Sparks’ Ron and Russell Mael recall getting booted from the Riot Hyatt on Sunset — for throwing a bagel out the window
The avant-pop band Sparks has been making curiously brilliant music for over four decades, and for a lot of that time they’ve done so in proximity to Sunset Boulevard.
Founded by brothers Ron and Russell Mael, who were raised in Pacific Palisades, the band earned early attention for gigs at the Whisky a Go Go, and learned the ropes by watching such bands as the Move, Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Doors and the Beach Boys.
“It was really our education,” said Russell Mael during a recent interview with him and Ron.
On Sept. 8, the band will release a new album, “Hippopotamus,” and in early 2018 (tentatively), shooting will begin on “Annette,” the Leo Carax-directed adaptation of a Sparks musical. Adam Driver and Michelle Williams are committed to the project.
You were raised in Pacific Palisades, so you must have relied on Sunset Boulevard a lot.
Ron Mael: When we started commuting, at least for me, I had a commute along Sunset Boulevard to get to UCLA, so the Dead Man’s Curve area and all that, that was something that was really special to me.
And then when we were in school and going to listen to music, it was always going to places like the Whisky and seeing British bands, just getting turned on by so many of those people coming to Los Angeles. The Whisky became so comfortable for us.
Our band got banned from staying at the Hyatt House not for anything glamorous, but for a bagel being tossed out the window.
Ron Mael, Sparks
Why do you think that was?
Ron: It was kind of seedy, and that kind of gave it even a better atmosphere than the wholesome venues. At the time, there were like 12 people in audience when we were playing — maybe six waitresses and six groupies.
It’s just such an important artery for me. I got my first speeding ticket on Sunset Boulevard, too, so it was memorable for that.
What kind of car were you driving?
Ron: It doesn’t sound like a car that would be speeding, but it was a 1958 Volkswagen and I was doing 53 in a 35.
Did you buy your records at Wallichs Music City?
Ron: That was the most amazing place. What was that, Sunset and Vine? We would go down there, and it was the place where you could try out any record. You go into a little booth and listen to Beach Boys records to decide whether you wanted to buy them.
We ended up buying a lot of records — it was before the Internet and you could discover things that you didn’t know about. There would be all these people in booths and there would be a kind of overlap in sounds and you could hear 12 different styles of music.
Aside from the clubs, do you have specific memories of Sparks hanging on the Strip?
Ron: Well, the other thing on Sunset was the Hyatt House, and it had the reputation of bands driving through the lobby on motorcycles and throwing televisions out the windows. That wasn’t really our style.
When we moved to London in the mid-’70s, we came back to Los Angeles and we stayed at the Hyatt. After our show — we played at the Santa Monica Civic — Rodney [Bingenheimer] was there as part of a little party. But it was such a wholesome party, more in keeping with our general ethos. So we had bagels instead of anything more [garbled].
Somebody threw a bagel out the window and the hotel got really furious. Our band got banned from staying at the Hyatt House not for anything glamorous, but for a bagel being tossed out the window.
Russell: Keith Moon is driving motorcycles down corridors but we’re the ones that get kicked out for a bagel.
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