Minnesota's Low have been hypnotizing a growing number of converts for
almost eight years. Married couple Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker,
along with Zak Sally, have been crafting their inadvertent and
accidental musical essentialism [more on this below] with growing
success after some hard world-wide touring, meticulous production
choices, and dazzling albums.
From the humble openings I witnessed almost
seven years ago in a damp Vancouver bar attended by two dozen of the
adventuresome and curious, to the electric atmosphere of their most
recent sold-out Toronto landing, they have brought minimalism to new
"I guess we had our concept or vision
right away in that we wanted to see how quiet and sparse we could get.
Then fairly early on we saw the value of a good song, so we've been
trying to put those two concepts together ever since."
That is an understatement.
Alan: "The name seemed
the simplest description of what we were doing."
This "...definite desire to do
something different from what was going on at the time..." led to
work with Kramer, whose pioneering work with his own band Bongwater,
intensely esoteric label Shimmy Disc, and majestic style of production
heard via the likes of Galaxie 500 make him a fringe dwelling Merlin
easily recognizable by the indie intelligentsia. Considering the sonic
capabilities of Low, this partnership seemed natural.
"We were fans of Galaxie, so
we figured Kramer would at least listen to our tape."
Hearing 1993's "I Could Live In
Hope", one heard the shimmering tones evocative of early Cure.
If it stopped there, so would have most other people. Other things
were apparent, like the weight of each note in each song. Sound
literally surpasses structure, but there is definitely no tendency toward
After seven years and five albums,
there still exists a common thread to the music.
"...I'd like to think we've
become better songwriters. I think we are always getting more minimal or
focused, while also trying new things such as strings or
The symbolic and spiritual nature of
the lyrics charts depths, but the band are quick to deflect pretension
laid on by rabid fans.
"There's no magic to our
writing...the songs...get finished at least, as a band."
There is even a hint that songs are
providential gifts...a sentiment I'm ready to accept. Pressing them
for views on the state of the current music scene, I paraphrased Jon
Spencer's reflection that no scene exists at all since the grunge
Alan countered with some very
definite thoughts... not necessarily conceding that no scene was
"That's what's nice about how
things are now: there's the big stuff [Backstreet Boys, Kid Rock
etc.] and a very obvious line separating them from bands like
us...nobody's there because they heard about that 'alternative' music
scene and since they liked 'that Nirvana song', figured they'd
check it out."
Stephen: Do listeners seem to be getting more
sophisticated? [I just HAD to ask]
Alan: "It seems
there has always been a small group of people who are willing to search
out music that is off the beaten path. Even in the early 90's when it
appeared it had all gone mainstream."
A relief. I have a tendency
for believing that the major labels have shifted toward their newest sound
trend. Hopefully bands like Low, Labradford and US Maple, have
inadvertently redrawn the line between corporate and independent. Others
may share this. A quick peek on the net and literally dozens of Low
related sites offer tapes, reviews, and videos. With Deadhead-like
attention to detail, the fans seem to be broad in scope, sharing only a
fiery enthusiasm for the band.
"We do have some very devoted
fans. it's flattering, but I think most people who come to see us just
enjoy listening on cloudy Sunday mornings or to relax before bed."
But this only makes me curious about
Low's European fan base. Alan describes it as
"...a bit more
volatile...Europeans treat pop music more on the level of other forms of
art. Often you get paid better and you get taken more seriously as
opposed to America where rock 'n' roll is viewed as a kitschy thing the
Low as "kitsch"?
Maybe. The only inconsistency in their discography was the
"Owl" remix album that found those sitting on the electronic
fence playing with some early Low masterpieces. A move some
journalists likened to "turning over William Faulkner to Dr.
Seuss". Which is not meant to lead one to the conclusion that
Low are dour, nor that the comparison to Dr. Seuss is entirely inaccurate.
It was just a bad idea on the part of Vernon Yard, their previous label
before finding their new home on Kranky Records.
For those of you who missed Low's
recent travels, their may be a wait. Alan and Mimi expect the birth
of their child in March, while Zak continues to work on his art
illustration. They do plan a few "small" tours before the new
year, along with a record slated for early December.
Although, "...after 7 years of
often hard and not-so-good touring", the band may at least take a
Will the follow up to the
head-turning Secret Name LP offer much in the way of experimentation
[violins, voice, keys], choice of producer, or musical direction?
Will they continue to use producers who bring out the unique plane their
music exists on [Kramer, Fisk, Albini]? Will being parents add a new
dimension to the band's approach to sounds and themes?
As Alan muses:
"Anything is possible at this
I'd like to continue to find that
this is the essence of Low-that anything is possible, and it's worth the
effort to find out how :"anything possible" sounds. Sounds
Stephen Dohnberg heads up music at
BurningInk.Com. Contact Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org
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