Year of the Sparrow

Local singer-songwriter Jay Sparrow broadens his horizons to help Edmonton’s music scene reach new heights.

The year 2010 was a prolific one for Jay Sparrow. He wrote, produced and released three albums, started his own record label and helped found a music venue called Lyve on Whyte.

Unfortunately, not all of his hard work paid off.

His year ended sourly when Lyve on Whyte closed its doors in late November, adding to Edmonton’s list of dead venues, including the Sidetrack Cafe, the Power Plant and the Urban Lounge.

Sparrow blames a lack of interest in Edmonton’s live music scene – outside of large-scale events like Folk Fest – for the bar’s closure.

“There was an actual lifestyle through the ’80s and ’90s where going to see live music was what people did on their weekend nights. We wanted
to be a part of something interesting and not just sit in a pub and stare at a TV screen,” Sparrow says. “That community seems to have changed over the years.”

But all is not lost.

With the venue off his plate, Sparrow can devote his energy entirely to his music. His solo work got traction in 2009 after CBC 2 listeners voted for his original song, “The Ballad of Mary White,” to be one of 13 featured on the Great Canadian Song Quest compilation.

He can also focus on Break Pattern Records, his burgeoning record label that has a local-first mandate.

The label gets its name from Sparrow’s frustrations with the preferred model of the music recording business, which sees bands release an album every three years – one year to produce it and two years of touring to promote it. He says that tedious process is one of the factors that broke up his punk band, the Murder City Sparrows, in 2009.

He believes artists produce the best material possible when they work at their own pace. For some, it’s the three-year cycle; for him, its creating albums at breakneck speed.

When his label is fully grown, he promises to offer artists a full deal, from production and promotion to distribution and touring, and to nourish artists on a case-by-case basis. “BPR is still very much in its infancy,” he says. “We have a bunch of people we’re looking at, but 2010 was a whirlwind year, so we’re looking at 2011 to start exploring [new artists].” (

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