COMING TO AMERICA, PART I: Sparrow and the Workshop

Photos by Jen Maler

The story’s a familiar one: a UK band with major momentum back home spends the next year simply trying to get their record released over here. Wondering what it’s like trying to bait blogs and build buzz in a matter of days, we asked two acts from the London-based Distiller Records label to share some diary entries from their recent trip to New York. First up: Sparrow and the Workshop, described by Drowned In Sound as “a group whose vision is so perfectly realized and execution so assured that you have to wryly nod to yourself and think ‘Fuck. Yes.'” Further evidence of that fact includes:

Part II of our special Coming To America feature–featuring a Smiths cameo and “an unassuming place crammed full with unhappy hipsters”–will post tomorrow morning. For now, here are the thoughts of Sparrow singer/guitarist Jill O’Sullivan and a stack of candid shots…

New York: the Concrete Jungle, the Big Apple, or most appropriately for us, the city that never sleeps. And not for the rock ‘n’ roll reasons sometimes associated with bands…We excitedly flew from London to New York to play some gigs in Brooklyn and Manhattan and when we arrived we were greeted by a stretch limo (a happy accident) to take us to 42nd and 11th in Hell’s Kitchen. So we were thinking we were some kind of pimps and singing that annoyingly infectious Alicia Keys/Jay-Z song “New York,” only to find the rug pulled from under our feet when we were informed by the concierge at the swanky apartment we pulled up to that we were SCAMMED. Yep, scammed. The apartment room we booked didn’t exist. So, there we were, scrambling for a cheap room at 1 a.m. (or 6 a.m. London time). Luckily, a cheapish hotel down the road had some space so we were saved for the night. But still, we felt salty!

The rest of the trip flew by rather smoothly, give or take two parking tickets and some heat stroke…

Our first gig was at Brooklyn’s Williamsburg Music Hall supporting the awesome Brian Jonestown Massacre. [Editor’s Note: Photos of that show are here.] It was a great venue with air conditioning and some nice nearby frozen yogurt shops and–apart from the fact that [bassist] Nick [Packer] fainted 10 minutes before we went on stage–it was a great gig.

We had the next day off, so we did the usual touristy things: people-watched from coffee shops in the East Village, got in everyone’s way on the Brooklyn Bridge, got lost about seven times asking for directions without a map…and then it was back to work.

Our label arranged for us to play alongside label-mates White Belt Yellow Tag, so on Monday they headlined Brooklyn’s Union Hall, and on Tuesday we headlined Piano’s in Manhattan. Both gigs were in lovely venues and my only complaint was that I accidentally went to Union Pool on the first night, but was set right by a sweet bartender who broke it to me nicely that I was completely on the wrong side of town. I made it to the gig in time to miss load-in (oops…not!) and get an ice cream. Not to harp on about food, but New York has some pretty ace food establishments. We managed to have breakfast five times in four days AND visit the Meatball Shop, which is just around the corner from Piano’s. (I highly recommend the veggie meatballs with mushroom gravy.)

So, apart from being scammed and struggling with the New York heat (oh, and Nick’s string broke on our very last song on the very last night), we had a great time and our only regret is not staying longer. We hope we can come back soon!