To say Spark’s career has started with a bang is an understatement. Plucked from her exams at London’s BRIT School to support Marina & The Diamonds, the 19-year-old songstress has already been on tour with Pete Wentz and Janelle Monae, signed to 679 Artists/Warner Music Group in the UK, and drawn comparisons with inimitable British siren Kate Bush, all while releasing little more than two singles and a slew of remixes.
Growing up in the London borough of Walthamstow, Jess Morgan (aka Spark – her middle name’s Sparkle, by the way) was drawn to music at an early age. She wrote her first song at age 12, won a busking competition held by radio station XFM at 15, and put pen to paper on her record deal three years later. Debut single “Shut Out The Moon” landed last summer to widespread critical acclaim, followed by the sublime “Revolving,” released via uber-hip New York and London-based imprint Neon Gold Records.
A precociously talented songwriter with influences ranging from Joni Mitchell to Jay-Z, Spark looks destined to follow fellow BRIT School alumni Kate Nash, Adele, and Amy Winehouse to the top of the UK charts. Currently working on a debut album with producer Amir Amor (Plan B, Davids Lyre, Little Boots), she’s more than ready to set the world alight.
Skyscraper: How’s work coming on your debut album?
Spark: It’s all moving along nicely and I’m enjoying it all so much. I’m working with a producer called Amir Amor, he’s incredible. The biggest difference for me, in terms of how work gets done, is who you work with and the relationship you have with that person. You get the best results that way, you need to enjoy it – and so far so good.
Skyscraper: Tell me a bit about Spark. How did you end up wanting to make a career out of music?
Spark: It’s hard to say, really. I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember and wrote my first song when I was 12, carried on writing, met my manager Jess when I was 16, went on tour with Marina & The Diamonds when I was 18, got back, signed a record deal, supported Diana Vickers, Pete Wentz’s new project Black Cards and Janelle Monae on tour, and am now recording my album. That’s literally my story. Obviously, there have been many things that have affected me and what I’m doing all around and in between those things, but that’s basically it. It sounds cliche, but I didn’t really choose to do this. It kind of chose me. I never sat down and made the decision to be a singer or musician. Things have just happened and I ran with it.
Skyscraper: You grew up in Walthamstow. How big an influence is London?
Spark: I love and hate London. I don’t write about London or anything, that’s not really my style. Although, I do have a song called “American Girl,” which is about an American girl living in London. But even that is about the girl, not the place. When I write, I tend to take key emotions and feelings and situations, then make some sort of poetry out of it. It’s always about something literal to me, but I use a lot of metaphors to open it for people to make their own interpretations. Whether we like it or not, we are a product of our surroundings. Whether that’s because we want to be or we choose to be something different from that, decisions are always based on the type of person we are, because of where we’re from and what we’re from. London is a part of that for me, but not all.
Skyscraper: You’ve billed your sound as edgy pop. What do you mean by that?
Spark: I only say that to make it easy for everyone else. No artist wants to put themselves in a box; I definitely don’t. I never sit down and say I’m going to write a pop song, or an edgy pop song. I just do what feels natural and right. The result of that is what other people brand as pop. I understand boxes and genres, we live in a society that depends on them so people can make sense of new things. That’s all the label is to me.
Skyscraper: The Guardian described you as more Kate Bush than Kate Nash. How do you feel about those sort of comparisons?
Spark: I take all of the comparisons I get as compliments. I get compared to strong, successful women in music, so I can only take that as a compliment, even if I don’t see the similarities myself. It’s been said, I’m like Kate Bush and Blondie. It’s been said, I’m like Adele, La Roux, and Ellie Goudling, even though most of them wouldn’t be compared to each other. I get that, though. People haven’t heard enough of my music to know what it is and what I do, really. Maybe once they hear more, they’ll realize I’m actually not all that much like the other girls, and I can stand on my own.
Skyscraper: You’ve said you’re influenced by everything from big pop singers to acoustic singers and indie bands. How do your tastes come across in your songs?
Spark: I think it’s the mix of liking so many musical styles that comes across in my music. I respect artists for different reasons, because they each relate to a different part of what I do. I love the lyrical depth of acoustic singers such as Joni Mitchell and Alanis Morissette or Tracy Chapman. I love Beyonce, Rihanna, Britney, Gaga for their showmanship, and the lyrical and rhythmic skill of rappers like Eminem, Jay Z, and Nicki Minaj. It’s a big mix. I love lots of bands, too. That love and respect is what comes across, I think, rather than having an idol or a hero clearly cutting through everything.
Skyscraper: What’s your approach to songwriting?
Spark: Melody and lyrics come at the same time, they always have. I guess, the natural reason for that is they have to back each other up and are almost one and the same. Both have to put the same thing across. Lyrically, I’m very honest, but not in a, ‘Oh no, I’m so sad my boyfriend broke up with me and blah blah’ – not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just not my style. I take those literal feelings, meanings, and situations and make something more poetic with it. And that’s it really.
Skyscraper: You finished school and went straight out on tour with Marina & The Diamonds. What was that like?
Spark: It was amazing. I finished school May 11th and went on tour on May 12th, so it was pretty crazy. I’d only ever had one gig before and I was only confirmed to support her a little while before the tour started. It was all very last minute. The two weeks leading up to the tour were definitely the most stressful, exhausting, and draining of my life. I was having exams, doing work and making sure everything was ready for me to leave school with my qualification, which I somehow managed to do, and also make sure everything was ready for me to go on tour. But it was so worth it and I wouldn’t change any of it to make it any easier. It’s all a part of my work ethic now. I don’t want anything if I don’t have to work for it.
Skyscraper: You’re signed to 679/Warners. How did that come about?
Spark: When I got back from tour, I had a lot of meetings and some key gigs. When I met with 679 it all happened really quickly. It was obvious that it was the place I should be, so there was no beating around the bush. We just got on with it and started doing things straight away.
Skyscraper: You’ve said you’re not something you can construct. How important is it to stay true to yourself and your own image of who you are as a performer?
Spark: I don’t think I would even be capable of being constructed, and there isn’t really a reason why I would ever have to be. I’m fortunate to have an amazing manager, we go through everything together. I signed to 679 having already written all the songs for my album, so we’ve been recording it since. They’re completely supportive. It’s all been completely natural, everything has. From the way I look, to the way I sound, to the things I say. All of it. I would never want to pretend to be something I’m not, because that would have no benefit for me or for people who would listen to my music. I respect honesty and truth in people and would never be someone or give anything out I don’t believe in.
Skyscraper: What’s all this “boom” business about?
Spark: Ha ha, there is no “boom” business. It’s a word I say when I think something is good or I’m happy about something. That’s all. There’s no story behind it.
Skyscraper: What are your plans for the future?
Spark: Carry on making music, working hard, and then see what happens.
Photos Courtesy: SparkVisit: Spark | 679 Artists
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