Analogue Music | White Tail Falls

White Tail Falls

By Matt Conner

Irwin Sparkes says his music is not for everyone.

It's an odd thing to say about one's own music, especially a debut EP as beautiful as Fake News, but Sparkes has been around this block before, having spent time in the industry in other bands and outlets. This time, he's in full creative control, the lone sonic force behind White Tail Falls.

Sparkes says he chose White Tail Falls as a moniker for what it represents, a physical place of known beauty yet personally not yet seen. It's representative of what Sparkes could be, where he could go, a man always in transition. Given the metamorphosis taken to this point, it's an apt title for songs that draw you into a cocoon of your own, providing a soundtrack for one's own reflection and even transformation.

Sparkes references Josh T. Pearson and Sun Kil Moon as musical interests that influenced this new direction and those touchpoints are heard on Fake News. Perhaps the music isn't for everyone, for one reason or another, but the audience who finds it will be richly rewarded and it's those connections that matter most.

Analogue: You've made music via other outlets, What is this time providing for you that those others did not?

Irwin Sparkes: I think in a musical way it's really restored an appreciation for the idea of how much power there is in music. That's something I was getting very cynical about. When you get pulled into doing co-writes and it just seems commercialized and you're trying to monetize something... whenever you do something that began as a passion and then you're forced into doing it, like anything, it becomes a job and a bit of a grind. It's interesting that something you would do because it wasn't a job, because it didn't feel like work, becomes exactly that.

Now I realize that you have to safeguard it in a way. It's sacred. If you're playing, you have a responsibility to save some of this for yourself and not give too much away. It's very easy to say that, but at the same time, you're trying to make money. It's an uneasy relationship.

In a life sense, there's always that little fear that you hope you've come through it all. I remember talking to friends who came through some really dark times. You get asked, 'How are you doing?' and you might say, 'Yeah, I'm fine.' That's your stock answer. You don't realize until you look back, 'Actually, I was not okay then.' I don't want to feel too glad I'm over it, but I don't want to be too celebratory, like 'no more rainy days here.' I live in London. C'mon.

White Tail Falls 2
White Tail Falls 2

Analogue: How do you protect that moving forward?

Irwin: I'm always nervous. When I'm just making music in my shed or in other people's sheds, that's the purest time for it. But talking to you now, it's like it's real. It's an odd thing to have to venture a toe out into the real world with it. I've never had it to this degree in making music where it's a bit raw and it's something you don't really want to talk about it yet here we are. I mean, of course I want people to know about it. I'm proud of it. For me it's helped trying to delineate how to define success for a song.

I think it's important to note what you want to achieve? What are you setting out to do with your music? That got a lot clearer for me with this record. I used it to figure out where I was and what I was going through. It reminded me why you pick up an instrument in the first place. For me, it was to work out how I feel about stuff. You do it because you don't have the answers. You're trying to put something to words that's indefinable. That's why even talking about it will turn out to be unsatisfactory because you're trying to touch on something ethereal, something between spiritual and physical.

Analogue: You've referenced in some ways the darker side or losing perspective, but can you really take us there? What did that entail?

Irwin: Sure, I'll do my best to give an account and see how much I start sweating. In no way have I gone through anything unique, you know? Something I've heard from people who've listened to the record is that I think there's some familiarity in the experience of feeling like you've ended up somewhere that you weren't meant to be. There's a point in your life when you're like, 'How did I get here?' For me, I was in bands and I had a little moment of doing okay in an earlier band signed to a major label. Compromises were made and it was a shared experience with the rest of the band, so I wasn't wanting to say what I say musically.

It ended up going horrible wrong as these things often do. Then feeling like, in my early thirties, it was like 'now what?' You feel a bit long in the tooth for becoming that ultimate fighter pilot or top surgeon that was always the backup. [Laughs] You fall into co-writes and try some other musical ventures. You're grinding through the gears. I had a relationship I was struggling to commit to. I didn't understand that they were an anchor for me, but having addictive tendencies in a lot of different places that weren't very helpful places... I eventually hit rock bottom.

One time I remember I woke up screaming in my girlfriend's face and that was a big wake-up call for both of us that I needed some help. Fortunately I was able to find an understanding therapist for a couple years that changed my life. I'd strongly recommend that to anyone. It's not like it's fixed. I've occasionally gone back. It was important to talk to someone who had a better compass, a better sense of direction than my own.

'I'd love to say, 'I don't care if anyone likes it,' but I have to admit that it's nicer if people do."

Analogue: With this outlet, how much are you worried about the marketplace side of things?

Irwin: I wasn't at all until I've come up to release it. It was just sheer cathartic therapy to a point and I didn't always know how I felt until I'd finished the song and that's great. But yeah, now that I'm coming up toa point of actually releasing it and it's quantifiable suddenly, I'd love to say, 'I don't care if anyone likes it,' but I have to admit that it's nicer if people do. I'm pretty sure I haven't made an album for everyone and in terms of making it, that wasn't a concern. But I think there's an audience for it. I just hope the people that would get something out of it will find it.

Analogue: Where did the name White Tail Falls come from?

Irwin: I kind of wanted it to sound like somewhere I've never been that was a safe place, like something other. I think my wife or myself, one of was us reading the greater histories of Twin Peaks and that was one of the places mentioned, White Tail Falls. I just loved it. I loved the poetry of it and the fact that, to me personally, it can mean anything because I don't have a frame of reference for it. I've never been to Washington state, but I like it representative of that place I haven't been yet. It can be sort of transportive.

Analogue: You mentioned the art of songwriting as a physical and spiritual thing. Is this a spiritual exercise?

Irwin: Not always. In fact, there was a point when I did some kind of writing in Nashville and that was a wonderful lesson in the strength of craft. They all have their place and massively so, but pop can often be void... I mean, good pop can have it. Not to denigrate on any specific genre, but... Anyway, let me come back full circle to answer your question. For White Tail Falls, it's been about finding the roots of why I wanted to make noise, pick up an instrument, write something down and what is it that I'm trying to express.

For me, it's not about telling someone what to do. It's about legitimately searching for answers. I wanted some direction, so turning to something that had been a comfort and a safe place, I guess, is what music is. I'm stumbling over this in real time, the similarity between White Tail Falls and writing, but it kind of makes sense to me that what moves me is when I believe what this thing is telling me. I want it to feel like it's lived in. It's a perfect embodiment of it being a spiritual movement. I was brought up in church and that was my introduction to music. So that's always been there. I'd also say that's what music is to human beings, right?

VISIT: White Tail Falls