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New Breed
A Conversation With Sparta's Matt Miller
by Eric Meyers
February 20, 2003


Matt Miller is the bassist for Sparta, the El Paso band forged from the remnants of At The Drive In a year past. He delayed dinner with his girlfriend and graciously took time before his show at the Mayan to sit down and chat with Rockzone.

Eric Meyers: When people say "your band has a lot of energy," what does that mean to you?

Matt Miller: I think it's a combination of are what we play and getting excited. We feel the music, we play it. Also the stuff that we wrote and the way that we wrote is kind of energetic. It's really a combination of the two I'd say. If you listen to the record you can hear slower songs, but there's a combination of heavy ambiance to it. We feel that, and we kinda get excited with it. And we have a good time playing.

EM: Can slow songs have energy?

MM: Yeah. It's not considered a slow song just because the beats per minute are at a slower time. You can still have a lot of energy with what you're…I can't explain it, um…(Reflective pause) I guess the emphasis is on how you're playing it, because you can play a slow song and the speed you're playing it's slow, but if you're playing it with energy and you're really feeling the song, it reflects that.

EM: Do you think Sparta is too hard for the mainstream or is the mainstream too soft for Sparta?

MM: I don't know, I think the mainstream is pretty much anything anymore, because when you hear what's out there and all the things being played on the radio, mainstream has pretty much been burst wide open. I mean, it ranges anything from hip-hop, to hip-hop punk. I think the only difference with people buying records is it's all being defined by age groups now rather than genres of music.

EM: I know you're not the lyricist--

MM: Well, we all write the lyrics.

EM: Alright, cool. Well then how important do you think is if for lyrics to be comprehensible?

MM: It really depends, I mean you can have lyrics so far out there where they don't even connect at all, just like a pattern of words put together to make a melody - that's when I think it's sometimes a little bit hard to interpret but, I don't know. I've always come from the idea of who's ever writing, whoever's putting stuff together, (points to me) it's your song, it's your lyrics, and it's your meaning for it, and that's how far it goes. Everyone else comes up with their own interpretation - that's what you want people to do. I don't like the idea of having music just spoon-fed. I like to think about, and get my own opinion on it, rather than them telling me what the hell I think it is.

EM: You guys mix tempos and use odd time signatures. Where does that come from?

MM: It's easy to write a straight-up four/four tempo beat. It's been done a million times. You try to change it up to where you're interested in yourself, because I mean we have to play it for the next..however long we play. So far it's been over a year so we've been playing it that many times. You gotta enjoy it too, yourself.

EM: I read that you wrote the songs collectively, and you mentioned something about it before, how does that work exactly, and-

MM: [Laughs] Slowly. Very, very slowly.

EM: How did you write, say, "Cataract" for example.

MM: Um, that started with a sequencer beat Tony [Hajjar] was working with. And from there is just grew to what it is now. I mean, literally, part by part by part. Tearing ideas down, rebuilding them, trying something different. And just constantly working it that way. I see it like hammering a piece of metal into something; it's a long process. You have to hammer and hammer, and keep working it and working at it till you get your desired piece.

EM: What's the significance of "Wiretap Scars" as the name of the album?

MM: [Laughs] There's no significance right now. How we tend to work with titling things and working things: we don't try to have like a basic theme, or anything like that. "Wiretap Scars" happened to be two words out of probably a thousand we matched together that worked right together and we liked the way it sounded. And we've always thought - just like what our name Sparta is - that we named it, because we like the way it sounds and we hope that with time it's going to develop its own meaning for us. It's going to have it's own life, rather then us trying to come up with putting it together in one shot, which is really difficult.

EM: Do you consider Sparta Alternative, Rock, Emo, or Punk, and why do you think there is a need to categorize bands such as yours?

MM: Well, it's human nature to categorize, that's why we all have this will to define it, but at the same time I think things have gone so far into defining things [in music] it's just, kind of mind boggling now. I remember at one point hearing the term "Screamo" for a version of "Emo." I was like, wow, they can't think of anything else but that? Horrible. So any more of what I think of it is: every band you hear any more that's rock, that's their interpretation of rock. That's it. I can see that it's easy to say, "Metal," "Rock," and "Indie Rock" or whatever, but at the same time it's their interpretation of rock. And that's all it is. That's how we see ourselves. This is how we see rock music to us, this is how we play it, this is how we reflect it.

EM: Cool. What current acts do you follow today, if you follow any?

MM: Love Queens of the Stone Age. Coldplay. Wilco…what else?

EM: What's in your CD player right now?

MM: Right now?

EM: Yeah

MM: Radiohead. Fugazi. Coldplay. Wilco. Queens… It's kinda cool because Wilco and Queens we got to play with them and hang out with them in Australia when we were there. It was awesome.

EM: And plus you got to go to Australia.

MM: [Laughs] Yeah. It was fun. Good times. Good times.

EM: Who would you say is your biggest fan?

MM: Our biggest fan?

EM: Or your biggest fan?

MM: Actually our biggest fans are our families. We just did an El Paso show, and we had all our families there and it was really emotional and really mind boggling that in our home town that so many people actually came to our show. It was crazy.

EM: What advice can you give to musicians out there just starting out who want to be the next Sparta?

MM: Tour your asses off. That's the only thing you can do. There's so many bands out there that play a few show - they might get a demo deal or whatever, and they think "alright, well, let's make a record. Okay, now lets wait for things to happen." Rather then just jumping into the driver's seat and taking care of your own business. You let other people try to control it and you're not going to go anywhere. It's your own game, it's your own thing; you have to call it by your own rules and do it.

EM: What's next for Sparta?

MM: After this we have two and a half weeks off. Then we do three weeks with Pearl Jam, and then we'll take a working week off and start working on new songs.

EM: Cool. Thanks a lot for the interview.

MM: Oh, not at all. Thank you.

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