wind has another simple, major-key melody, this time with piano giving a bit of gentle rhythm with a flute lead. Very comforting, especially with the addition of angel voices.

mwe3: “Sunset Dreams” is another peaceful dream like track that makes sense as it follows “Whisper In The Wind”. It seems more New Age in a way as there’s not too much synth backing on that track. Is “Sunset Dreams” one of your most peaceful tracks?

Rick Sparks: Yes, it is peaceful and that was intentional. I knew when I was writing it that this would be my last original track on the album, before ending with Brian’s “Summer’s Gone”. In a way, it’s a bit of a farewell song, just as sunset is farewell to the day and foretells the approach of dreams and peace.

mwe3: I had forgotten “Summer’s Gone” as a Brian Wilson track and I just remembered it was the closing track on the Beach Boys comeback album That’s Why God Made The Radio. What did you think of that album? Seems like a very sad track or is it hopeful song in your opinion… now that summer ’18 is over this weekend…

Rick Sparks: I loved that Brian and the Beach Boys were able to do one last album together. That’s Why God Made the Radio provided some desperately needed closure to the band that, at its heart, was really always Brian’s group. The album contained some great Brian songs, including the title cut and “Summer’s Gone”. The perfect song to end that album and the perfect song to end my album. Yes, the end of summer is a bit sad, but as always with Brian’s songs, even the sad ones make you feel good.

mwe3: So with Half Moon Bay gaining support and interest among your fans every day, do you have some way to sum up the album and how it fits into your career and how it might lead to other plans you have in store for the coming year in 2019? Speaking of the Beach Boys, 20/20 is coming up soon.

Rick Sparks: I’ll just say what Brian likes to say at the end of his interviews: “I hope you like my music.” It was a special honor for me to include 3 of Brian’s songs on Half Moon Bay; doing so really raised the bar for me as a composer. I hope the album reflects the love and care that I put into both his songs and mine. I’m really looking forward to seeing Brian for the first time in concert with his incredible band this November in Augusta, Georgia… can’t wait! As for future Rick Sparks projects, maybe a Christmas album next year? We’ll see...




 

 
   
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