It’s hard to mention Sparta without having the words “At The Drive In” trickle into the conversation. Yet try to keep in mind the one subject to steer clear of with Sparta: the assumed drama from their At The Drive In days and any calamity that may be going on now between the members of Sparta.
According to Tony Hajjar, drummer for Sparta, the chances of finding any type of dirt on the latter band is pretty much impossible. “If you’re looking for drama, call another band and leave me alone,” Hajjar said. All of this is in response to a previous interview in which a journalist couldn’t stand the fact low blows weren’t being made between the guys in the band.
“I think people are dying to hear dirt about our past, dying to hear new dirt, and there’s no such thing,” he said. He makes a valid argument. Let’s face it, At The Drive In died for whatever reason, allowing Sparta to be born, forming an entity all in itself.
The decision was made in April of 2001 to form Sparta. In June, amid the scorching El Paso heat, the sounds started to formulate and creativity was free flowing. It was a rigorous 10 hours a day for two weeks, on which the ninth day, Hajjar, Jim Ward, vocals/guitar/keys, Paul Hinojos, guitar and Matt Miller, bass, were already laying down the basics for their debut album, Wiretap Scars, which is full of strained vocals by the reinvented and raspy Ward.
With a Ritalin-driven At The Drive In sounds, things are calm on this album yet full of intensity. After a two-week break, they resumed recording at Hajjar’s home in L.A. Packed into Hajjar’s den recording the vocals, then moving to the bedroom for some piano and guitar parts while journals flew around and ideas were tossed thrown back and forth, everything began to come together.
In March they released their EP Austere, which is a word that is anything but a good definition of how they got to where they are. Simple, bleak, plain, unadorned are adjectives far from justly describing Sparta. Though according to Hajjar, Sparta’s journey thus far is pleasantly more peaceful than the ending days of At The Drive In, it still took some learning and growing for them to be able to enjoy the ride they’re hanging on to while loving every minute of it.
When it comes to touring, management, writing and working together, Hajjar notes that he and the rest of the guys have been on each end of the spectrum and every mark in between. “We use to worry about everything. If you called me up and you were my manager and you said, ‘Okay, you’re gonna play this place, this place and this place.’ I would ask you every single question about it. Like, ‘What’s the sound like, what’s this, what’s that, what’s the capacity.’ I think we worried ourselves too much and put a lot on our backs instead of just worrying about going on stage.”
Once the realization that they couldn’t carry all the weight came to the forefront, it was time they tried to put their trust in other people so they could just worry about what they were suppose to do—perform. “I think that’s made us a lot calmer and a lot better and I think that’s the only thing that keeps me from being scared [about things ending up the way At The Drive In did.]”
There’s even a release of pressure when it comes to getting the name Sparta to be recognized. It was obvious that once rumors became verified of a post At The Drive In band, much buzz would be created and people would be riddled with anxiety and expectations. This situation wasn’t necessarily a welcomed situation. For Hajjar and the others, it was seen more as a crutch than anything. “We don’t expect anyone to like this band just because of the previous band.”
And no, they don’t deny it, they’re completely aware of the fact that similarities between Sparta and At The Drive In are evident in the sound. What else would you expect considering three of the four band members were in the former band and wrote music for the band? But they refuse to use that as the recipe for success. Hajjar has a good grasp on the reality of the situation.
For the first tour, they realize people were there because they knew it was the post At The Drive In band. But according to Hajjar, his theory is after the first 30 minutes of hearing a band play, people will make a decision about whether or not they will be coming back to the next show. “After the first show, you’re all on your own and it all weighs down to your music,” he said. “And that’s what made us extremely positive about the future. I think the first tour was done in order to get all that off our backs.”
They have a new focus, a realistic and peaceful outlook on Sparta. They’ve learned from past mistakes, yet have managed to bring with them the things that make them the musicians they are.