There’s just something about three chords and the God’s honest truth that still packs a punch when it flows through speakers that makes the listener just stop and listen.
Darby Sparkman made that adage a focus on her debut EP “Slow Songs and Cigarettes,” which is filled with her personal truths and strong, smooth vocals.
Putting most of the project together herself, Sparkman’s songwriting shines throughout, delivering a throwback to 70s country, with hints of Kacey Musgraves’ and Miranda Lambert’s songwriting sprinkled throughout.
Get Sparkman’s take on putting the EP together, dealing with self-criticism, each song on the EP, what she hopes people take away from listening, and more!
Pro Country: Who are some of your biggest musical influences?
Darby Sparkman: Oh goodness, where to even start? At a very young age, I was rocking Elton John and Queen, and I think that’s what helped me find my voice. I would give very important organs away to even be in the same room as Kacey Musgraves, Stevie Nicks, Lady Gaga or Miley Cyrus, so I feel like that gives you a look into who I love.
PC: Was there a specific moment you knew you wanted pursue a career in music?
DS: I find personal fulfillment and self-confidence in performing. Not to say music cannot be taught, but I truly think it’s something you’re born with. I feel like it’s the only thing I’m wired to do.
PC: Were you feeling any type of pressure, internally or externally, as you were preparing to release music for the first time with “Slow Songs and Cigarettes” EP?
DS: I’ll tell you, I was feeling a lot of emotions. I was very excited to get it out there. I picked the songs I liked the best, I felt like I had found a sound that fit me and I ran with it. I did everything by myself. Pre-production, PR, marketing, getting everything registered correctly, sequencing the songs, picking a release date… and I think that’s only to name a few. I had the guidance of a great engineer, some great friends and the support of my family, which made the release a lot easier. I will say, self-criticism is a bitch. The day after I released SS&C, I listened to the whole thing on Spotify and I was a little heartbroken. It didn’t sound good enough, my vocals were off, I should have put something different in a certain spot- there were so many of those thoughts. But, I am so proud of the wings it has given me, and I am so proud that I finished something that is so important to me.
PC: “Rock n’ Roll and a Hard Place” sounds like you are opening up about artistry and the pursuit of a dream. Can you talk about what you are talking about in this song? Why did you decide to have that song lead off the EP?
DS: This song is the tune closest to my heart on the record. I graduated high school early and moved to Levelland, Texas to attend South Plains College. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew that if I wanted to do music, Lubbock was the place to go. My parents are great supporters of me, but they also have made me do things that felt earth shattering (going to college). I wrote this song about that experience. I was, quite literally, stuck between rock n’ roll and a hard place when I rolled out of Quanah, Texas at 17 years old with a guitar and a dream.
PC: “The Rose” is one of the standout songs on the EP. Can you talk about the inspiration behind that song?
DS: I am in love with Charlie Shafter’s song “Seawall.” He speaks of a rose in the lyrics, and I always imagine what the rose is doing; where it’s going or where it’s been. So, it inspired me to write a song about a rose. The idea behind the song is that your mind/soul is a garden, and you manifest what grows. Don’t degrade your thorns, they could be roses.
PC: You wrote “Cigarette” several years prior to the release of your EP. What about that song stuck with you over the years and drew you to add it on to the EP?
DS: My daddy told me that if I wanted to really do this thing, I’d have to write my own songs. Shortly after he told me that, I wrote “Cigarette.” That’s the song that told me I could be a songwriter if I worked at the craft. I did have something to say, I just had to dig for it. I was 12 or 13 when I wrote that song, and I hope I get to sing it until I die.
PC: “Drink with Jones” has gotten off to a great start since its release. What do you think it is about that song that has allowed it to catch on with people the way it has?
DS: People relate to things that they are familiar with. We all know Jesus, George Jones, Willie Nelson, The Rolling Stones and Merle Haggard, and we know what they are “known” for. It’s a “life goes on” song, and I think everyone loves those.
PC: “Green” is a more positive song on the EP. Was it at all important for you to include a more positive song on the release, or was that naturally where your songwriting took you?
DS: Every song on this album had been written (at least) one year before I ever went into the studio. This song was written during my time at SPC, and I just have always loved the lyrics. I did, however, feel like I needed a song that wasn’t quite so depressing. 1 love song was the way to go, I think.
PC: “Used vs. Wasted” comes off as one of the most personal songs on the EP. Is it at all a vulnerable feeling putting yourself and your life out there in that way?
DS: It’s extremely vulnerable. I wrote the song, and I know that people know that they hear it. Emotions become complicated when your personal life is made into art for your job. It’s not a happy song, and sometimes it hurts to play, but I know everyone resonates with it. We have all been in a relationship where we wish they would have at least tried to use us if it meant them sticking around a little longer.
PC: What do you hope listeners take away from the “Slow Songs and Cigarettes” EP after listening all the way through?
DS: I want them to feel something familiar. Not only lyrically, but musically as well. It has an old “tear in my beer” sound for a reason. I want everyone to soak it in and allow themselves to be real with their hearts for the duration of the record. We owe ourselves authenticity, and that’s what this record is all about for me.
PC: What are your plans for the rest of 2019?
DS: I am a full-time student, so school is always a part of my plans; however, I am planning on getting in the studio this summer and working on a few singles to release.
*All images courtesy of Darby Sparkman Facebook Page*