Sweet slow sounds of Low promise to kill you softly
Low is a simple word, three letters long. It describes the placement of
an object in space. It describes a state of being.
It's also the name for a three-person band from Duluth, Minn. that will
play FSU's Club Downunder tonight with local band Still.
Small and unassuming at first, when the word comes at you alone, the weight
of it can consume you. The same could be said for the soft, slow sound that
Low has quietly forged over the past three years. The space between their
simple notes gives a listener the time to consider what they hear, and thus
succumb. Such is the power of minimalism.
Once people fall to the hypnotic spell, they'll be hooked for good. Mazzy
Star, whose sound has been dubbed "heroin for the ears" can hardly
compare to the soothing sedatives that Low weaves into the bloodstream.
For one thing, Mazzy Star is just way too fast.
Low's third full-length album, The Curtain Hits the Cast, released
on Vernon Yard last year, is they're slowest yet. Alan Sparhawk, who founded
Low with his wife Mimi Parker, agrees.
"For the first time, with the track 'Do You Know How To Waltz,' we
slipped into this thing where we lost touch with what makes an actual song
to where what we were making wasn't anything more than sound," Sparhawk
With cars roaring past on a highway outside of Washington, D.C., Sparhawk
answered questions about the relativity of time and the power of sound from
a gas station's phone booth.
"We've kind of always been trying to write good songs by going out
on a limb without falling on our faces," Sparhawk said. "We write
sparse, moody songs, songs that are juvenile and dark and just plain slow."
The limbs Sparhawk speaks of have mostly to do with the stretching out of
time - the lengths of sound and the lengths of silences between sound.
"I think there's such a potent emptiness between two events,"
Sparhawk said. "That emptiness between two events is just as important
as the events themselves and when you strip time down and focus on it, it
can be a very powerful and versatile thing."
The sound that Low creates came out of a mini-rebellion against the fast
and loud stuff music scenesters were so used to.
The group didn't get together with the sole purpose of annoying people.
With drummer/singer Parker writing simple, childlike songs and guitarist/singer
Sparhawk's all-time favorite bands being Joy Division and The Velvet Underground,
this was a sound they were naturally drawn to.
However, they thought it might be interesting to see what the locals would
say, and they were not expecting open arms. So it was a bit of a shock to
them that their first show was so warmly received.
"Ironically, I was surprised at how many people were open-minded about
it," Sparhawk said. "A lot of people were into it."
But that was at home.
"It (playing live) was very confrontational early on," Sparhawk
said of their touring. "The soft, slow music was a shock similar to
the early punks screaming to rednecks."
Now, most people know what they're in store for when they decide to see
a Low show. And for Low, playing live is very important.
Low is now composed of Parker, Sparhawk, and their friend, Zak Sally, who
became their permanent bass player in 1994, with their second full-length
release, Long Division.
The perfect setting for a Low show, according to Sparhawk, is when the audience
is attentive and quiet and they can play as sensitively as possible.
"The experience of facing your fears in front of a crowd of people
is an experience you become addicted to," he said. "There's this
weird high you get from facing your fears in front of a crowd of people."
There is also a weird high anyone who attends a Low show is bound to experience
- that of feeling yourself stripped raw of all your protections by the sweetest,
softest, most unassuming sounds-and sharing yourself, quietly, with the
slight sway of the dimly-lit crowd.
As Sparhawk plaintively tells us in "Dark," the thirty-second
track on The Curtain Hits the Cast : "There are many things
to be afraid of, like ghosts, and death, and climbing too high - but don't
be afraid of the dark."
Low has taught us that dark, quiet places are the nicest places to be, not
only when you're sad. That's where we most often find the endless possibilities
Still, a local band, started playing their self-described mellow music around
town for much of the same reason that Low got started with their sound.
"We wanted something different in town, instead of the same sort of
punk-rock bands," Still's bass player, Sam Riles, said Wednesday.
Still, inspired by the meandering, lush sounds of such bands as Slowdive
and the Chameleons, started practicing together about a year ago, and played
their first live show at Potbelly's this past November.
"We went through a revolving door for awhile," said Riles, who
added that their current line-up of two guitars, bass, drums, and female
vocals is a solid one that all are happy with.
Riles explained that they'll soon be recording a CD with their own equipment.
Their line up of laid-back, luxurious melodies include such intriguing titles
as "Something Ventured," "In The End," and "Dry."
Still and Low play the Club Downunder Friday night. Doors open at 8:30,
the show starts at 9:30 and is free to those with a valid FSU ID. It's $3
for everybody else.
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