To fully understand where The Court & Spark is coming from, you have to go back, way back, to Santa Barbara in the fall of 1993. All good stories start in the fall, and that particular fall M.C. Taylor, Scott Hirsch, and James Kim were all freshmen at the University of California, Santa Barbara, drawn together like liquid mercury. Following a brief courtship in the dining commons, Taylor was drafted as a guitarist into Hirsch's nascent band, Ex-Ignota, for two simple reasons: he carried a book of poems around in his back pocket and had a beautiful raven-haired girlfriend. Ex-Ignota soon became legendary for their pummeling live shows -- an amalgamation of warped guitar histrionics, shivering harmonic drone, slasher-flick blast-beats, and baked, aquatic ambience -- and in their short existence they redefined what experimental noise and hardcore could sound like. They recorded several records and toured relentlessly, playing with the likes of The Locust, Man Is The Bastard, and Unwound, before the wheels fell off their gold Chevy Vandura both literally and figuratively.
Decamping to their tiny Hope Street apartment at the base of the Santa Barbara foothills, Taylor and Hirsch called longtime friend and amateur magician Kim and, in between solar hits, took their first steps towards something totally different: a personal, pastoral music as informed by the records they were raised on- the basement recordings of Traffic and The Band, the holy poetry of Townes Van Zandt, Robert Hunter, and John Coltrane, the elegantly wasted crooning of Gene Clark and wolf king John Phillips- as it was the haunted laughing stock that was Talk Talk's final album, Brian Eno's ambient pink noise, and the mystical big-knob excursions of King Tubby, uptown ruler of Dromilly Avenue. Heady times on Hope Street; it was very hard to get the guitars in tune.
After several months of rainy coastal wandering, live oak climbing, and nine-hole greenskeeping, the trio, now calling themselves The Court & Spark, landed in San Francisco's Mission District, and soon met steel guitarist/cantankerous saint Tom Heyman at a dim Senegalese bar on 19th Street. Heyman had forgotten about more music than most people would ever know about, and began sitting in with the band on a regular basis. A short while later, former Preston School Of Industry student and magpie deluxe Dan Carr was brought into the fold from the brink of retirement. Now they were five.
Since 2000, The Court & Spark has made a series of critically acclaimed albums with recordist Scott Solter (Spoon, Mountain Goats)- the autumnal Ventura Whites, the elegiac Bless You (featuring Gene Parsons of The Byrds), and the soaring, hypnotic Witch Season- as well as the homespun Double Roses and Dead Diamond River (featuring M. Ward and British chanteuse Linda Thompson) EPs. Hearts is the first full-length album to be wholly engineered and produced by the band at their communal home/recording studio, The Alabama Street Station, and is permeated by an easy camaraderie and joyful, exploratory vibrations. The heartbeat rhythm section of Kim and Carr anchor The C&S trademark otherworldly instrumentation -- from the rippling wah-wah of album opener "Let's Get High" to the tea kettle tape-flutter of "Berliners", the heartbreaking Moog and dancing toy piano of "Your Mother Was The Lightning" to the hazy typewriter chantdown of "High Life". Friends Jason Molina (Magnolia Electric Co.), Inara George, and Zoe Keating (Rasputina) all lend a hand to the proceedings. Yet, despite it's eclecticism, the album is a portrait of what brilliant arrangers The Court & Spark have become, and at no time do the sounds hijack the songs. Taylor's writing is the sharper than ever, managing to be both sky-expansive and as intimate as a Buddhist koan, with a rustic, mystical voice that would make Pop Staples proud. Hearts operates at an altitude seldom reached by other travelers. Only a band like The Court & Spark, tempered by more than a decade of living, traveling, and playing together, could have written such a wonderfully saturated hymn to the new millennium.
2007 saw a time of change and the Court and Spark went into extended hiatus. MC Taylor moved to Chapel Hill while Scott Hirsch headed to NY. Both play in the part-time band Hiss Golden Messenger.