Austyn Gillette in Conversation with Indigo Sparke

Photos by Magnolia Sparke, interview by Austyn Gillette

It was only a matter of time before Indigo Sparke began to dabble in the music world.

The daughter of a jazz musician mother and a dad who shreds on guitar, Australian-born Indigo grew up immersed in surrounded by good music and endless creative opportunity. After moving to LA and falling out of love with the grind of making it as an actress, she turned instead to the guitar. And while it might have taken a couple of detours to finally find her way to songwriting, her ethereal vocals and soothing, lullaby-like tracks more than make up for lost time. With her forthcoming debut LP Echo on the way (produced by and featuring collabs from members of Big Thief) and some burning questions on our mind, we knew it was time to get her on the horn and find out more. And who better to do it than Indigo’s good friend and pro skater, Austyn Gillette? The pair got on the phone from Austyn’s LA and Indigo’s spot in the Northern Rivers of Australia to chat about Echo, and, well, we might just have a new music journo on staff.

Let’s start off with when you picked first up that guitar and realised you had a gift. Seems like it happened very quickly… when I met you I didn’t know that you were talented on the guitar and you could sing.

That’s true. I remember when we met, I wanted to be an actress. I wanted to be a glamorous actress (laughs). And so I was focusing on that whilst I was going to acting school. I never wanted to be a musician because my mum was a musician— She’s a jazz singer and my dad’s an amazing guitarist. I witnessed my mum being a creative artist and I was like, ‘Wow that looks amazing but also hard’. I think I was just saturated in so much music, I grew up listening to Joni Mitchell and Neil Young and so many different artists like that. It was kind of in my blood; my mum’s music became the creative foundation of my world, she has such a rich, internal creative world.

But then my dad gave me an acoustic guitar. I don’t think I played it for a while. Later I went to Bali and did my yoga teacher training and there was a lot of singing, like yoga chanting and stuff. I picked up a guitar and sung a cover of something, I don’t remember what it was, and this guy came up to me and was like, ’You should really do that, you should focus on that.’ So I came home and taught myself how to play basic guitar and started writing. I was living in Mullumbimby then, a small town and I had this really great room with a fireplace, and I would just sit around in that room and write songs. It came together really quickly inside of me, writing music.

That’s interesting you mention your mom, because I remember we had dinner with your family and we all passed around the guitar singing one song each, like a true hippie cult. That’s when I realised your voice was clearly hereditary. In your opinion, do you think your parents passed it down, or was it found elsewhere?

I think it definitely came from them for sure. Dad has this Harry Nilsson vibe going on, he would always play when I was younger, ’The Lime in the Coconut’, that’s what we would sing and he’d be going crazy on that or some Neil song.

Two chords, the whole song.

(Laughs) And here I am saying how much of a wonderful guitar player he is and he’s playing two-chord songs. But yeah, and mum is much more in the jazz world. I mean, they named me after that Duke Ellington song called ‘Mood Indigo’. It’s funny because people still sometimes say to me, is that your Burning Man name, Indigo Sparke? And I’m like no! That’s my real name!

But, I’ll see ya there next year.

But my mum has an extraordinary voice, she really has such amazing cadence and tone and range. She’s amazing. My sister can sing also, she’s amazing. I’ve never really heard my brother sing, he’s a really great pianist, but I’m sure he can. But yeah, we definitely got it from her—thanks, mum.

It’d be hard to deny it.

It’d be sort of rude to say I got it from somewhere else.

That would be rude. You owe it to them. So, next one: it seems you—like many other creative people—need to be constantly moving around to find subject matter to pull from, or simply just need a change of environment to be inspired. Listenig to your music over the years, I feel a very familiar sound and technique that’s prominent in your music. Can you tell us a little about your process and where you get most of your inspiration?

Did you rehearse that? That’s good. The simple answer to that is love, love, love. I try to steer away from it, but I’m such a lover and such an intense feeler… I’m so sensitive and in that world that I think its probably where the feel and the tone come through. I’m trying to explore that in different ways, but it’s definitely where it comes from. And landscapes also, this new record that’s coming out, Echo, there is so much desert in it, that feeling of being in wide-open spaces and yeah, just what that does to the psyche and to a person’s soul and mind and heart, and how you can ruminate in the world of a landscape. It has its own feeling, its own soul. And that impacts the way that you are processing or reconciling grief and love in that space.

Ok, so grief is in there too.

Definitely. Grief and love. I think as I get older, grief matures in me in a different way. I think it’s maturing in my writing as well, hopefully. But yeah, relationships of all different kinds, like romantic relationships definitely woven in… I guess writing and playing music is my way of processing, like so many artists.

That’s what it seems like, when you sing or when I’ve seen you write a song. It’s like you’re almost freestyling and the exact words you end up with are the first ones that come to mind, and that’s usually the things you want to address the most… whether or not they rhyme, it’s just the way you sing it and deliver it that allows listeners to really understand a bit more, you leave that space. Even how you were saying that the environment affects you and what it does to your soul, I feel like you also present that environment in your music, where people feel vulnerable listening to it. It’s really effective, and I think it’s going to be pretty special for people to experience the new record.

Thank you. Yeah, I think it’s probably one of the only places where I feel totally safe in a relationship, with my guitar in that world, in the music. I think that often it’s moments when I’m feeling incredibly vulnerable, emotional, fragile, strong, excited, happy, totally insane and irritable in my body that I will reach for the guitar, and it’s true actually. It does just tend to come out in one go for me.

Just to inform the people that you are a normal person and not just a paid musician, please tell us the many jobs you’ve taken over the years. Maybe the one that surprised me.

Well, I’ve worked a lot of jobs. I worked in many a cafe as a waitress, I think that was my first ever job. At like a chain store, I don’t know what the comparison would be over there, but maybe Starbucks. Not quite as crappy as Del Taco but…

Del Taco has some good items on the menu, but I get the pay wage.

Yeah, low pay wage. I worked a lot of those jobs, I worked in a lot of health food stores, I was a smoothie girl, juice bars, organic tonic bars.

I remember that, I remember we all got sick and you would always have a vial of echinacea.

Yeah, I really got into herbalism, started learning where I could when I could. I’m still learning, I have a lot of friends who are herbalists and nutritionists and naturopaths and I’m always gathering bits of information from them. It’s such a beautiful world, I’ve been doing a lot of infusions and making face creams and…

People pay for that stuff.

They do, I’ve had thoughts to put it on my merch table.

What I really want the people to know, and I don’t know if you’re comfortable with it…

I know what you’re talking about. Well, I worked… I don’t know if I want to put this in here.

It’s good because it shows you’re a normal person.

I had an interesting period of time where I was working at a member’s club as, essentially, I guess the job description was a cocktail waitress but it wasn’t really that. It was much more of a gentlemen’s club and we would sit around talking to them and getting bought into the poker table and stuff. But yes, I was essentially a glorified escort that wasn’t sleeping with people, but it was right on the verge.

You were like…. a sherpa at this gentleman’s club.

I was an emotional sherpa. There was a lot of surface-level conversation going on. I’m not a surface level person or someone who does well having those kinds of conversations. So I would automatically steer it towards having these deep conversations and psychoanalysing them and asking what was going on in their world, with their business and their wives and why they were there and…

And what their tax returns look like.

It was very interesting. It was a great lesson for me in developing strong boundaries.

Thank you for sharing that one. It’s nice to know that it’s not all cupcakes and butterflies, people have to do work that they aren’t necessarily comfortable with to get to the place where they are now.

To survive. It’s a very interesting thing for me to think back about, because I went to a Steiner school for primary school and then I went to a performing arts school, and at that point, I was skipping school a lot. I’m not really sure how I made it through. I was drinking a lot and doing a lot of drugs, but I still had this Steiner education that was really in my blood; like we were making bread and building our tables and chairs and knitting, and it’s interesting to go through that teenager and early twenties phase where I was essentially living in a lot of shadow, I was in the dark a lot. And now, I’ve re-discovered what was essentially at the foundation of my spirit, and this reciprocity with the land. And so now I’m knitting a lot.

Are you wearing Crocs while you’re doing this?

They’re very cool, they’re all the rage, they’re very comfortable.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’d be wearing a snakeskin pair right now. I’ll send you a photo after this.

I just really want a hot pink pair, or lilac or something like that.

They’re out there. But if it’s Amazon, it’s going to take about a year for them to get there to you.

True, I just waited six months for a tracksuit from America.

Ok, let’s get back to the music. Please tell us what you’re most proud of about this album.

Well… I was actually talking to this producer friend in Melbourne a couple of weeks ago, and he said don’t forget to take a moment to stop and acknowledge the accomplishment of finishing an album. And that was really beautiful to hear. It really dawned on me that I hadn’t taken a moment to go, wow this thing’s actually done, it’s complete. And that’s really amazing because I wasn’t really sure whether that would ever happen or whether it would work out. So I think I’m proud of it as a whole, and there are certain songs that I really love so much.

Well, I guess the last bit is it’s always a treat hearing your voice and I look forward to people getting to listen to this album.

Thank you.

Indigo Sparke’s forthcoming debut EP Echo will be out February 19, 2021. In the meantime, go check out Indigo on Spotify or Apple Music.

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