You wait, then two Sparks films come at the same time. The Mael brothers, Ron and Russell, are the subjects of Edgar Wright's eagerly-awaited documentary, The Sparks Brothers, which details their extraordinary 50-year career and Leos Carax’s first English-language film, Annette, which opened the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, is a musical co-written by Ron and Russell – who also contributed the film’s music and songs – and starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard. Ron and Russell spoke to Seán Rocks on Arena and they told him why they went with Edgar Wright’s documentary proposal, when they had turned down many such requests in the past:
"One of the things is that we’re just really passionate about his films. Other people have come to us with the idea of doing a documentary about Sparks and we’ve always declined, you know, partly because we didn’t have faith in them as a filmmaker. We love Edgar Wright’s films."
It was also Wright’s premise – that all of Sparks’ career is a golden age, rather than some period in the past – that convinced the brothers that he was the man for the job. Ron:
"We’d see ourselves as being creatively doing as strong a work as we’ve done at any time."
Sparks were once famously described as the best British band to come out of America and this was no accident, as Russell told Seán, as they talked about the band’s 1974 album, Kimono My House:
"We had moved to London from LA, you know, getting to fulfil our dream, actually, of becoming a British band."
Russell does the singing, with his extraordinary, as Seán calls it, "almost operatic" voice and Ron writes the songs, always confident that his brother will bring them to life in the best way possible:
"Russell has the flexibility, the kind of stylistic eccentricity that fits the eccentricity of the music. And so, you know, it’s something that we don’t even think about, but is kind of the key thing, that there isn’t a separation between the songs and the singing, that it’s kind of all one thing."
That stylistic eccentricity has changed significantly over Sparks’ 25 albums. Ron told Seán that – as their career continues – it gets harder for them to innovate their sound, to do something fresh and provocative, without repeating themselves, but they approach every album with the listener in mind:
"Each time we start off to do a new album we’re really kinda pushing ourselves to try to make it as though it might be the first album that someone has ever heard of Sparks and that this new album of ours has to be the one that represents everything that Sparks is about."
So, every stylistic shift the brothers make is done with the intention of making something unique. And the fact that the band’s albums are so different stylistically and so unpredictable is something that Ron thinks fans of Sparks really enjoy. But Seán wanted to know how the brothers have stayed so friendly – with themselves and all their collaborators over the years – for so long, something which Edgar Wright’s documentary highlights. It’s something they’re proud of, according to Russell:
"A lot of the band members from the past are interviewed in the documentary and they say that they completely understand why we had to make certain decisions that we did throughout our career and there’s not bitterness at all being displayed by them and they’re actually happy that we’ve gone on to be successful."
Turns out this town is big enough for the both of them. You can hear Seán’s full conversation with Ron and Russell Mael of Sparks by going h ere.
Edgar Wright’s documentary The Sparks Brothers is released on 30 July. Leos Carax’s musical Annette is released on 21 September.