Big Stir Records is thrilled to announce the addition of Orange County, CA pop legends SPARKLE*JETS U.K. to our roster with their first new release in 18 years: a limited edition colored 7” vinyl single that's of unique significance to both the band and the label. It's a pair of beautiful and emotional covers related to BSR's namesake Big Star – the band's classic “The Ballad of El Goodo” and the beloved Chris Bell solo cut “You and Your Sister” – both recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis with Jody Stephens on drums for the A side. Kenny Howes (yeah, that Kenny Howes) donated his guitar skills (and guitars) to the session as well. This is a physical-only release, with downloadable files unavailable except with purchase of the 45 (until they're collected on the fourth Big Stir Singles CD in late 2019). The single is officially out Friday, July 26 and can be pre-ordered here:
It's a welcome return for sparkle*jets u.k., remembered as “one of the most adored bands in the power pop movement of the late '90s and early 2000s and mainstays of the early International Pop Overthrow Festival years, according to Jason Damas from All Music Guide. Their adorably geekly sensibility and their sound – a distinctive marriage of '60s and '70s rock and whimsical guitar pop -- set them apart, then and now. Founding members Michael Simmons, Susan West, and Jamie Knight first met in 1995 at an open mic show in Fullerton, CA. They were in three different bands at that time, and within a year had merged the bands into a single entity, blending their songs together.
The group, which was initially dubbed Happy Birthday!, was renamed sparkle*jets u.k., including the very 80’s "U.K." tag as a gag. The three band members also shared a lot of musical common ground, starting with the Beatles. Their musical courtship engendered a love for ELO, Beach Boys, Jackson 5, Stax, and Big Star. They listened to Jason Faulkner and Sugarplastic while engineering their own splash in the LA Pop scene. SJ*UK recorded their 1998 debut In, Through and Beyond and pressed just 1,000 CD’s. In the true spirit of DIY, Knight placed the band’s first CD on consignment in a display next to the cash register at Pepperland Music record store where rock journalist John Borack (Goldmine Magazine and the Shake Some Action power pop guidebooks) bought a copy, his decision based only on the cover art and 3.99 dollar price. After passing word onto pop fanatic and International Pop Overthrow organizer David Bash, sparkle*jets u.k. were soon inducted into the close-knit family of Los Angeles-based power pop acts and their fans, then in its fondly remembered heyday.
What started as an after-gig joke among their new musician friends in 2000 led to the delightfully absurd I Love Sparkle*Jets U.K., a multi-artist tribute album to themselves. They decided to curate the project, and within an hour of announcing it ran out of songs to include, such was the camaraderie of the pop scene at the time. They followed with their excellent 2001 sophomore album Bamboo Lounge which was first released on their own label, then throughout the world on Smile Records.
The group went dormant just shy of completing their third proper album, having re-channeled their creative energies into their new career at The HB Academy for the Performing Arts. When Knight & Simmons started their unique popular music program (and West became the school’s business supervisor) they didn’t have any money for a drum set, so David Bash and John Borack donated money to buy one for the kids. Around this time was when one of their first students, Tisha Boonyawatana, joined the band on keyboards. Ten years later, Simmons was so impressed with the pop sensibilities of two of the students (Big Stir artist Addison Love and Ginger Root’s Cameron Lew) that he would go on to produce and perform with them in a group called Yorktown Lads, releasing the Songs About Girls and Other Disasters LP in 2014. It was students like Addison Love, Nicole Kubis and Cameron Lew who would help Simmons and Knight become Apple Distinguished Educators and get Knight nominated as a Grammy Teacher of the Year.
Simmons would go on to play a major role in pop cover band Popdudes with Borack, Knight, Kenny Howes, Robbie Rist, Kubis, Love and many more. His own solo album First Days of Summer, recently reissued in expanded form on Big Stir, adorned many a ‘Best of 2018’ list. The album, along with occasional and warmly received SJ*UK reunion gigs, paved the way for the Memphis sessions which yielded the new single.
Along with the El Goodo 45, Big Stir Records is making expanded versions of the two proper sparkle*jets u.k. albums available for download, and also offering the 2017 vinyl reissue of Bamboo Lounge in our store. There are rumblings that the much-rumored third LP may see eventual completion... stay tuned for further developments, and grab your 45 while they last!