Words by Ian Morales.
Every summer the Vans Warped Tour, the longest running concert series to date, hits pavements across the country to bring the kids a serving of punk, screamo, some hip hop, emo and hybrid genres combining elements of all the above genres. Still, one thing Warped Tour does a good job with is keeping to its roots by making sure to break new punk bands, punk bands with a raw old-school sound that appeal to more hardcore fans. This year, one of those bands is Old Shoe Records recording artist The Sparring.
When we first met the guys from The Sparring, they were here introducing themselves to the world at South By Southwest in March. We learned that their lead singer Joel Bourne is new to singing but a long time veteran to the punk rock scene, having drummed for both Tiger Army and The Dear and Departed. We also learned about their new EP, Docks, Boats And Ropes, out now on Old Shoe, and getting a spot on Warped Tour after being a band for only a year.
It appears to me that you guys are still one of the punk scene’s newcomers.
Jay: We’ve all been in different bands. Then things just came to a standstill with the band I was playing with and with the band Joel was playing drums for. One day we started chatting about music that we liked. I told him I was dying to play again, guitar though because I was currently playing drums.
Addressing Joel here, the music I’ve heard from you so far sounds a bit different from what you were doing with The Dear and Departed and Tiger Army.
Joel: It’s more like the stuff I grew up listening to.
You mean faster, harder and more raw?
Joel: Exactly. I’ve been into stuff like that. It was more about being able to produce something like that. It’s what we surrounded ourselves growing up.
So how did you guys come together? Were you old friends or did you meet through the local scene?
Jay: Joel was working at a bar, of which I was an attendee of the bar. We spent a lot of time at the bar talking about music, drinking and watching so many crappy bands come through the bar. I said to him, “Let’s just jam.” We could blow this out of the water if we found the right guys because we had been in bands that we were frustrated with. So we got together one afternoon, and in that one afternoon we wrote three songs. Joel was playing drums and I was playing guitar. From there, we ventured out for some other guys to help us track it.
So it seems you guys started more like a side project or something for fun versus going full throttle early.
Jay: It did start that way. At the time, we were both still in the bands we were playing drums in, but they weren’t doing anything.
What made you, Joel, take the lead vocalist role?
Joel: I used to do back up singing, but that’s it. I kind of got weaseled out of playing drums in this band. When we recorded the songs, we didn’t have a vocalist. I had this ex-friend hit me up who was a really good drummer that wasn’t doing his band anymore. He wanted to jam and do something. We recorded those songs, and then showed him and he learned them straight away. I was left wondering what I was going to do, so then we just tracked me doing the vocals and that’s pretty much the first time I’ve ever sung anything but backup.
Did you know you could sing well enough to be a frontman?
Jay: [laughs] He still can’t.
Joel: C’mon. It is getting a bit more comfortable and it fits with the music we do. It is still somewhat of an uphill battle, but I suppose it gets easier.
Do you have to do anything differently as a frontman that you did as a drummer?
Joel: I do a couple more shots than I used to. That’s about it.
You released an EP, Docks. Why an EP and not a full-length?
Jay: I think we are too new for a full-length. I think sales would be horrible. We’d rather just put something out we aren’t going to invest too much time or money into and tour the crap out of it. When we do have out first full-length release, it would just be more beneficial all the way around.
Joel: I get sick of listening to a CD even if I like it a lot. I’d rather put out seven or eight songs people are a hundred percent about that don’t have those filler songs. I’ve never been a fan of it, but it has always been the traditional thing to do. It sucks having to record 12 or 13 songs for a full-length when like three of those songs aren’t really the best a particular band can produce.
A lot of bands do that for cost reasons. Maybe they don’t have but X amount of money for studio time so they want to maximize their costs, or maybe even it can come from label obligations.
Joel: If that were the case, I’d rather record 12 songs and release two discs. Bands could save money and keep bringing out new stuff that way. It would always be fresh material to be throwing at people. You kind of have to do that these days.
Let’s talk about what is coming up for you guys this year. After making your presence known at SXSW this year, you are on the Warped Tour. How exciting for you is that being a new band?
Joel: It’s great. When you’ve only been a band for a few months and you get told you’re doing the whole Warped Tour and you have to cook, it’s quite intense.
Not to sound like the old guy here, but Warped Tour is different beast than it was in previous years. I grew up with Warped Tour having NoFX as a headliner and Pennywise was sort of a middle tier band. Now, in comparison to a lot of the younger bands on this year’s tour, you guys are the older and more hardcore. How do you think you guys will fare out there this year?
Joel: Warped Tour, I think, is just trying to broaden their horizons. Last time I played Warped with Dear and Departed, Paramore was headlining. And I like that band. It is just they are trying to get all aspects of different bands in because of what you touched on. The ’90s punk bands aren’t always going to be what’s cool and not everyone will be able to relate to it. I can’t wait to see how we do. I’m just stoked we get to go on the road and play every day. I’m more worried about getting our barbecue skills up because we have to cook the barbecue every night. I’m trying to get the flip own for the patties.
I agree that playing Warped Tour is definitely a good opportunity. I’m not sure if being stuck with the cooking is all that glamorous though.
Jay: I wouldn’t mind flipping patties and listening to Paramore. That’s a good day. Shall we do that on Saturday afternoon?
Don’t tease me like that. In your previous bands, have any one of you done the entire Warped Tour?
Jay: I did the first two weeks and the last two weeks.
Joel: I have and it’s horrible. Well, it’s not really horrible. There is something about it that seems to keep you motivated and keep doing it. There are those stressful days but when you look back on it all you are just stoked on it. You look back and go “That was awesome!” During it, you have those days where you would fight any person. You have those days when it will break you. It’s cool though because the next day you might play to 500 kids. That definitely helps you get through it.
So as the only Warped Tour veteran of the bunch, you are kind of guiding the rest of your band mates through it all then?
Jay: He might guide us, but we are all definitely babysitting him.
Joel: It’s funny you ask because you would think that I’m the guy that’s totally into it but I’m actually not. Then I’m the one that gets babysat and looked after.
Clearly, you were made to be a lead singer. How was your SXSW experience?
Joel: I had never been before. Apparently, it is the right thing to do when you are a band, especially a new band. We also liked seeing bands that we wanted to see.
Riverboat, those are our Austin peeps. What did you think of them? Had you seen the live before?
Joel: It’s quite intense. I never heard them before. They were quite impressive. It was quite a weird show too. I don’t know if everyone can relate but it was kind of like that church picnic on a Sunday afternoon when you’re like 17 or so and there are just a range of age groups at some random park. It was quite that kind of vibe. There were like 12-year-old kids there and then like, grandparents or something.
Jay: We forget to tell you, we saw Darkest Hour by accident, the metal band. That was pretty white trash, but entertaining.
Joel: It made me want to drink a Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Really? Why the hipster beer after seeing a metal show?
Jay: In California, that’s the white trash beer. It’s the beer of choice. I hear it’s Lone Star here in Texas. Speaking of, we are going to be on the same stage with Riverboat Gamblers throughout the whole Warped Tour. Fadi and Ian drink, so we’ll have fun. Mike (Wiebe, vocalist for Riverboat Gamblers) rarely does.
What was it about Old Shoe that made you want to sign with them versus going with another label or staying independent?
Joel: They were the only label that thought we were half cool. They are from our area as well.
Jay: I think they are the only label that is doing it right to be honest with you.
In what sense?
Jay: We don’t really have a hometown label, so that was the coolest part about it. Really there aren’t a lot of good deals going around for any band, even some of these bigger bands that deserve a better deal. It really is a family. We know the other bands on the label and they will sit and have a drink with you.
Joel: I just think they have their head at the same level as we do. They don’t make a big deal of themselves and it is like he said, a more of a family type vibe. Everyone is on the same page and has the same goals.
Do you have any last parting word for people reading this?
Jay: To whoever reads this, I’d just like to apologize if we have wrecked your bar, or apologize in advance for wrecking your bar in the near future. We were just having fun. You should definitely come out and party with us.
You can catch The Sparring on every stop of this year’s Warped Tour.