Sparrow and the Workshop interview: Aye, said the Sparrow

HOW many bands go through 60 litres of vegetable oil a week, have a world stone skimming champion as their frontwoman, and offer to fit an espresso machine in your flat? This is what runs through my head during a very pleasant morning spent with Sparrow and the Workshop, an unlikely trio from Scotland, Wales and America who fully deserve to be Glasgow's next big thing.

Let's start with the vegetable oil. We meet in Where The Monkey Sleeps, a Glasgow sandwich-constructing institution that has been dishing up the best paninis and bagels around for years with names like Man From Iran and Thar She Blows that could just as easily be song titles. They work through a hell of a lot of vegetable oil in the process and hope to make use of all that fuel getting to Belladrum festival in Beauly, the End of the Road in Dorset, Kendal Calling, and hopefully Glastonbury.

"I've been stockpiling it because I want to customise our tour van, filter the oil and run a van off it like we do with the one at work," says Gregor Donaldson (the Scot), who set up Where The Monkey Sleeps with friends after graduating from Glasgow School of Art. He built it with his dad, a master carver, who is by coincidence in today's paper. "Gregor's family are basically The Royal Tenenbaums of Glasgow," Jill O'Sullivan (the American) says.

At the moment Sparrow and the Workshop are too skint for such grand designs and are using Donaldson's dad's camper van to get around. But here is a band with big plans who come with great sandwiches – supplying Glasgow School of Art and the RSAMD.

Oh, and the music is great too, a little bit Fleet Foxes, a little bit Joanna Newsom-meets-Brian Wilson, and a lot their own. A richly textured palate of vintage and modern sounds, there is some alt-folk in there, country, gorgeous boy/girl harmonies and a lot of very loud, punk noise. Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell have been name-checked by charmed reviewers, but singer and violinist O'Sullivan, from Chicago, says theirs is a "much harder sound – we're here to make some noise". She is the driving force who bosses the boys around, the quirky storyteller with a sense of humour more dark and bitter than coffee grounds. She also has a gorgeously pure, sweet folk voice that is put to good dark use on ditties with titles such as Devil Song and The Gun.

So, is she the Sparrow? "That comes from a story my dad told me as a kid about a sparrow he shot with a BB gun," she says. "My grandfather was really into goldfinches, had a ton of them, and he would always point to sparrows and say 'they're good for nothin'. So my dad shot one to impress him. There it was on the ground bleeding and at that moment he became a pacifist." She pauses for thought. "No, he became a pacifist when he was hit on the head by a police officer at a protest. The sparrow was when he became an activist."

No matter, the image of the bloodied bird stuck and when she was playing solo, O'Sullivan used to call herself Dead Sparrow. "It was a bit morbid though," says Donaldson. When the band formed they added the rather silly and longwinded Workshop part and they don't sound convinced by it.

"My brother says it sounds like a poor man's Hawk and a Hacksaw," says Nick Packer (the Welshman), who by day works at Glasgow gallery Sorcha Dallas. "Someone once called us Shadow and the Hawk by mistake and I quite liked that."

"If Nick had been part of the band at that point," Donaldson admits, "we would probably have a really cool name."

They formed last year when O'Sullivan and Packer, a couple, got fed up of London life and decided to head for Glasgow. They were broke, exhausted, and living on a road in Hackney dubbed Murder Mile. "It was really nice," says O'Sullivan. "I never actually saw a murder." There were a lot of yellow signs though. "Body parts found in a floating suitcase in a canal," says Packer. "That one was grim."

Why Glasgow? "We wanted to live somewhere that had more of a DIY culture," says O'Sullivan. "I've never seen a city where bands are so encouraging of each other."

They mention Broken Records, with whom they're currently on tour, and The Phantom Band, and are chuffed to be rehearsing next door to Camera Obscura. "This city offers more than others," says Donaldson, who by a trick of fate was the man whose ad the couple responded to on Gumtree when they were looking for a flat. "You meet so many people who are into art and music and it's not about seeking funding or having money. It's about getting on and doing it. That sort of attitude flourishes in cities where there is a lot of hardship."

Last summer a message popped up on their myspace page from British Sea Power's manager – who now looks after them too – and they ended up playing a festival with them on the Yorkshire moors and supporting them on tour. This autumn they will release their second shortplayer, and the hope is to launch it on the island of Easdale on the west coast. This, you see, is the home of the world stone skimming championships.

"I've been going to that competition for years," says Donaldson, "and the first time I took these guys along Jill took bronze."

How many skims did she manage? "It wasn't about number of skims, it was distance," says O'Sullivan. "The wind picked up, I felt the stone leave my hand, and I just knew it was going to work."

They're going back this September and she is already starting to feel the pressure. "It's building but if I get fourth I'll be content."

What if she doesn't get placed at all? She shakes her head, the thought too horrific to entertain, and Donaldson says: "She'll be destroyed but we'll probably get three songs out of it."

• Sparrow and the Workshop play Belladrum festival, 8 August. Before that you can see them at Oran Mor, Glasgow, 24 June and Sneaky Pete's, Edinburgh, 10 July. Sleight of Hand, is out now (Distiller Records) www.tartanheartfestival.co.uk, www.myspace.com/sparrowandtheworkshop

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