Jill O'Sullivan

  • Sparrow And The Workshop
  • 2009-05-20

Let me introduce you to the splendiferous Sparrow and The Workshop. The Scottish/Welsh/American trio (currently based in Glasgow) fuse together alt folk with country rock. The line-up consists of Jill O’Sullivan (guitar/vocals), Gregor Donaldson (drums/vocals) and Nick Acker (bass). “Devil Song” is a haunting blend of Jill and Gregor’s vocals, backed initially by a simple guitar strum. As the song brews, the darker elements grow and climax. An interesting blend of male/female vocals defines their sound and “Devil Song” shows a story telling form.

I was lucky enough to grab 20 minutes with singer and lyricist Jill. Apologetic for her lack of clarity and long-winded answers, Jill made for interesting conversation. It is immediately evident that because the Chicago born singer has lived in several places, her accent is a delightful mish mosh of them all. However, Glasgow has clearly taken its grasp and every third or fourth word is tinged with it’s distinct accent.

It is by sheer chance that Jill has ended up in Glasgow. She came across to London to study for her MA. In doing so, she realised that perhaps that avenue was not the one she wished to tread. Having been a classical musician from a young age, performance and music are firmly in her blood.

“I had started to play around with writing. I was with a band in Chicago and they were like ‘you know what Jill you make really good melodies so why don’t you work on those’. It was very heavy, much more like a Sonic Youth inspired band.” The transition from classic to folk has not been straightforward, there have been experimentations. But upon returning to Chicago after four years studying in Montreal, Jill found a group of friends who introduced her to Johnny Cash, The Luven Brothers and Emmylou Harris. Irish Folk music had always been present whilst growing up and Jill found true inspiration in these American folk stars.

However, it was meeting now ex-boyfriend and fellow band member Nick that really set Jill down her new path. “I’m quite shy sometimes and so had really bad confidence about it. But, like, Nick was always encouraging me. At the time it was like, you’ve got a right to do it. Because I was quite low in London it was really quite therapeutic.” Post MA, Jill fled London to Glasgow, partly inspired by the lively music scene but mainly due to its cheaper living costs.

My Dad had this story of a little sparrow he shot down with a BB gun when he was a little boy. I remember crying when I would hear this story, it was like some fable you’d hear in pre-school.

It has proven to be a wise move. Naturally, Nick and Jill needed somewhere to live and so found a flat with a very apt flatmate, Gregor. “It was one of those freak coincidences that never happen” but somehow did. Gregor is a multi-instrumentalist who shared a love of folk with Jill. However, he does also have a secret penchant for heavy metal whilst driving and Nick brings “rock like Dinosaur Jr. and other droney stuff” to the mix. “Whereas at first we would have been like really folky, we are finding our feet now and are a lot louder.”

Next up, came the need for a name. “My Dad had this story of a little sparrow he shot down with a BB gun when he was a little boy. I remember crying when I would hear this story, it was like some fable you’d hear in pre-school.” In memory of the poor sparrow, the band decided upon the name Sparrow Dead. It was all of a month later that a friend pointed out the name was a bit depressing. Perhaps a rethink was in order. “Nick and Gregor were like, we both went to pre-school and we both like building our own instruments, so how about Sparrow and The Workshop and it kind of stuck.” For Gregor, there is allegedly a subliminal message. He is a big fan of Drum Workshop and was secretly hoping for a free drum kit. Sadly, to date no offer has been made.

With the band and name now all set in stone, Jill took a brief deviation on her route. Last summer, whilst on a short break with her band mates to Easdale Island, near Oban, Argyll, they decided to enter the International Stone Skimming Championship. Little did they know, Jill harboured a secret talent and walked away with the bronze trophy (in the shape of a stone, of course).

After that short diversion, Sparrow and The Workshop are back on course and ready for the music to do the talking. “It’s kind of the idea of somebody who is being swallowed by their conscience and they are dirty people, you know. I had at the time been dealing with some jerks in my job and the song is about people that are just so mean and you wonder how they get that way. So it’s about a guy who has a kind of decent life but keeps getting the bad end of the stick. Eventually he makes a pact with the devil, I guess.”

Sparrow and The Workshop’s debut single “Devil Song” is released on May 18th 2009 by Distiller Records.

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