Back in 2008, I met with singer / guitarist Jim Ward of At The Drive-In / Sparta fame. Ward at the time was out on the road supporting the new album West Texas from his solo project, Sleepercar.
Ward was in the process of trying something new with Sleepercar, but also growing as an early 30s musician, trying to figure out his next steps after putting his main project at the time Sparta on hold.
It was interesting re-visiting this interview years later because at the time, Ward was avoiding all ATDI talks or reunion possibilities. I went into the interview not anticipating even talking about that but it sort of just came up.
ATDI would eventually reunite in 2012 for a brief run before disintegrating once more.
I met with Ward before Sleepercar's NYC debut at the Mercury Lounge over some beers and a loud jukebox at the Lower East Side's The Library bar.
A lot of people think Sleepercar is your new band but it's been your project for a couple of years. Why was it on the back-burner for so long?
Jim: At the time, I had been figuring out how to do this. Initially, I was just going to start a country band. I didn't want to mimic what I liked. I wanted it to be infused in what I am and how I write. It took me six years me to learn how to sing the way I wanted to. It has to be a slow progression. It's like learning how to play an instrument. Your first band is never the best one.
Did you have a different vision of what the band would be before?
Jim: If I started a band seven years ago that sounded like this, it just would have sounded like the Old 97s. It wouldn't have sounded like me. That was my main goal. Take the time and let it grow. I was having fun with Sparta. I was in no big rush to do anything outside of that. It took awhile to get to a point where I was definitely ready for a break.
Some see this as a solo project but you have a backing band.
Jim: Yeah, I run it like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. I've been in a collective for 14 years and it's nice to be the captain. You have to have a crew and I don't ignore that by any means. They all have their say.
Do you prefer the band or the solo thing?
Jim; I like having the band. Every time I think of doing a solo tour, I put it off again. Doing a full, proper solo tour; I think it be really hard on my psyche. It'll happen at some point.
Where there was a particular moment with Sparta that made you want to pursue Sleepercar more, for the time being?
Jim: We had a meeting last June. All the management was there. It was like, 'ok, we need to start planning the rest of the year. Let's start talking about 2008.' I had been thinking about it and I knew I wanted to finish the record at some point. It was in that meeting where I looked at a calendar and said 'I'm going to be 32 next year. I want to go now.' Let's take 2008 off. Everybody was fine with it. It wasn't a big deal. We were on the road for 15 months. Keeley [Davis, guitarist for Sparta] just got married when Threes came out. He never really got to be home for the first year and a half of his marriage. I know he's just enjoying being home and designing. I don't see any reason to be on any timeline. I don't have any label contracts right now so I can do whatever I want. I want to take advantage of that. I've been under a major since I was 23.
How did the label react to you saying you wanted to take a break?
Jim: They had first right refusal on the record. I had to send in the demos. They actually said they want to keep it. They wanted to do this band as a full-time band. But before I finished the record, they left Sparta out of our contract. It was an experiment with Hollywood. I don't have any bad feelings. The people that made that decision were board members that I never met. The people that I love at that label were all really upset. We don't sell 50 million records. I think they thought it was sort of like the magnet band. That if we went there, other bands would want to go there. This sort of Sonic Youth / Nirvana situation. I don't think those times exist anymore. It wasn't an artistic thing. It was just 'you're not making us 50 million dollars.' Fair enough, I don't want to make you 50 million dollars. Fuck off.
How does El Paso come alive in the songs that make up West Texas?
Jim: Most of what I write is at home. The fine tuning and recording it at home by myself. I think there's a lot of relief in the album. There is not a lot of urgency to this music. It's very laid back. I think it's because when I'm home I'm way laid back. These guys that I'm touring with have never seen me on tour so they are like 'dude, you are uptight!' I'm balancing an enormous amount of things at the same time. Family, touring, career, the future, and how I am going to eat.
How do you react when a 17 year old comes up to you know and talks about how much your music has influenced their life?
Jim: I've met kids that are 13 or 14 that are like 'you're a big influence on my band.' That makes me laugh, in a good way. I like that my history has inspired people. I'd like to inspire them into thinking they can do it. There is nothing special about me. I got a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work. I don't believe in the mysticism of stardom.
I didn't know that you started writing for the paper in El Paso. [Note: Jim was writing for the What's Up Publication - the link has since been taken offline ] How did that come about?
Jim: I was at this meeting in El Paso at a radio station. This underground station came up and blew everyone's mind and fucked with the main rock station. They had this big summit of people in El Paso. I was one of the people they called or invited. I said my piece at the meeting; 'You've ignored all of us for years. You ignore my band when it was the number most played band on MTV2.' You're totally out of touch. We had this giant brawl. Afterwards, the editor of the paper was there and she was like 'you can write anything you want. I just want you write a column every week and just talk.' I was like 'I'm not going to write about music unless I want to.' One of my columns was just my schedule for a day.
It's has to feel like everything has come full circle because of that tour you announced with the Old 97s recently.
Jim: The coolest thing is that they e-mailed me. The guitar player just said 'like your record, we should do some shows.' It was just like 'fuck, how perfect man.' It was even better that it wasn't through an agent. I didn't pitch it to them. He said his teenage cousin were hanging out and he told him that we had been e-mailing each other and he almost crapped his pants. Which is nice cause they can see that I have fans of my own.
I think it's funny too that people seem to ignore the present with your bands. First it with At The Drive-In, now with Sparta on hiatus. People are always so focused on the past work instead of the present. People will throw this Coachella level reunion equation at you all the time.
Jim: Every year. I just like when they start throwing out the dollar amounts. 'So will you do it for five million?' I don't know. I can't imagine ever putting those shoes on again. It doesn't matter about money. I lived it already. I was already there. A lot of people just want to see it.
A lot of the people that want to see it weren't there.
Jim: Yeah, that's the thing. I have my own memories. I don't hang out with people I went to high school with. I don't hang with those guys. I don't know them anymore. I don't know that band.
Now it's like 'Is Sparta breaking up?' Do you ever find yourself getting annoyed with that?
Jim: You just got to deal with. No matter how I feel about it, it's not going to change. I've had to deal with that almost everyday since the band went on hiatus. At this point, I'm really good at understanding it. There is only so many times you can sit down with a kid and talk about how rad they think you are. Which is nice but it's not the way I was raised. I don't need that. I had a guy the other night that would not stop for like twenty minutes. Just going off. The merch guys I was hanging out with on the tour were dying laughing. I was on this tour with City & Colour and nobody really knew us. It's a totally different world. They loved us because of the music not because of the band's I've been in.
Sparta definitely had the influences from your past on it. Is the new music a statement to your fans that you can do something completely different?
Jim: Even with At The Drive-In, we got much more popular after we broke up. I've never really been in a wildly successful band. I've been in a band that became popular post-mordum. I never felt any pressure to carry on that success because I've never really had that much success. I consider myself successful because I'm able to make a life out of this. I want to make records.
Do you think you'll continue doing this for now on?
Jim: The thing I can say about Sleepercar that I can say about any other band is that it'll be my band forever. Which is the raddest part. Nobody can end this except for me. I think I'll be making Sleepercar records forever. At some point, I'm going to make a really heavy record. I just want to find a new level of heaviness. Al Jourgensen [Of Ministry] lives six blocks from my house in El Paso. The first time I met him, I was probably one of ten people in the world that was like 'tell me about Pailhead!' That's one of my favorite records ever and he was like 'nobody ever says that.' I like Ministry, don't get me wrong, but Pailhead man. Someday I'm going to get the guts to approach him and say 'let's make the heaviest, emotional record ever made.'
Sadly, the project with Al Jourgensen never came to fruition (not yet atleast). Obviously, if you've never listened to At The Drive-In, you should probably go ahead and buy Relationship of Command at your local record store and be sure to check out Jim's current happenings.