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Scott Spark warming up the Wurlitzer in Producer and sound engineer Ben Tolliday's LA studioAward-winning Australian singer songwriter, Scott Spark  recorded his sophomore album, Muscle Memory, in Los Angeles with US-based Australian engineer and sound producer Ben Tolliday. He has just released a new single and video ‘Two Alarms’ from the album, which is out on June 13. Australian Musician profiles Scott here.

What was your first keyboard?
No kidding, the first one I can recall is when I first began learning when I was 3 or so. It was an 80s organ that resembled something you might see Barry Morgan straddle. That was quickly replaced with an acoustic upright Yamaha that I learnt on for many years. Let’s be honest, they’re not crash hot – I feel like playing them for too long might give you tinnitus – but they do the job. That said, I’m grateful my parents got me into playing.

What do you use on stage generally?
If I can help it, an actual piano is usually best. Even if it’s not the greatest instrument, you can’t beat the physicality of conducting vibrations – having the hammers strike those strings, and feeling that sound shoot out and back into you as well. Also, the weight under your fingers and feet, adds to the sensation. I think it helps the performance, and your intuition with the song.
Live, I really love playing with drums and bass. Sonically it feels robust and versatile. There’s enough space for each element to both hold its own and work together. In the future, I can imagine expanding on this – introducing strings and guitar. But my standard set-up is keys, kit and bass.

Is it the same for recording?
Not at all. The live space and studio are worlds apart. Not all songs work in all venues, and the same goes for instruments and arrangements. Both the live stage and studios require performance, but there’s more nuance when recording. I would never go for a digital piano patch in the studio. But I absolutely go for analog synths – Moogs and a Roland SH101 are always good to have on hand. But then, sometimes all you need is an old  Casio you might’ve bashed in kindergarten. In the same way, when assessing which piano to use, it’s a trap to be seduced by size or brand. By all means, be promiscuous and try out every piano you can, but what is the sound you’re shooting for? Does the instrument carry the songs? And ultimately, are you having fun? Recording can get tough, but you have to start from a place of excitement and discovery. I say, when in doubt, listen harder.

With songs written at the piano, I find the studio is an opportunity to dress it differently. In the context of an album, perhaps piano is not what each and every song needs. On my latest album, Muscle Memory, we camped out in a harpsichord workshop in Downtown LA for a day, recording ‘Cut Loose’. Okay, so they’re from the Baroque era, but they’re one of the most overlooked instruments for pop. They’re both warm and bright, loud as hell, yet somehow accommodate vocals exceptionally well in the mix. Over the past two records, we’ve also used a celeste, an organetta, a Wurly, and variety of synths. Whatever the moment calls for.

What’s your latest recording and when will you be back in the studio?
The latest album is Muscle Memory, which features a bunch of songs written between Brisbane and New York, summer to fall, and recorded in Los Angeles, throughout winter and into spring. So, it captures something of the city and the desert. As for returning to the studio – I’ve been on a roll with writing lately, so I hope it’s not too long before hitting the studio again. It’s a dream being there.

What gigs have you been playing lately?
The most recent was at the Sydney Opera House for TEDx. It was surreal and over way too quickly.

Most memorable gig?
Playing in my hometown at the Judy (Judith Wright Centre) after receiving the Grant McLennan Memorial Fellowship. I was so floored and humbled and grateful in that moment. Coming from a place of gratitude makes things work. It’s a lesson I need to remind myself.

Worst stage nightmare?
I used to be belligerent about playing acoustic keys when I began performing live. So, I bought this old Wurly and had it restored. I was so damn pleased with myself, until it was clear that these keys were more foe than friend. Notes would simply disappear – even octaves would vanish when I was on stage. I’d go to play the notes, and there’d be nothing. Then, it’d correct itself. It was like a shapeshifting obstacle course. Apparently Wurlitzers don’t much like being moved around, which is ironic considering they were built for touring. And, considering how damn heavy the thing was, I was relieved to let it go. Which is sad, because when it worked, it was magic.

Album that changed your life?
Without a doubt, Bjork’s Homogenic changed my life. I’d just begun high school, and was so eager to discover things that were more enticing and exciting than where I grew up on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. I lost myself in that album, and devoured the documentary on its creation. It was instant attraction. Honestly, it transformed the way I thought about the meaning of sounds, their association, space, lyrics and composition.

What gigs are coming up in the next few months?
An east coast tour to perform Muscle Memory: Melbourne at the Toff in Town, Thurs 07 Aug; Sydney at the Vanguard, Thurs 14 Aug; Brisbane at the Powerhouse Visy Theatre, Fri 05 Sept. More details on my website:

A keyboard tip for the kids?
You never want to be undone by the basics. Carry a spare pedal. They’re cheap, and you never know when one might stop working. Also, make sure your mic stand is nowhere near the keyboard’s power switch. It’s strangely anti-climatic to cut your own power supply onstage, and it’s super easy to do. Also, if you use the piano sound on-stage, take the time to try out different patches. It might help transform your live sound.

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