SPARK OF LIFE
They say you have your entire life to write your first record, and only months to complete your second. But for Spark Of Life, the malleable post-hardcore band that formed in the suburbs of Los Angeles almost 25 years ago, this life has been anything but predictable.
In their original formation, the band—comprised of various musicians over the years, but always centered around the songwriting nucleus of singer Steve Jennings and guitarist Nicholas Piscitello—found themselves an outlier in the pre-social media, pre-everything-at-your-fingertips world of punk rock in the early ‘00s. It was here that Spark Of Life first honed a sound—and a fanbase—that leaned more melodic than the hardcore set, and proved far weightier than what was happening in the world of melodic pop-punk.
By the early aughts, they had amassed a respectable following regionally, and had befriended Russ Rankin, an intensely thoughtful singer who came from another band that knew a thing or two about walking the margins between hardcore and punk, Good Riddance. Their friendship resulted in Spark Of Life’s restless 2003 debut Promises Made. Promises Kept, which was both produced by Rankin and released on his Fat Wreck Chords- backed subsidiary Lorelei Records. And then, as often the case with this band, life took a different turn.
Over the next two decades, Spark Of Life all but disappeared. There was no acrimonious break up and no public acknowledgment of their dissolution. They simply went on with their lives. For a spell, Jennings and Piscitello reunited with former Rise Against guitarist Chris Chasse and Ignite bassist Brett Rasmussen to play in a short-lived, melodic rock act called Last Of The Believers. But in truth, it wasn’t until 2018 that Jennings and Piscitello began to seriously think about kickstarting the band once again.
That fall, Jennings had convinced his friends Rise Against to play a secret show at at the same skatepark he worked at in high school. The show was to double as his 40th birthday party and, for the occasion, he offered up reuniting Spark of Life for one night to open up for Rise (something they did countless time in in the early ’00s, before the Chicago band became one of the most reliable hit makers in modern rock history). Looking back, no one uses the somewhat ironic word “spark” to describe what was rediscovered that evening. But their brief reunion undoubtedly reignited the creative spirit between Jennings and Piscitello, who began writing off and on for the next few years. By early 2022, an idea was hatched to record a few of the songs that they had gotten to a point of near completion. They just needed a drummer to round out their new work.
Ultimately, Jennings and Piscitelllo enlisted their friend Fred Armisen, who had come up playing drums with the frenetic art-punks Trenchmouth. The band’s two new tracks (recorded this past summer, partially with Armisen behind the kit) remind fans where Spark of Life have been and the places their sound can conceivably take them. While “Memmer” is a double shot of pop-punk and hardcore that rips straight out of the basement, “Song Of Hope” drives a singalong chorus directly through a rain kissed London street, shimmering with a vintage guitar line reminiscent of The Cure.
But it’s not how these songs sound as much as the emotional weight they carry that show the real evolution Spark Of Life have gone through these past few years. The lens that Jennings’ lyrics are put through—all adult pain and middle aged reflection—show how much hardcore can hit later in one’s life. On “Song of Hope” Jennings exhales a series of apologies in the face of devastating loss: “I just want to see myself in your eyes again,” he sings not sounding like he is pointing a finger, but clearing a tear from his eye.
From these two songs Jennings and Piscitello have begun laying a foundation for the future. They are already at work on their second full-length album—a record that, in some ways, has been 20 years in the making. They have also begun preparing for some sporadic live performances. (Here’s hoping Armisen will join them from time to time.) The songs they are working on now are raw, energetic, and painful all in the same instance. They also miraculously sound like a band being reborn. This is certainly not the way that Jennings and Piscitello imagined this band’s history—or hell, even their own personal lives—would have turned out. But you will also find no one more grateful to see their creative spark rekindled than the two of them.