Sparkle*jets U.K.

Los Angeles-based Sparkle*Jets U.K. became one of the most adored bands in the power pop movement of the late '90s and early 2000s following a series of International Pop Overthrow festival appearances, their adorably geekly sensibility, and their sound: a distinctive marriage of '60s and '70s rock and whimsical guitar pop.

Sparkle*Jets U.K. founding members Mike Simmons, Susan West, and Jamie Knight first met in 1995 at a gig for Simmons' band at the time, Virgin 7. In February of 1996, Virgin 7 enlisted Knight to play bass on a series of recordings for a planned album. The collaboration, which also included Fletcher Harrington of Cowboy Buddha, clicked, and the three separate acts merged into a single entity. The group included the first writing contributions from Mike Simmons, but the band had a total of five songwriters, and as egos took control the group pared itself down to the core of Simmons, West, and Knight. The group, which was initially dubbed Happy Birthday!, was renamed Sparkle*Jets U.K., including the "U.K." tag because the name wasn't nearly wacky enough. The three bandmembers also shared a lot of musical common ground, starting at the Beatles and running through Electric Light Orchestra, Brian Wilson, Teenage Fanclub, the Pixies, the Jackson 5; and various R&B, soul, and Stiff Records-style new wave/punk.

The band, who then included drummer James DeBeau, recorded their debut, In, Through and Beyond, and pressed just 1,000 copies. Copies of the disc made it into a single store, where rock journalist John Borack (Receiver) bought a copy, his decision based only on the cover art and 3.99 dollar price. After passing word onto pop fanatic and International Pop Overthrow organizer David Bash, Sparkle*Jets U.K. were soon inducted into the close-knit family of Los Angeles-based power pop acts and their fans while word spread. Not long after, following a conversation surrounding the proliferation of tribute albums, the band proposed a tribute album to themselves, where other L.A.-based pop acts would cover their material. It caught on, with more bands taking part than the band had songs to offer. I Love Sparkle*Jets U.K.: Tribute was released in 2000, and increased the band's profile further. Bamboo Lounge, their proper sophomore release, followed in early 2002 with a bigger budget and nationwide distribution, as the band began touring outside California and playing bigger venues. ~ Jason Damas

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