Amy Susan Wilson Interviews Minton Sparks, Singer-Songwriter and Poet

ASW: Good afternoon, Minton. It is great to jaw with you this afternoon about your southern roots and how you fuse songwriting with southern myth, reality, and spirit. In your latest music CD, and music video, “Gold Digger,” you paint a portrait of a woman in search of a sugar daddy, which is metaphorical of a better life for herself. Your gold-digger woman is instantly recognizable, yet not ever cliché. What was your inspiration for this CD?

MS: Hi, Amy. Good afternoon to you! Thank you for your questions. “Gold Digger” is an audio CD and a video – I’m not sure which you heard or viewed. “Gold Digger” is about contemporary, Southern rural women who have been brave enough to dig for their own gold for a lifetime, despite having been held back by difficult circumstances.

ASW: I just am in love with the details in your songs: pork rinds, double-D implants, a snack bar, Vicky Pickle, and the world that these words conjure up in my mind. You select words as carefully as a poet and fuse these images with music. Talk to me about how you intersect spoken words and lyrics with music to create these intoxicatingly hilarious, poignant, and very real and raw characters?

MS: Most of the characters that are portrayed in my music and work are family members in one way or another, so I know them like the back of my hand. I’m first and foremost a poet and have written poetry since third grade. I was also lucky enough to get several of my poems published before I was struck by the realization that so few people read poetry journals. When I was hit with this epiphany, I decided, along with my then guitar teacher Rob Jackson, to try and put music to my poems. It was a fledgling attempt at best. But over the years, I’ve kind of figured out what I am doing.

ASW: Minton, where in the South are your roots? Or as some of us say, “Where are your people?” I know if you walked into a small town bowling alley in Arkansas or Oklahoma, where I live, you’d probably “know” every guy ‘n gal in the place. You’d not know them of course, but you’d know their whole life’s story and their struggles. How do your roots play a role in your creation of song lyrics and persona characters, such as Vicky Pickle?

MS: My people hale mostly from rural Arkansas, right outside of Little Rock, and then over in Hazen. My grandparents lived in Memphis, Tennessee, and I was there a lot as a child. I grew up in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, when it was still a small town. I know these people because I am one of these people.

ASW: Your work displays much compassion for the people and situations they find themselves in, yet there is never any pity or condescension. You respect and honor your characters. How is this important to you as a writer and performer?  

MS: Like a lot of people I knew growing up, wealth was defined in terms other than monetary, although that was in our purview as well. Being wealthy was defined in terms of relationships, health, number of grandchildren, whether or not you actually knew someone who owned a Lincoln Continental first hand, how many first cousins you had, whether you had access to a swimming place of sorts in the summer, spiritual health, etc.

ASW: Storytelling and Southern family reunions go together like grits and coffee. When I watch you perform and listen to your music, I feel as if I’m at a huge Oklahoma family reunion seeing the whole cast of crazy relatives – the ones who are just crazy “as are,” and the ones who try and act normal, upright, but you know, are still crazy under the veneer of having a career as a dentist with a PTA wife with a soft little voice and Southern Living perfect-y kitchen and linen closet but for those bottles of white zin and Xanax. Is it your intent to take your audience into their own families and communities, while dually taking them into your musical and storytelling worlds?

MS: Yes, ma’am. I’ve begun the Nashville Writing and Performance Institute for just that reason. After my shows, people always come up with a lot of emotion and talk about their own families, and my work throws them back on themselves, whether they are New Yorkers, from the Pacific Northwest or from Macon, Georgia.

ASW: I bet that is because your music strikes at the core of what it means to be human, whether in Pago Pago or Hazen, Arkansas. So Miss Minton, what is your creative process for writing a song? Do you hear words first or develop the character first?

MS: I always say I mostly write in my car and it’s true. There’s something about a long drive that taps my memory and I pull over and write the bones of the piece down. John Jackson, my guitarist of ten years, is responsible for developing the musical aspect of the piece. Yet it’s a collaborative effort indeed. After I write a piece I usually work with my brother, who is a fabulous director, to find the performance in the words. I’ve been so lucky to work with unbelievably talented collaborators.

ASW: You conduct workshops across the country on storytelling. What is the most important element in developing a strong story for a singer or author?

MS: I think any good storyteller has to be grounded in, and has to be able to name, the people and the place they come from whether or not their material comes from that particular place.

ASW: Amen on that one. Meaning, I concur. Minton, I know we are going to be hearing “a whole lotta more,” as my Grandma Eunice used to say, about ya. What else is on the horizon for you, your band, and other writing projects?

MS: I have a new video titled “Time Flies” that is really a short film that is going to be released this month. I’m collaborating with songwriters Jim White and Sam Baker on a piece to be done at the Calgary Folk Festival in the spring of 2016. We are working on a show pointed toward truth telling and forgiveness for spring of 2016 also at the Sheen Performing Arts Center in New York.

ASW: Thanks, Minton, for visiting with me about your way cool, way Southern work. I look forward to playing “Gold Digger” over and over as one of my new fav CD’s.

MS: Thank you so much!

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