Singer-songwriter Tori Sparks says there was a moment after moving to Barcelona, Spain, two years ago when everything seemed to fall into place.
"There's a family that sort of adopted me in Barcelona," says Sparks, in a call while visiting her family in Florida for the holidays. "The people there are very generous once they get to know you, but in the beginning people don't just have you over to their mother's house. But this family had me over for a birthday party for the mama, who is the matriarch. It was the whole family and just me and I thought, 'Gosh, I have a home here.'"
Sparks grew up in Sarasota, Fla., and began writing songs there at the age of 17. After a regular gig at a seafood restaurant gained Sparks an enthusiastic following, she began touring and performing at larger clubs. She moved to Nashville in 2005 after graduating from Florida State University and made regular treks to perform in Knoxville.
Sparks decided to move to Europe after finding that she was having more success as an artist there than in the United States.
"I was getting paid better and treated better in Europe and I wanted to explore that," she says.
At first, she considered Paris, but during a trip to Barcelona she fell in love with the city.
"Berlin would be a much more logical option for a musician, because they treat musicians well there and there's a lot more music business going on, but I really wanted to live in Barcelona. There's so much art and the architecture is amazing and I'm studying flamenco!"
She says the rhythms and other elements in flamenco are so different that they change the way you think about music in general.
"And you realize it's older than the entire country here (the United States)."
The transition of moving to Spain was a challenge from the outset. Canceled flights and other problems made Sparks' trip to Barcelona take 30 hours.
"I arrived in the center of the city in a taxi and they had just started these massive protests and shut down the government that day and we couldn't go into the old part of the city where I was staying that day."
The taxi driver managed to convince a policeman to watch his car while he helped Sparks carry her baggage to a room a 25-minute walk away.
"It's just a lot of what you'd go through moving to another city, and moving a business to another city, but multiply that by Spain! It's just craziness. Spanish people are wonderful and generous people, but they do business differently than they do here and it can be frustrating if you're not used to it."
For example, she says, Spanish musicians have a rather fluid sense of time. Showing up very late is very common.
"They can tell I'm from the United States when I get mad," she says. "They say, 'Oh, she is not from here. She does not understand!'"
In some ways, she says, it might have been good that she's had to force herself to chill out a little and things are more like the United States, business-wise, in Germany, the Netherlands and other countries.
Sparks has performed in more than 15 countries since moving to Europe.
"It's just a roller coaster of craziness," she says.
Sparks says her lowest point in the past two years was when she became very ill after falling down some marble stairs.
"I lost use of my right arm for a little while, which is great for a guitar player!" says Sparks. "There was just a moment where I thought I'm sick and I'm injured and I don't know what I'm gonna do. But things could happen like that in your own country. And if you can come out of times like that it teaches you to get a perspective and be prepared for almost anything that comes along."
What has been less of a challenge is the language barrier in her songs. All of her songs are written in English, which is a second language at best for much of her European audience.
"Some people don't understand the lyrics at all, but they still like the music and I just have to accept that," she says. "There are many English-language acts who tour in Europe and are enormously popular, like Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits. You'd think if you can't understand the lyrics you might not like the music at all. I guess there's a way they figure it out."
She says all of it has given her a different perspective on her own culture and the music she grew up with.
"It makes me deconstruct American music more. It makes me pay attention to the things I wouldn't have before ... In the States people ask you which one is better. It's not a question of one being better. It's just a question of experiencing different things and opening yourself up to different experiences and cultures."
When: Noon, Tuesday, Jan. 2
Where: Blue Plate Special, Knoxville Visitor Center, 301 S. Gay St.
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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