by Ivan Guzman
It almost felt patriotic seeing Yellow Red Sparks at Walters Downtown on the eve of July 4th. Maybe it’s because of their festive name. Maybe it’s because I am just a really, really good American. But it’s probably because their music is just so darn feel-good and nostalgic, that listening to it makes you feel like you’re spending the day on the beach or out sailing on a lake in the country somewhere, vintage polka dot bikini and everything.
Yellow Red Sparks was originally singer/songwriter Joshua Hanson, who then recruited Goldy (drums/background vocals) and Sara Lynn Nishiwaka (upright bass/background vocals) to form the magnetic trio that they are now. Hanson is said to be the “genius behind the magic”, coming up with the band’s music and even winning the International Songwriting Competition for the YRS song, ‘Monsters with Misdemeanors‘.
“Joshua started the band,” says drummer Goldy. “A few years ago, we met and I sent him some of my music – not just of my drumming, and it worked out. He does everything, too. He writes all of the song melodies and lyrics and then sends them to us, but once we hear it, we try to contribute our own thoughts and suggestions as well.”
However, Hanson tells me that when the three play together is when Yellow Red Sparks truly feels “as one”.
The band just started their second headlining tour, playing different bars and more intimate venues around the US, and they tell me that touring is their favorite thing to do.
“We love to see our fans in the flesh – they’re the people who listen to the music, who support us,” Hanson says. “We have a really diverse crowd. There’s not any specific gender or race that come to our shows, and meeting them, as well as people like you, is the best part of touring.”
“The only thing I would change though is that I would hire someone to drive the bus for us [laughs],” Goldy says.
“Playing these songs on stage is a very spiritual experience for me,” Hanson says. “When I’m up there, I get in the moment and really tap into my emotions, listening to the lyrics to feel what the songs are really about.”
And you can feel that emotion from the audience, as well. Their live shows are very humble, if that adjective makes any sense when applied to a concert. Whether they’re playing the folky and bittersweet-sounding ‘Buy Me Honey’, the up-tempo and sharp ‘Machine Gun’, or even the dramatic and eerie ‘A Play To End All Plays’, you still feel a sense of friendship and anxiety relief from their performances. With their overwhelming aura of knowingness and subtlety, YRS kind of seems like an ambitious group of friends from high school that just felt like forming a band and suddenly made it big.
As well as sometimes bringing out the banjo, Sara Lynn stands behind Hanson on stage swaying back and forth, front and back with her upright bass, and it adds a certain classical feeling to the band, which is unique and specific to YRS.
“Growing up, I was really inspired by Etta James as well as lots of classical musicians and lots of non-classical musicians. I just really loved music,” Sara says. “I did some singing in choir in high school, but that was about it.”
“Me and Joshua are alike in what we grew up listening to and what we listen to now,” Goldy says. “We both really loved Radiohead and all of those bands, and now in 2013, a band we’re pretty inspired by is Portishead. They’re amazing.”
We got into the topic of music videos (Goldy suggested we watch one of his favorite videos, ‘Lotus Flower‘ by Radiohead) which got me excited. The band’s music video for ‘A Play To End All Plays’ is a little bit disturbing, in a good way, and they say that visuals are important to them, but it’s not something that they put all of their focus into.
“For me, the actual music and the music videos are two separate things,” Joshua says. “I think music videos are solely for the eyes and your viewing pleasure, but the songs go much deeper than that. They’re something you can really take in and feel.”
“The ‘A Play To End All Plays’ video has a really cool concept. Our friend Claire originally sent us the treatment, and we went with it. We loved it. It’s about a men that gets forced into a relationship, and he ends up breaking her heart and getting blamed for everything that went wrong. It starts out with a children’s choir, and it all just creates this dramatic, spooky, tense atmosphere.”
The trio collectively describe their music as “cinematic folk”, and it seems like the right direction for the band to start getting involved in film, which is something they’re very interested in.
“Our music has been put in some films, but nothing you would know about – they were much more underground. It is something that we’re working on right now, because we’d love to do it and think that cinema is a good setting for the music. You might see something soon,” Hanson says.
It’s something that could go two different ways, really. If you grab onto the mood of their songs, you could most easily imagine them at the end credits of a film, but if you listen to and comprehend their telling lyrics, you may start to think that Yellow Red Sparks is more suited to be read on a page or in a poem than to top off a movie-watching experience that may have been good or bad for the listener. There is too deep of a meaning in the band’s lyrics, and in fact way too many standout lines, for them to potentially be ignored.
“My favorite lyric is from the song ‘Yellow Red Sparks’,” Goldy says. It says ‘I’ll make you custard with yellow red sparks.’ I don’t know if this is what Josh meant, but for me it means that ‘I made you custard – something so sweet and tasty – but I went through so much to make it for you. It cost me lots of sweat and blood to make this beautiful thing between us.'”
“For me, one of my favorite lines is, ‘And there’s one thing I’ll regret, but you’d be the last’,” Joshua says.
When it was Sara’s turn to answer the “favorite lyric” question, she took a bit of time to think through all of her favorite lines and stanzas and said, “I’ll have to get back to you on that one.”
Check out Yellow Red Sparks’ tour dates here, and watch their video for ‘A Play To End All Plays’ below.