Sparta leave El Paso drive-in to create new sounds

By Echo Gonzalez

The dim, fluttering lights brightened as abundant shouts and whistles met the opening notes of “Guns of Memorial Park.” Soon, it was as if the band’s feverish pace-changes and driving guitar riffs hypnotized the entire audience. Jim Ward let loose his first evocative scream, and a collective shiver ran through the crowd of shaggy-haired, sad-eyed Sparta fans. So beautifully powerful were the vibes between band and audience that the usually unsympathetic Metro bouncers turned a blind eye to the mosh pit that formed during intense songs like “Mye.”

Hailing from El Paso, Texas, Sparta has been playing shows for about three years. The band was formed by half of the members of At the Drive-In (Ward, Paul Hinojos, and Tony Hajjar) after lots of intra-band tension. The other half of At the Drive-In moved on to form the Mars Volta, a band that is similar to Sparta in its swift melodies but much different in style. Sparta started off opening for very reputable bands like Weezer and the Pixies, and it was these shows that launched their immense, ever-growing fan base.

It’s difficult to pinpoint a sound as distinctive as Sparta’s. Some would say it’s a melodic form of post-’90s punk. Some would say it’s an alternative to emo. Yet others would claim that Sparta is creating the base for a new form of rock. Whatever it happens to be labeled, Sparta’s swirling, turbulent sound is definitely refreshingly unique. Maybe it’s the way that Ward sings as if his soul is rushing out of his guts, or Hajjar’s spirited drumming, his hair chaotically flying in every direction. Or maybe it’s the powerfully harmonic guitar and bass riffs of Hinojos and Matt Miller. Perhaps their varying musical influences have something to do with their atypical, obsession-inducing sound.

There are many who wouldn’t be surprised whatsoever by bassist Miller’s assertion that “I’m inspired by stuff like Simon and Garfunkel, the Stones, the Beatles, Fugazi, Radiohead, Peter Gabriel.” In fact, they might expect Sparta to attain something close to the legendary status of these musicians. Both of their albums—Wiretap Scars and Porcelain—are turning lots of heads and introducing a new style to the world of rock. When I asked what advice he’d give to someone trying to attain such a delectably individual sound, Miller grinned as if the answer were obvious and stated, “Just play from your heart.”