El Paso’s Sparta spices up Philadelphia with a flavor all its own

Jean Ellen Gismervik

There’s something about “Wiretap Scars,” Sparta’s debut full-length album, that sounds fresh despite the fact that you can’t put your finger on any outright formulaic deviations. Bottom line is that Sparta is good rock ‘n’ roll that disregards a lot of the innovations brought on by the latest influx of emo and garage rock bands while still adding something to the mix. What makes Sparta spark, and the reason you should buy this album, are what lie in the details.

To start with, Sparta is not from overseas or Detroit or New York City. Instead you can find the band’s roots nestled right in-between the borders of the United States and Mexico in El Paso, Texas, and these roots run deep. The four members, whose ethnicity ranges from Mexican to Lebanese to apple-pie all-American (their last names can validate it: Miller, Hinojos, Ward, Hajjar) came together as former members of two now defunct El Paso bands, At the Drive-In and Belkap.

“When we started writing together,” said drummer Tony Hajjar, “our main focus was just to have a good time and release the energy and music we had boiling up in us.” The result of this release, be it from too much late night Mexican food or good old-fashioned chemistry, is the invigorating and ear catching “Wiretap Scars.” Plenty of ears have been catching this chemical reaction while on tour with the likes of Weezer, Dashboard Confessional and Jimmy Eat World.

“Our first tour was awesome and humbling at the same time,” says Hinojos. “We basically had to start from scratch, cobbling together 11 shows in the western U.S., but the response was instant.” Since then there has been enough buzz about Sparta to keep these crowds warm and there is no doubt that the band will secure an even stronger fan base this time around.

Sparta’s sound bridges the gap between hard, punk and radio friendly rock. Air, the second track on “Wiretap Scars” most closely resembles Incubus with a rougher edge, while the following track “Mye” explodes like Linkin Park. But although there may be some comparisons, there is no doubt that Sparta break free with a sound all their own.

“Before we actually started Sparta, I was struggling,” remembers vocalist Jim Ward, “trying to find a happy, ideologically perfect place. But once Paul called and suggested pursuing what is now Sparta, there was no more questioning. It felt undoubtedly, wholeheartedly the right thing to do. And the writing process was totally and immediately carefree, loose and happy. Knowing each other so well music-wise made for good chemistry, but the new energy has made for a really welcome chapter in all our lives.”

With Sparta’s carefree chemistry on “Wiretap Scars,” coming through loud and clear, you can title this new chapter, “Don’t mess with Texas.”

You can catch Sparta when they hit up the TLA Sept. 23 with opening bands Cave In and Small Brown Bike. Ticket prices are $12 in advance and $14 on the day of the show.