On May 27th, 2022 Zoe Sparks newest single All The Things You’re Not released on all streaming platforms. Born and raised in California, Sparks now leads a 7-piece band out of Boston. This single’s funky instrumentals and self reflective lyrics combine to make this the perfect song to listen on repeat as you focus on a self-love, and prioritizing living your best life this summer.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Zoe over zoom about her music career, inspirations, and the making of All The Things You’re Not. Once you get to the end of this interview, be SURE to click on Zoe’s links and keep up with “one of the musicians of all time” 😉.
Z: My name is Zoe Sparks. I used she/her pronouns, and I’m in Boston, Massachusetts.
U: Let’s talk about your new single that went live on May 27; All The Things You’re Not, what inspired this song?
Z: Well, I think musically what inspired the song was all of the old funkadelica and parliament songs that I listen to and like to play a lot. It’s very, like, bass heavy, and I came up with the bassline first, and I actually wrote everything after that. I came up with the concept once I had come up with the baseline and I just wanted something super danceable, something groovy.
U: Yeah, that’s totally coming through. I love that instrumental part towards the end. Is this normally how you go about all your songs by doing the instrumental part first and then deciding what the lyrics are, or is this a new process for you?
Z: It’s honestly different every single time. I have songs where I start with a bass line. I have songs where I start with melody or chords or lyrics. It’s kind of just like whatever comes to me. I think sometimes having the instrumental part first inspires everything else and sometimes vice versa. I’ll have something lyrically and it will inspire the musical part. It just totally depends.
U: Do you have a preferred process? Are you seeing that something is starting to work more than others, or more sporadic?
Z: I think the songs I end up being the most happy with, I usually start with the music and, like, the groove. I definitely love songwriting and I love writing lyrics, but it does tend to be, like, the last thing that I do. I’m not sure I like to try different things, though, because I feel like it’s just trying so many different things yields, like, so many different cool results. So, yeah, I think it totally depends.
U: And I would love to talk about the lyrics in this song. What inspired them? How do you go about writing? Do you start with notes on your phone? Do you write poems? Do you just kind of feel out what sounds good with the music?
Z: Yeah. I am a big user of the Voice Memo app. I’m always like singing little things and recording them in public, and it’s really embarrassing. I do that a lot. But I think what inspired the lyrics was just like, I wanted to have this sassy, kind of ironic song because those are always the ones that feel so good to perform because he’s really just, like, letting it all out. And I don’t know. I came up with this concept of just, like, listing off qualities in a person that maybe you’ve encountered, like an ex or like, an ex friend, and it just kind of came together from that.
U: Have you performed All The Things You’re Not live yet?
Z: Yeah, we’ve been performing this song since October, and I wrote it. If you’ve been to one of my shows in the last few months, you’ve definitely heard it, which is cool because it kind of started as a live arrangement and then we turned it into the recorded version.
U: When people hear this song, what do you hope is their response?
Z: Well, I think my goal is normally just to make something danceable. Like I said, something you can just blast and sing along to and jump around, too, because that’s always my favorite kind of music to listen to. I think just something you can kind of like let it all out. It’s almost like just complaining in a song, but it’s like fun and upbeat.
U: You lead a seven piece band. Could you talk about who’s part of that and what that’s like, how you guys all work together?
Z: Yeah. I have the best band in the world. They’re all my best friends. We have drums. I play bass, guitar, keys, and then three horns, which is so cool. And it’s a lot sometimes, especially the venues we’re playing around Boston are not like the biggest stages. Yeah, we walk in sometimes and the sound engineers are like, really, this is what I have to deal with. But I mean, it’s so fun. I think the more the merrier on stage. If I could have, like, a twelve person band, I would. One day I will. One day I will be like, Snarky Puppy and tour the country with 15 people. But, yes, it’s a really fun process to learn and arrange with them. Performing is my favorite part of the whole process. And doing it with all your friends, there’s nothing quite like it.
U: So speaking of venues and performing, what has been your favorite venue to perform in Boston so far?
Z: [My favorite] show that we’ve played, which was arguably maybe the most fun, was we played at the Royal. It was definitely the biggest crowd that we’ve played for. It’s just like such a crazy feeling, like having that many people dancing around to your silly little songs.
U: Where are you from and what has your journey so far been as a musician?
Z: So I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and I moved away for the first time when I came here for college four years ago. I grew up playing instruments. I started by playing drums. My dad is a bass player and he’s in a band, so I was always around music growing up, and he always wanted me to play an instrument. I’ve been singing my whole life. I grew up in choir and stuff like that. So it’s just always been something that I knew I wanted to pursue. There’s never been anything else. I was like, I’m good enough at this to make a living out of it. That’s kind of how I ended up at Berklee.
U: Describe the genre of your music.
Z: I like to think that there’s lots of old soul disco sounds in there, but I definitely do gear it more towards mainstream pop just because I think it’s like a really fun way to bring that traditional kind of funky sound into what people are just generally listening to today.
U: Yeah, absolutely. And we totally hear that funk vibe coming through. I think it’s so nice. Like, just hearing that in a new song feels so refreshing. What is next?
Z: I plan on releasing one or two more singles, probably by the fall or so. And then I would definitely like to start working on something bigger, maybe another EP or an album. But I think my plan right now is to stay in the Boston area, at least until the end of the year, because my band is here. So keep playing some shows, and then I’ll probably end up back in California because that’s where my heart belongs.
U: Do you have any upcoming shows?
Z: We’re going to be playing a big show in Boston in August, and we’re kind of traveling around before then. We’re going to Chicago and Maine and New Jersey, Connecticut, stuff like that.
U: Have you been on tour before?
Z: We did a little mini spring break tour and did just, like, I don’t remember four or five shows, like kind of in the New England area. So we’re definitely traveling farther than we have before together.
U: Could you introduce us to everyone else in the band?
Z: Yes, Mike plays drums, Eli plays guitar, Preston plays keys, and then Ben plays trumpet, Charles plays alto-saxophone, and Alex plays tenor-saxophone.
U: I’d love to see you guys on a tiny desk.
U: What is your ideal video that someone would make to your song?
Z: Oh, my God, that’s such a good question. Honestly, I would hope that someone would just do something, like, really funny and stupid. I would love to see a video of someone making a flash mob of 100 people dancing to my song. That would be, like the best thing that ever happened to me.
U: I love the single [artwork]. Who did this?
Z: I actually originally drew it. I actually drew all of my band members in full with their squiggly arms, like, holding. And I had someone help me just refine it and add the colors and decide on the text font. But I came up with the concept. I just wanted something like kind of cartoony and whimsical and fun to look at.
I really wanted to incorporate everyone else on the cover in some way just because the song would literally be nothing without all of the other people that played on it and helped me bring it to life. So I really just wanted, like, I wanted to feature not just myself and my bass, but like, everyone else.
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