Sparta is an American alternative rock band from El Paso, Texas, formed in 2001. Jim Ward (vocalist/guitarist) and Tony Hajjar (drummer) are former members of At the Drive-In. Keeley Davis (guitarist) is the former frontman of Engine Down.
After the demise of their previous band, At the Drive-In
, Tony Hajjar
and Paul Hinojos
got together and talked about forming a new band. Hinojos contacted former At the Drive-In
guitarist and back-up vocalist Jim Ward
to take the role of lead vocalist. After a brief stint with Erick Sanger, the three recruited Matt Miller
, a native to El Paso and then bassist of the band Belknap to permanently fill the position of bass guitarist. The band then scored a deal with Dreamworks
in 2001. The band released their first EP entitled Austere
in early 2002 under the name Sparta. The EP met with mixed reviews, with most believing that the group had talent and the ability, but had yet to find their voice.
In August 2002
, Sparta released their debut full-length album, Wiretap Scars
. The album, although not well received by all of the mainstream Post-hardcore
audience, brought well-earned respect and relieved some of the pressure brought on by the shadow of At the Drive-In. The record was deemed a cleaner, more accessible sound than ATDI's distortion fueled offerings. True to their roots, the opening song "Cut Your Ribbon" was described as "splintering, power-hungry rock", and other tracks such as "Cataract", "Glasshouse Tarot" and "Mye" were noted for their emotion and "absurdly exuberant melody". Sparta maintained its underground following with shows at smaller venues throughout North America
. They were also exposed to a wider audience in April
and May 2003
, opening several shows for Pearl Jam
. While on tour for Wiretap Scars
, Sparta employed the help of their friend Gabriel Gonzalez to play third guitar and keyboards, he can be seen in the music videos
from 2003's Big Day Out festival, among other videos circulating online. Gonzalez now performs with his own band, Volador, and is a member of Ward's side project Sleepercar
Loss of Jeremy Ward
On May 25
, Ward's cousin, Jeremy
, died of a heroin overdose
. Jeremy was at the time the sound manipulator for The Mars Volta
created by former At the Drive-In
bandmates Cedric Bixler-Zavala
and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez
, and frontman of De Facto
. The loss of his cousin would have a profound and lasting impact on Ward.
Live at La Zona Rosa
The band resumed writing new material, and on March 19
recorded a live album at La Zona Rosa. The album had seven tracks and six songs, including two previously unrecorded tracks: "Lines in Sand" and "La Cerca". The album captured some of the live performance experience, but was not sold in stores and only available as a promotional CD
. Videos for the songs "Cut Your Ribbon", "Mye", and "La Cerca" can be found online, recorded by the music television station Fuse TV
In August 2004, the band released their second album, Porcelain. Despite popular belief, none of the tracks are fueled by the loss of Jeremy Ward. Tracks such as "Death in the Family" and "Travel by Bloodline" stem from other personal losses, such as Jeremy Ward's grandfather and a close friend. In a 2004 issue of the magazine Alternative Press, Ward describes his feelings towards these events, and how they have affected him. "...he will admit that he hasn't yet made sense of it, and, perhaps for that reason, there isn't a song on Porcelain about Jeremy. I don't think I'll ever make peace with that," he says. Immediately prior to the release, Sparta toured as the opening act for Incubus, after which followed their own headlining tour.
On the title of the album, Ward remarked:
"I just liked the word Porcelain and what it implied: Something that's really beautiful and durable, but at the same time vulnerable, easily shattered. I like the duality."
In 2005, after pulling the band off the road mid-tour, Ward said he needed to re-group. "I walked out in the middle of a tour.... I needed to get away from everything and everyone. I wasn't enjoying myself at all, and I didn't feel my life or the band was where I wanted it to be... I needed to step back and reassess everything." For two months, he retreated to his home without speaking to anyone in his professional life. In an article with PE.com, Ward said, "When I left, I honestly didn't know if I was going to continue the band or not, so I told everyone to pursue whatever they wanted,". During that time, Hinojos left to join the The Mars Volta
as their new sound manipulator and secondary guitarist, filling the void left by Jeremy Ward's death.
Eventually, Ward went to visit Hajjar in Los Angeles. They began writing new material without the restrictions of a deadline, and soon Ward had rekindled his desire to perform.
In January 2006, the band announced that they had signed a deal with Hollywood Records, and announced their intention to release a short film, titled Eme Nakia, based on Hajjar's experiences as a child in Beirut, Lebanon.
On March 9, 2006, by way of their official website, Sparta announced a new album, entitled Threes. Two days before the release, the entire album was available for streaming on their MySpace page. The album was released on October 24, 2006. Their first single off the album was "Taking Back Control", and "Erase It Again" has been released as the second single in mid-2007.
Davis' first show with the band was at the Viper Room in Los Angeles, in July 2006. However, the band looked at the show as a "warm-up" and the show at Los Angeles' Troubadour, July 29, 2006, was referred to as their "first show to the public in 15 months" by Ward. They played three songs off the upcoming album: "Crawl", "Weather The Storm", and the single "Taking Back Control". At this show Ward also told the crowd about what happened when he left the band the previous year, saying he would rather have the crowd hear it from him, than the press in the following months. Sparta played at Chicago's Lollapalooza festival the following week. The band has been touring the United States, Canada, Australia and Europe heavily since the release of the album with bands such as Lola Ray, Aloha, As Tall As Lions, Sound Team, Moneen, MeWithoutYou, Lovedrug, Straylight Run, Deftones and My Chemical Romance. On February 19, 2007, the band played a free concert with Lydia Vance in Las Vegas for the XPOZ Coalition, an anti-smoking organization. While touring with Straylight Run and Lovedrug, Sparta allowed Lovedrug to continue touring by letting them use their instruments and equipment after Lovedrug's gear was stolen following a show in Detroit, Michigan.
In conjunction with the album Threes
, Sparta has also released a 16-minute short film entitled "Eme Nakia". The film, the soundtrack for which is performed by Sparta, is about drummer Hajjar's early life, set during the Lebanese civil war
of 1975-1990. Hajjar fled at the age of five to the United States, settling in the sprawling west Texas border town of El Paso. When Hajjar was 14, his "Eme" died after a bout with cancer
and his father, who had been distant, left the family. His brother, 18 years old at the time, assumed responsibility for the family and raised Hajjar and his sister. The film follows Hajjar's early life story, showing his challenges and ending with him in present day.
The independent film received good reviews and is available for free with purchase of the Threes album.
The word "Eme" is Arabic for mother, and "Nakia" was Hajjar's mother's name.
In June 2008
, Ward stated that Sparta is "currently on hiatus and label-less", and that he will be focusing on his project, Sleepercar
- "Cut Your Ribbon" (2002)
- "Air" (2002)
- "Breaking the Broken" (2004)
- "Taking Back Control" (2006)
- "Erase It Again" (2007)
- "Taking Back Control" was featured in the movie The Invisible. In addition to being in the album released for the movie, the music video is a special feature on the DVD release.
- "Each Brave Eye" was released in 2002 as a B-side on the "Cut Your Ribbon" single.
- The band also performed a cover of "Kiss the Bottle" for the Jawbreaker tribute album, Bad Scene, Everyone's Fault.
- The songs "Farewell Ruins" and "Bombs and Us" were released on the Japanese version of Porcelain. "Farewell Ruins" was also released on a 7" vinyl and iTunes. Ward confirmed that "Bombs and Us" was written about the late songwriter, Elliott Smith.
- An earlier version of "Taking Back Control", originally titled "Future Needs", appears on the video game Madden NFL 07.
- There are also three B-sides for Threes: "As Far As We Go", which was handed out upon purchase of Threes at participating stores, "Blood Spills", an iTunes exclusive, and "Born and Buried," a bonus track released on the European version of the album.
- The intro to the song "Cut Your Ribbon" has been used for the show True Life, which can be seen on MTV.