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 Ricks 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 theres several Brian Wilson classics, redone here
in Ricks 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 2015s 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
cant imagine not having the inner peace and assurance that comes
from my Christian faith. Its 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
its 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."
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.
presents an interview with
Can you tell us where youre 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 Im home when Im in the mountains of East
Tennessee. Theres 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 weve
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, weve 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
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
Rick Sparks: I love Tom Pettys comment about pop music:
Every generation thinks their music was the best, but in
my case, its true. Theres 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.
Did gaining a masters degree affect your love of music and your abilities
as a musician and composer?
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: Youve 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 Im 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 Matildas
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 Nightfalls 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 youve 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 theres
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, Im 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
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. Theres a kind of hopelessness
in the world these days, so how can God help mankind through these
Sparks: I love Brians quote that music is Gods
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 cant imagine
not having the inner peace and assurance that comes from my Christian
faith. Its 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
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
mwe3: Brians 2015 album No Pier Pressure featured
the original version of Half Moon Bay, which is also the
title of your new album. Brians 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 Brians 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 Brians heart
as a survivor who has finally found a place of peace in his life.
Marks 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 Brians 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.
Its 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, didnt he? Brians
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 its a good way to open your new
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? Its
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? Its 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. Theyre 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 Yamahas CFIII concert grand piano. I love Yamahas
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
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: Youre So Nice kind of reminds me of
Brian Wilson, even though its a Rick Sparks original. Maybe
its 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, Youre So Nice has a kind
of minimalist undercurrent?
Sparks: Youre 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 Youre 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 Markels
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
like Brian. A pretty and effective approach that yielded a lovely,
sweet song. No influences from others that I can think of
I notice that Ive 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 its very haunting too. Does the track start off
Rick Sparks: Yes, electric guitar frames the entire song. The
title was suggested by Dennis Wilsons 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: Thats a wonderful idea, Robert it
might well have been a suite. Its 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. Whats 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
the lonely sea. Were you able to hear his Garys album
Celestium from the early 1980s?
Sparks: I love Lonely Sea, it's one of those hidden
gems in the Beach Boys catalog, which features Brians
wonderful, plaintive solo. Im amazed that Id never heard
the song until I found it while searching through Brians songs
in research for Half Moon Bay. Its now one of my favorite
Beach Boys songs. I loved Garys contributions as a collaborator
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 isnt 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 theres not too much synth
backing on that track. Is Sunset Dreams one of your most
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 Brians Summers
Gone. In a way, its a bit of a farewell song, just as
sunset is farewell to the day and foretells the approach of dreams
mwe3: I had forgotten Summers Gone as a Brian
Wilson track and I just remembered it was the closing track on the
Beach Boys comeback album Thats 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. Thats Why God Made the Radio
provided some desperately needed closure to the band that, at its
heart, was really always Brians group. The album contained some
great Brian songs, including the title cut and Summers
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 Brians songs, even the sad ones make you feel good.
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: Ill 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 Brians 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. Im really looking forward to seeing Brian for
the first time in concert with his incredible band this November in
cant wait! As for future Rick Sparks
projects, maybe a Christmas album next year? Well see...