Interview: Alex Crowton on the making of 'This is Sparklehorse' | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Monday, November 28th, 2022  

Alex Crowton on the Making of “This is Sparklehorse”

An Authentic Connection

Oct 24, 2022 Web Exclusive
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Just like an artist will talk about following the energy when they write a new song, filmmakers Alex Crowton and Bobby Dass have been doing the same when it comes to framing the story of Mark Linkous. The man behind Sparklehorse has been a musical influence for so many, which is why so many respected artists—from David Lynch to Gemma Hayes and Emily Haines to Jason Lytle—made themselves available to speak to Crowton and Dass for their new documentary, This is Sparklehorse.

Over a decade in the making, This is Sparklehorse strives (and succeeds) to match the authenticity and aesthetic of its subject. The film is a meaningful tribute to Linkous’ music and it beautifully handles all angles of his story, including his decision to take his own life in 2010 after a lengthy battle with depression. As Crowton tells us, the beauty of Sparklehorse’s music remains as present as ever, which makes for powerful material for their new film.

We recently sat down with Alex for a few minutes to hear more about his love for Sparklehorse, the hurdles of a film like this, and the resonance of Linkous today.

UTR (Matt Conner): Both you and Bobby [Dass] have worked on this for a long, long time. What’s the personal drive when it comes to the music of Sparklehorse?

Alex Crowton: Bobby and I have known each other for a long time, and how we bonded and became friends was over music. Sparklehorse was massive within that. At the time, It’s A Wonderful Life came out and it would have been about 9/11 that we met. We studied together, and I remember we just both completely got that and it felt incredibly authentic, incredibly original.

Growing up in the UK, we were always looking for something that felt like authentic Americana. We’d always had that fascination with America and particularly this sort of 20th century literary America. Mark’s music always just felt incredibly real and authentic, kind of like Nick Cave. There’s that gothic-ness to it, but Mark’s is even more authentic. I think Nick Cave would like to inhabit those spaces in rural southern America. For Mark, it was totally real and a very clear depiction of it.

I think the aesthetics of that as well as the music itself, the whole of it just spoke to both of us and set us on a path, really.

When he died, we didn’t even have a conversation about wanting to do something in response to his life. We just started doing it. It was a compulsion and that’s the gospel truth. We never said, ‘Let’s do this feature film. Let’s spend our time on this.’ It’s just been a compulsion to see it through.

THIS IS SPARKLEHORSE from This is Sparklehorse on Vimeo.

When you’re dealing with the subject matter of someone who has died, does that present some hurdles in terms of how you frame the material?

Yes, totally. Dealing with an artist who is a legacy artist and is no longer around comes with a whole bunch of specific problems. A lot of them come from the record labels. They still want their pound of flesh and they still see them as money-making entities, which is quite difficult. There’s also the legacy of the fact that Mark took his own life and you have to respect all of the emotions and feelings of the people who his life touched.

In terms of constructing a meaningful narrative, it was important for us to focus on the music. The music is still there. The beauty is still there. The quality of the production and the people that the surrounded himself with—it’s all there and embodied in the music that he made. So in terms of the narrative structure of the film, that was the place to feed from. We kind of went, ‘Let’s talk about his life in relation to album one, to album two,’ and so forth.

So we kept it positive and about the music. We also tried to evoke his spirit with those things. If you watch it, I think it comes through. I think you can feel the vibe and the energy of the time, and that plays throughout. That guided us from a narrative perspective which is helpful.

I wanted to ask about the narration itself. It struck me early on that you referenced Mark with personal pronouns. You speak to him saying “you” instead of “him”.

I’m so glad you caught that, because that was a very conscious editorial choice. We really liked the idea bringing Mark back to life, to have him narrate his own film and give him that voice back. Like I said before, the records still exist. People still love those records. We wanted to give him a voice again within the film.

There’s almost a call-and-response between Angela’s narration and Mark’s responses. We actively constructed that. There’s a film, The Future Isn’t Written, by Julian Temple about Joe Strummer of The Clash does a similar thing in places, and I always loved that. I think Julian’s love and affection for Jerry comes through in that movie. That was an influence, but we wanted to take it even further. We wanted to have this real dance between Angela and Mark and I think we managed to achieve it.

I think you’re right.

Yeah it was really important that it was specifically Angela who did the narration. She’s from Georgia originally. She’s a very well-read, poetic person, so there’s an authenticity to it in the same way as his music. It all kind of works.

Everyone has their way of describing their connection to Sparklehorse in the film. But as someone with such a strong connection yourself, were they saying everything you wanted them to say? Did they miss something?

[Laughs] Great question. I think the responses to his music are deeply personal and, dare I say, when there’s fandom, that relationship is so interpersonal. I guess it’s why people want to have a go when anyone says anything about David Bowie. They’re like, ‘I have a relationship with Bowie. How dare anyone else have a different one?’ We respect that.

I think there are certain things that everyone would agree about with Mark. It’s that word authenticity. It’s from the heart. It’s direct. It’s simple. He has arrived at the music that he makes through a very authentic process. It’s not an affectation to please a label or anyone else. It’s him.

I think David Lowery nails that in the film when he says, ‘It’s just Mark.’ When he allowed himself to let the songs be what they wanted to be, that’s when he became Sparklehorse. Before that, it was rock or it was this or that. But when he realized he was this shy, quiet guy who was introverted, that’s when it really happened. It’s allowing something to be what it’s meant to be.

We tried to use that as the fuel for making the film. The aesthetic is very much about that. We didn’t want to use the latest lens or whatever. We wanted to use something that fit the aesthetic of his music.

There’s one quote that I loved more than any that described Mark as a sort of ghost. I forget the exact wording but he spoke of Mark as never being fully materialized in this world. That felt important as a viewer and I wondered if it felt that way to you.

I’ll tell you something really interesting about that. That was the interview with Jonathon Donahue of Mercury Rev. That was the first interview we shot. We shot it a long time ago and that line and that interview in general was what made us realize we had to keep going no matter whether there was money or not, no matter what happens. He got the energy about Mark, that thing about not materializing in this world or coming in and out like a radio. That was our cipher. It encapsulated the whole vibe of Mark and Sparklehorse and what we tried to do with the film. (www.sparklehorsefilm.com)



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