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Although its name suggests the presence of a full band, Sparklehorse was essentially the work of singer/songwriter Mark Linkous, an alumnus of the mid-'80s indie band the Dancing Hoods. A tenure in the Johnson Family (later known as Salt Chuck Mary) followed, as did stints sweeping chimneys and painting houses. He began working as Sparklehorse in 1995, honing his spooky, lo-fi roots pop in the studio located on his farm in Bremo Bluff, VA. After a demo made its way to the offices of Capitol Records, Linkous signed to the label and issued Sparklehorse's acclaimed debut, Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot, scoring an alternative radio hit with the single "Someday I Will Treat You Good."
In early 1996, after a Sparklehorse concert in London, Linkous nearly died when he passed out after mixing Valium with prescription antidepressants. He spent 14 hours unconscious on his hotel's bathroom floor, his legs pinned under the rest of his body, and the prolonged loss of blood circulation nearly left him crippled. Many months and countless surgeries later, he was quite literally back on his feet, and his recovery provided inspiration for 1998's Good Morning Spider. Linkous then collaborated with PJ Harvey and the Cardigans' Nina Persson on 2001's radiant It's a Wonderful Life. In between that album and 2006's Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain (which featured contributions from Tom Waits and Danger Mouse), Linkous contributed songs to the soundtrack of the film Laurel Canyon and produced Daniel Johnston's 2003 album, Fear Yourself.
The next Sparklehorse project was truly an ambitious one: a multimedia sound and art gallery done in conjunction with Danger Mouse and filmmaker David Lynch called Dark Night of the Soul. The project featured several singers, including James Mercer, Gruff Rhys, Jason Lytle, Julian Casablancas, Frank Black, Iggy Pop, Nina Persson, Suzanne Vega, Vic Chesnutt, Scott Spillane, and David Lynch, whose photographs made up the 100-page accompanying book. Although slated to appear on the Capitol label in 2009, Dark Night of the Soul ended up dry docked by a legal dispute between EMI and Danger Mouse (most likely stemming from the producer's brilliant -- but decidedly unlicensed -- Jay-Z/Beatles 2004 mash-up The Grey Album, which creatively combined the White Album with The Black Album and jump-started his career). Dark Night of the Soul was left marooned as an adjunct hostage in a complicated legal entanglement. Copies leaked out in different configurations, but it became apparent that Dark Night of the Soul's legitimate release was in serious jeopardy. Cutting his losses, Linkous instead turned his attention to a collaborative project with laptop artist Christian Fennesz. The two had previously recorded music together in 2007, and excerpts from those sessions were packaged together, forming the 2009 release In the Fishtank.
As of early 2010, Linkous had moved to Hayesville, NC, and was reportedly nearing completion of a new Sparklehorse album. On March 6 of that year he was visiting friends in Knoxville, TN, when he committed suicide at age 47 by shooting himself in the chest with a rifle. Condolences poured in from a number of major artists in the music world, including Patti Smith, Steve Albini, and Steven Drozd of the Flaming Lips, a group with whom Linkous had collaborated on Discovered Covered, a Daniel Johnston tribute album. An official release of Dark Night of the Soul arrived that July.
Sparklehorse was an American indie rock band led by the singer and multi-instrumentalist Mark Linkous.
Sparklehorse's first album, Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot (1995), was a modest college radio success. In 1996, while touring Europe with Radiohead shortly after the album's release, Linkous consumed a combination of anti-depressants, valium, alcohol, and heroin in a London hotel room. Unconscious and with his legs pinned beneath him for almost fourteen hours, the resulting potassium build up caused his heart to stop for several minutes after his body was lifted up. The ensuing surgery almost caused him to lose the use of both legs and left him wheelchair-bound for six months and requiring dialysis for acute kidney failure.
Good Morning Spider (1998) was recorded following this incident. Critics have conjectured that Linkous's brush with death inspired the sombre tone of the album, though Linkous stated that much of the material on GMS had already been written. One song which did result from it is "St. Mary", which is dedicated to the nurses at the eponymous hospital in Paddington where Linkous recuperated.
2001 saw the release of It's a Wonderful Life, featuring appearances by Tom Waits, PJ Harvey, Bob Rupe, Nina Persson and Dave Fridmann. Whereas much of Vivadixie... and Spider were recorded solely by Linkous on his Virginia farm, the new album was a more collaborative work. Linkous expressed his satisfaction with the overall sound of It's a Wonderful Life, while also claiming that he would have preferred to include more experimental and instrumental material.
On September 25, 2006, Sparklehorse released their fourth album, Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain, collaborating with Danger Mouse, Christian Fennesz, and Steven Drozd. This album featured the radio release "Don't Take My Sunshine Away" and a remastered version of "Shade And Honey", which Linkous originally wrote for Alessandro Nivola to sing in the 2003 movie Laurel Canyon, as well as a virtually unchanged re-release of "Morning Hollow," the bonus track from It's a Wonderful Life.
In 2008, Sparklehorse recorded a cover of the song "Jack's Obsession," from Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas for the official compilation album Nightmare Revisited. In 2009, Sparklehorse teamed up with Danger Mouse and David Lynch in the project Dark Night of the Soul.
In 2009, Linkous teamed up with electronic ambient-music artist Christian Fennesz to create In the Fishtank 15, a wafting album EP of experimentation and dreamy atmospherics. The last four live shows, Linkous did together with Fennesz during a European tour that was held during October 2009.
Joe Tangari describes Linkous's songs as "defiantly surrealist...with all manner of references to smiling babies, organ music, birds, and celestial bodies. In fact, some of the lyrics are so surreal that it's hard to imagine they're even metaphors for anything." Many of these references are literary or from a variety of rock music sources.
Linkous committed suicide in Knoxville, Tennessee, on March 6, 2010.