This is the story of the futuristic and visionary country-indierock outfit Beachwood Sparks. The band formed from a scene of people loosely gathered around the radio station KXLU 88.9 FM. The future members also collaborated a lot musically in different bands (see: Further, Strictly Ballroom, Gold Winter People and The Summer Hits). Brent Rademaker (bass player), Chris Gunst (singer and guitarist), Josh Schwartz (singer and guitarist), Farmer Dave Scher (keyboard player, steel guitarist and sound wiz) and Jimi Hey (drummer) were the founding members. The name Beachwood Sparks came from Jimi Hey, who put together the names of two streets near Brent Rademakers residence where the band was started. (There is no conscious reference to The Zombies song ‘Beechwood Park’ that otherwise might seem like an obvious influence for the name of the band)
The band played their first show in June of 1997 at the Hollywood Moguls club. After the first few shows drummer Jimi Hey left the band to pursue other adventures. New members joined the band: Tom Sanford (ealier of Further) was the direct replacement of Hey on the drums and the late great Pete ‘Sleigher’ Kinne joined in on percussion. The now six piece group continued to play live shows and spread the word of Beachwood Sparks. This soon gained the attention of California music guru Greg Shaw who released their debut 7” single, Desert Skies/Make It Together, in October 1998 on Bomp! Records.
The band followed their record by starting to collaborate with Kurt Heasley and for a while acting as back-up musicians in his project Lilys. Through this the band also got in contact with longtime Lilys associate Aaron Sperske who around this time replaced the leaving Tom Sanford behind the drums. Josh Schwartz and Pete "Sleigher" Kinne was also about to leave but stayed through the release of Midsummer Daydream/Windows 65 on the Sub Pop singles club in April 1999. After that Beachwood Sparks became a four man band consisting of the members that would turn out to be the most consistent version of Beachwood Sparks on both record and stage. Some more main stream attention was also initiated when the band supported Beck for two performances in 1999.
In the spring of 2000 the band released its debut album, simply named Beachwood Sparks, on Sub Pop and Bomp! Records. The album received nice reviews and also marked a completion of the metamorphosis of the groups sound and style from the jangly Teenage Fanclub like start to the countrier and more psychedelic sound of Beachwood Sparks. With the debut album came the bands first tour of USA and Canada. Before this tour the band had only played once outside of California.
In Mars of 2001 a 7” single, Once We Were Trees/Wake Up, Little Suzie, was released on the Spanish record label Houston Party Records. This single was definitely a good indication of the more mellow and dreamy sound that would come to dominate the second album. Later that year the sophomore album Once We Were Trees was released by Sub Pop and Rough Trade Records. The cover version of Sade’s By Your Side became a minor hit and was released as a single in Britain.
The rest of 2001 was dedicated to touring. Beachwood Sparks opened for The Black Crowes on and extensive North American tour spanning over two months. Later that year the band made their way to the UK. During the post-Once We Were Tress touring, Neal Casal joined with the band as an extra guitar player.
In June of 2002 Beachwood Sparks released the EP Make the Robot Cowboys Cry. By this time Aaron Sperske had left the band and now the band re-recruited founding member Jimi Hey as drummer. Also involved in the record was Jimmy Tamborello of The Postal Service and Dntel fame. Tamborello had earlier connections with the band through the already mentioned LA radio station KXLU 88.9 FM. Make The Robot Cowboys Cry was a bit slower and more experimental than the Sparks’ previous releases. The record demanded a little more listening time, but it was nevertheless a great piece of music! The awesome music release was followed by a tour with awesome music band The Shins along with some more UK and European shows.
After this tour there hasn’t really been any band activity and the status of the group remains uncertain. They never officially broke up and according to different interviews with various band members, the possibilities for future new Beachwood Sparks music don’t seem all impossible. Until then we have to accept the fact that the band is on hiatus and might not come back in a long while. They may not even come back at all.
Beachwood Sparks continued and renewed a tradition of California music somewhat started in the 60’s by legendary bands such as The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and The Beach Boys. Theoretically it can be connected with the feelings and vision of Gram Parsons’ Cosmic American Music – a tradition that was transformed into arena sized mainstream music in the 70’s by artists and bands like Linda Ronstadt, Eagles and Neil Young. The tradition returned to the underground in the late 70’s/early 80’s by the founder of Bomp! Records Greg Shaw. He is a dominantly important figure in the process of creating a creative and interesting environment and scene for Californian indie bands in the 90’s and early 00’s such as The Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Warlocks and The Tyde.
This spirit of the Cosmic America lives on in new musical projects and related bands of the members of Beachwood Sparks such as All Night Radio, Painted Hills, Frausdots, Mystic Chords of Memory and The Tyde.