Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Patrick Stolley
There's a picture involved with the music of The Lovely Sparrows -- a framed photograph with wooden borders of rich, brown design. It's in high-definition. Look at it headlong and you'll swear to the heavens that diving straight into its center is entirely possible. The paint of the tanning or greening leaves depicted, depending upon the season in question at the time of the composition, will splash over the patterned wood frame and onto the wall beside and the carpeting below.
With binoculars, one can see through the painting and into a house five blocks over. The picture and the way it's viewed are contingent on the way you - the listener - behave in moving vehicles on lengthy trips, we'll say of more than five hours at a time. Do you look outside at the screaming scenery? Do you stop to think about all of the action, all of the life that doesn't miss you a stitch when you're not near? Do you think of the towns that get buzzed by four lanes of traffic as beehives that stand alone - with their one convenience store and municipal park with a ball field that acts as the social epicenter for four months out of the year, where children run around happily cleaving into wrappers filled with candies and then begging their parents for four more quarters to do it again? Do you think of those towns and those people as lonely and sad? Do you find yourself lonely and sad in that strange passage of travel that exists before you arrive anywhere?
Do you ask yourself, "Is there any real magic?" in quite the same way that The Lovely Sparrows lead singer Shawn Jones does in a song such as "Teenage Viking"? Long drives allow for long thinking that turns casual observance into long division and calculus. Our daily lives fly by, consumed as we are with the present tense - our present tense -- and our successful maneuvering through days so that we can get home and everyone can simultaneously ask and wonder how we all managed to make it. The Lovely Sparrows and Jones' writing are a boutique service that acts as a different model of aeroplane over a different sea, just with a comforting engine vibration. His thoughtful observations about the fiery - yet oftentimes suppressed - manner in which we wrestle with our emotions is Cat Stevens-y and blissfully rakish.
The Daytrotter interview:
*How last minute was the assembly of the band that you played here with? Tell us some tidbits about each of your mates.*
Shawn Jones: We had two days to practice before we went out on the road. I had mailed CDs to the guys a few weeks before the tour, so everyone came in with ideas and parts worked out. Jason, Nathan, Steven, and I went to school together, and have known each other for a long time. Paul has played percussion with us for a while. We all trade favors playing in each other's bands.
*Did you get rid of that pain in your neck caused by the cold sleeping arrangements the night before you played for us?*
SJ: That pain in my neck lasted for two weeks! I ended up getting acupuncture. No rolfing for me.
*You're not at all a cynic, are you?*
SJ: I am more of a pessimist than a cynic I suppose. Depends on how much sleep I'm getting -- which is mostly not much.
*Who do you respect as a songwriter?*
SJ: I have my old standbys that never fade like Bowie, Stephen Merritt, Bejar, but as far as newer bands Grizzly Bear is the first band that's really caught my attention in a while.
*What are your vices?*
SJ: My vices are coffee and sno-cones. Sno-cones are kind of an Austin summer tradition. And coffee is just delicious.
*What's the best looking bird you know of?*
SJ: Favorite bird? I'm more of a turtle kind of guy.
*What's been the best summery activity for you this week?*
SJ: I spend a lot of time outside gardening. It is the only excuse I can think of other than the Green Belt or Barton Springs here in Austin to go outside at all during the summer. Fall weather is more my pace.
*Who/what do you read voraciously?*
SJ: Right now, I'm working through some Thomas Pynchon, Carl Sagan, Vonnegut and several new cookbooks. Herman Hesse's fairy tales are great.
*What's your favorite Austin band? Have you ever seen Lance Armstrong out and about?*
SJ: There are a lot of great songwriters here, but my favorites are probably Karrie Hopper and Will Sheff. And Bill Callahan lives here now. I've not seen Lance Armstrong, although I understand he's quite fast.