It's a common trick for crafty artists to cover up their sad songs with a happy melody. But after hitting play a few times on the single "I Want My Knife Back," off Yellow Red Sparks' forthcoming New Fangs, Old Pangs (out on October 16), it's clear that's not quite what's happening here. For as melancholy and reflective as his songs often are, singer/songwriter Josh Hansen this time isn't just trying to transform his pain into pop music, but rather to use it as his primary source of power.
"That song, for me, is about being comfortable with pain and being used to having pain in your life, and it's like you almost feel uncomfortable without having it there," Hanson says. "And the knife, we put that in our back sometimes, I think, and walk around with it. The title is more about having control back."
Hanson, who recently moved back to Irvine after a couple of years of recording and chasing gigs in LA, is still using that control in a way that cuts through the strata of popular OC folk acts. He says he's not writing songs from the frustrating standpoint of an artist stuck in the trenches of depression, loss or instability, but as someone who can see his way out of those things clearly, even if it takes time. "It's a lot more hopeful and empowering than stuff I've put out in the past."
The lead single, bolstered by the wistful vocals and multi-instrumental talents of bandmate Sara Lynn Nishikawa, radiates that point across the six-song EP. It's clear that as far as co-ed folk teams go, the two certainly continue to complement each other–now with much less studio accouterments aside from guitar, a bit of snare and standup bass. The music itself comes off a lot less dramatic than it did on 2013's A Play to End All Plays.
Ironically, there was a lot more drama wrapped up in the band's personal dynamics, specifically between Hanson and former drummer/co-founding member Darren "Goldy" Goldstein. "It was a bummer," Hanson says of Goldstein's exit. "It was a really emotional thing because he's, like, my best friend. It was the business of everything that got in the way, and I think, sometimes when you work with someone, that can happen. But the EP was done; I got it mastered, and we had this huge blowout, and I was just over everything."
Hanson says the two are now working on repairing their friendship.
The band's sound, however, is as tight as it ever was, especially with the help of Hanson's brother Johnny, a touring guitarist for pop folk artist Christina Perri, and some gel from producer/engineer Chris Sorem (Avi Buffalo, Francisco the Man) on several of the songs.
With a new EP in hand and a return to his old neighborhood, Hanson says his growth in the music business has been not only good for his songs, but also for his idea of what it means to "make it."
"It's changed for me. You go through all this trouble, and you might open for someone, and it's, like, your big shot, and you walk away with $100 for the night," he says of his past view of success. "I'd rather take my guitar and jump into a Mazda, not a van. I feel like I just don't care anymore about that. I enjoy performing for whoever's there."
Yellow Red Sparks perform at the Calendar of Revolt book release party with Edith Crash and Zamba at Beatnik Bandito in Santa Ana. 7 p.m. Donation suggested. For more info, click here.
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