The Forever Now Finds: Sparkbird

Photo by Kayla Wiley

Pensive and dramatic, from the opening pedal note of Sparkbird’s latest single Silent Film you know you are in for something cinematic and heart-wrenching. With an incredible portamento vocal style reminiscent of somewhere between Tracy Chapman and Autoheart, and swelling strings that flesh out this sparse but potent piano and vocal song a la Regina Spector, Silent Film is an excellent addition to Sparkbird’s body of work. We had a chat with Stephan Nance of Sparkbird to talk about how the song came together. Check out our interview below and give Silent Film a listen.

Can you tell us a little bit about the Sparkbird project and how it began?

In the birding world, a spark bird is the bird that ignites your obsession for birds. Birding is a huge passion of mine and birds show up often in my songs, so it felt like an appropriate choice. Plus there’s something ambitious and aspirational about it. It felt like a name I could grow into as a musician.

I think I needed to do it to give structure to the grieving process, and to give my future self proof that I was capable of surviving a devastating loss.

I see you’ve toured across Europe, Japan and the US, can you give us one of your favourite or most impactful memories from touring?

An incredibly sweet memory from my first Japan tour was when a listener, someone I’d never met and who had never seen me live, showed up at the show with a beautifully decorated gift bag full of snacks for me. Every Japan tour has been full of these moments that just leave me in awe.

As an artist based in Portland, how has the local music scene impacted your approach to songwriting?

I moved to Portland from my hometown not long before the pandemic started, so I didn’t have much of a chance to get involved in the local music scene. But my songwriting has evolved in recent years, and when I think about it, it wasn’t until moving here that I started studying classical piano and taking voice lessons that are way different from any I ever had before. Those things have definitely shaped my songwriting.

You have a new single out called Silent Film, can you tell us a bit about the first spark of an idea that launched the song?

My partner Adam and I had an African gray parrot, Gabby, who died really suddenly a few years back. It was hard to function in the days after that, but eventually Adam had to go back to work. With him and Gabby both gone, I was overwhelmed by my grief and how quiet our home was. It scared me to think of losing Adam, too. I decided to sit down and write a song from beginning to end without stopping, which isn’t something I ever do. I think I needed to do it to give structure to the grieving process, and to give my future self proof that I was capable of surviving a devastating loss.

Even now, just singing the melody pulls me back to that place emotionally.

There’s a massive pedal note that runs through the track, how did the song come together around the pedal note?

Regina Spektor has this brilliant song called 8th Floor that uses a pedal note in a similar way, and I’d always wanted to write a song in that style. I doubt that it was a conscious choice at the time, but in hindsight I’m sure that was the inspiration. To me, that insistent note in Silent Film evokes a scene in a movie where something chaotic is happening on screen but you can’t hear the chaos, only the soundtrack.

Photo by Kenji Gamou

Do you have any funny, challenging, or exciting moments recording Silent Film that you’d like to share?

Something I find fascinating is how the song changed from when I first wrote it to when Yoed Nir arranged the strings. Yoed plays cello for Regina Spektor, and he has such a keen ear for dynamic strings arrangements. Without the strings, like when I play it live, the song sounds pretty somber. The piano is harmonically sparse, with blocked fifths shifting around the pedal note and never clearly committing to a major or minor tonality.

Yoed’s arrangement added this cinematic quality that blew me away. It fit the title and imagery so perfectly. The fleshed-out harmonies brought a bittersweetness to the track. I’m still so in love with it, all the achingly beautiful moments where the strings just weep.

I’m struck by your use of portamento in the verses, can you tell us a little bit about how you wrote these sections?

Oh, that’s an interesting question! There’s a keening quality to it, isn’t there? Something mournful and plaintive. It reflects the grief I was feeling when I wrote the song. Even now, just singing the melody pulls me back to that place emotionally.

Photo by Kayla Wiley

I see you’re also an author, do you think that this has altered the way you approach songwriting?

Oh, absolutely. Writing is writing! Refining your craft in any form is bound to help you in the others. The deeper I’ve gotten into my novel, the more clear and straightforward my lyrics have become. But also, the deeper I’ve gotten into my novel, the less time I’ve had for songwriting!

What’s next for Sparkbird?

I’m always dreaming of my next Japan tour, so hopefully that’s in store for me in 2024. In the meantime, I’ve got a new single called Disembodied Mind coming out on April 3rd (pre-save at, a couple of music videos, and an album this fall.

Follow Sparkbird here on Facebook and Instagram.