MEB staffer Ridge Briel recently caught up with Josh Sparks and Matt Schmitz, drummer and vocalist of punk/blues act Former Thieves. They discuss tour stories, vegan cooking, road fuel and much more!
MEB: For starters, what bands were you guys a part of prior to Former Thieves? How long has the band been around?
Josh Sparks: Exactly three years now. All of us have played in a myriad of bands in the past, with each other and separately. Most recent to the formation of this band Josh P. and Matt were playing together in a really dark and grimy d-beat punk/hardcore band called Desperation. Josh P. had also been playing guitar in a post-rock band called Giants. Ben was playing bass in a hardcore band called Take Control, and luckily for us their break-up coincided almost directly with the formation of this band (Me, Parks, and Matt were trying to snake him regardless, haha). I had been living in Buffalo, NY playing drums in a prog-pop band called Damiera, but quit and moved back to Cedar Falls about eight months prior to FT starting up.
What was it like working with Chris Common for The Language That We Speak? Do you plan on working with him again for your upcoming album?
Matt Schmitz: It was definitely an interesting experience working with Chris. We would definitely not have gotten the sounds and feeling that came out on The Language That We Speak without him. We are exploring a plethora of different options of who to go to for the new record. As far as we are aware right now, Chris is living in Portugal and recording there.
What news can you guys give about your upcoming album? Have you begun the writing/recording process already?
JS: Haha, the next record has been a constant conversation piece for us over the last couple months. We started flushing a few ideas out this fall, and out of that I think we have a clearer focus of where we’re wanting to take things. With TLTWS, we wrote it in two separate halves spanning almost a year and a half. This time around we want to take a few months to sit down and write an entire record from start to finish. It’s looking like that time is going to come sometime this summer. We’re hoping to have it written and recorded by the end of this year, ideally releasing it sometime in 2013.
What sort of topics do you guys plan to cover on the new album?
MS: I have been thinking about just this question quite a bit recently. There are a million and one topics that are floating around my head that I would like to tackle. I have a hard time writing about interpersonal things, so I use friends and outside scenarios to write off of. I think one thing that has been really sticking with me lately is watching people lose momentum as some would call it; others would call it a certain spark. You could attribute that to growing up, but it could also be the age of being “too cool for anything.” It’s frustrating and sucks to watch positive, smart-minded people turn into to shit heads just because it’s “cool.”
Having such a dedicated touring schedule, what are some of your favorite shows you’ve played so far?
Some personal favorites that come to mind for me are:
6/30/09 – Our second show ever. We played a inside a Uhaul in our hometown. Our friend Zach was moving to Chicago, so he called together a last minute show!
11/22/09 – Chicago, IL at a crowded house called Summer Camp w/La Dispute, Touche Amore, and Into it. Over it.
5/24/11 – New York City, NY. Sold out show at The Studio @ Webster Hall while we were on tour with La Dispute, Defeater, and Native. That was one of the best vibes of a show we’ve ever played.. Although to be fair I think every show on that tour was a tie for best.
7/16/11 – Minneapolis, MN. Harvest reunion show, Final Disembodied show at the Triple Rock.
Any stories from the road you want to share?
JS: Currently we’re on tour in the UK/Europe supporting La Dispute. Four days ago we were driving from Munich, DE to Vienna, AU and ran into a blizzard. We hit a patch of black ice, and our driver lost control of the van. It spun around a few times before eventually colliding with the center guard-rail, wrecking it and rendering it un-driveable. All of us are fine, and thanks to our driver’s savvy we were even able to make the show in Vienna via taxi! It’s been a long couple of days, to say the least, of switching back and forth between rental vans, cars, and utilizing public transit to able to make the shows; we’ve made due. Today (Wednesday, January 25, 2012) we are finally picking up a new van that will be a constant for the remainder of the tour, so we’ll be able to get back to some relative normalcy. Coordinating all of this would never have been possible without our TM Dave’s patience and persistence, Ben’s ability to speak German, and the kindness and graciousness of our dear friends in La Dispute. We have many other tour stories (stories that could be told and stories that we’ve sworn each other to secrecy/been sworn to secrecy by others) but this one seems the most relevant.
What made you guys decide on No Sleep Records as compared to other potential labels?
JS: Chris [Hansen, founder] has done a really excellent job of branding his label. He’s not style specific, he just puts out good records from hard-working bands. All of us have been and currently are big fans of his roster, and after having had a chance to get to know each other we bonded on a personal level as well. It just made sense for us and felt organic. Also in contrast to some of the other labels we were considering, signing with No Sleep made us feel like we wouldn’t be pigeonholed as “just another techy hardcore band.”
What other bands do you see yourselves touring with in the future? What other bands do you guys recommend for your fans to check out?
JS: After we finish this tour we’re flying back home and starting a US/Canada tour with Every Time I Die, Terror, and Stray From the Path. We’re beyond stoked to be a part of that tour! As far as bands worth checking out: Bone Dance, Xerxes, and Code Orange Kids are some of our favorites right now. The other night in Bristol we played with a band called &U&I that would be worth your time too!
Where do you draw your music and songwriting style from? What are some of your biggest influences?
JS: Honestly it’s different for all of us and really across the board. Collectively we’ve drawn a lot of musical inspiration from the Louisville scene – bands like Breather Resist, Black Cross and Young Widows to name just a few. We also really admire the work ethic of bands like Modern Life is War, Ruiner and Every Time I Die.
If you guys had to give up music for any reason, what sort of hobbies would you take up to stay creative?
JS: I can’t imagine that ever happening (or really hope it doesn’t ever)… Even if we were to stop touring or break up I can’t think of a reason, barring a horrendous physical ailment, that any of us would give up playing. When we’re at home Ben and I are both heavily into Vegan cuisine and cooking. We spend a lot of time separately trying out new recipes, cooking, baking, working with presentation, etc. just for fun. Josh and Matt are really into the graphic design thing too. Flyers for shows, local shows, t-shirts for bands, screen prints, etc. Also, we all write and draw pretty consistently just for fun.
Dream tour. What four other bands would you play with and what would you call the tour?
JS: Last May while we were on tour with La Dispute, Defeater, and Native we played a show in Pittsburgh that Cave-In headlined. Had they come along and done the rest of the rest of the shows, it would have been a dream.
What is the “road fuel” of choice among you guys?
JS: Cliff bars, chips, nuts, granola, thai food.
Any last words for your fans?
Thank you for supporting us, coming to shows, and listening to our music. Stay close and keep in contact, we appreciate you so much.