Low Interview (from the Kranky Records feature)
1999 saw the release of two albums from Low, a band from Duluth,
Minnesota. The first, 'Secret Name', many regard as their
finest to date. It also prompted many to ask 'could this band
possibly record slower, more sparse songs?' The slow pace
of the album was indeed remarkable, yet being the American
antithesis of all things Fatboy Slim has brought the attention
of much of the British music press to the trio. The second
record, 'Christmas', was a compilation of songs and covers
that they had previously written for Christmas. The record
got them play-listed on Mark and Lard and the accolade 'quite
possibly the best Christmas album in the worldÖever' from
the NME. Low combine the knack of great lyric writing with
sparse, yet lush arrangement of guitars, strings and drums.
Low are Alan Sparhawk (guitars, vocals), Mimi Parker (drums, vocals)
and Zak Sally (bass). I spoke online with Alan Sparhawk:
The Christmas record - whose idea? What's your favourite other
"The Christmas record came to be due to a small tradition we'd
been keeping for a few years. We were asked to do a 7" for
Wurlitzer Jukebox a couple years ago and as we pondered what
to do, we found that it would be released close to Christmas,
thus, our first Christmas release. After that, we made it
a point to do a little something related each year. When it
came time to do something this year, we found we had several
songs written, so why not put 'em all together. I have a favourite
Christmas compilation CD that has a lot of oldies on it like
"Santa Clause go straight to the ghetto" by James Brown and
"pretty ribbon..." By Roy Orbison. That's probably my favourite.
Mim is more of a sucker for the nat king cole/amy grant camp."
Do you feel that 'Secret Name' is your best album to date?
"Yes. But then, we've never disavowed anything we've done."
What was it like working with Steve Albini (Shellac, ex Big Black,
producer of Secret Name)?
"It was great. He was much more open to 'noodling' than people
think he would be. There's a depth of sound there that is
much due to his talent for recording. If you know what you
want, things go very well. If you come to him with 'what should
we do, Steve. Make us sound HARD.' Then it's not going to
When is Mimi's baby due?
"The baby is due march 2nd. So far everything is going well for her."
Stuart Braithwaite from Mogwai quoted you as his favourite lyricist.
Is lyric writing a very personal thing for you? Which other
lyricists do you admire?
"Those guys are entirely too nice to us. We played with them in Edinburgh
way back when they started. Now look at 'em! Lyric writing
is very personal. It's one of the most frustrating things.
In fact i hate it. It's humiliating. I wish I could explain
why. The things that end up as songs are the few fleeting
moments of victory. Some of my favourite lyricists are Roy
Orbison, Jeff Mangum from Neutral Milk Hotel, Ian Curtis,
Mark Bolan, and Stuart from Mogwai (how can you argue with
Can you tell me how the three of you met? Where do you all originally
"I met Mim on the first day of 4th grade at the age of 9. We
grew up in a small farming community in northern Minnesota.
I met Zak when I was 19. He answered an ad to form a band
when I was in college in Duluth. He was 16."
Is keeping your music minimal still important to you?
"Minimalism is still a dominant rule in Low, though sometimes as we write
songs we lust after that 'Strawberry Fields' wash. Lately,
we spend a lot of time figuring out what the SONG wants, instead
of just automatically slowing it down and stripping it to
the bones. We could definitely get more minimal, but . . . "
You were quoted once as saying you tried to write 'juvenile and
dark' songs. In what sense juvenile?
"Juvenile in the sense of simplicity and universality of language. When
jesus said 'become as a little child' he didn't mean take
out the crayons and speak naively with a lisp."
When are you next coming to England? Do you like it over here?
"We were asked to play the 'All Tomorrow's Parties' festival (due
in no small part to Mogwai), but we will have a very new and
immobile infant at that point, so we cannot. We're trying
for some late summer festivals, but will likely do a proper
UK/Europe tour in the fall. We always enjoy playing the UK.
It's exciting 'cuz you never know if they're going to go nuts
or turn on you. We're lucky to have some friends who help
us out there. Plus you have castles."
Any plans for the next record?
"We're hoping to record in the summer. Who we'll record with is still
up in the air. There's a Low/Spring Heel Jack collaboration
e.p. getting finished up right now. It was cool to do. I don't
know what people will think of it. Those guys are amazing."
Is there any song that you wish you had written?
"'final solution' by Pere Ubu, 'it's over' by Roy Orbison"
Is there any song that you wish you hadn't written?
"A song called "orange juice" from a band I was in called '3D
psycho-paisley' when i was 18. I still get ribbed about it
every time I see my friend Ryley in Salt Lake City. He was
in the band, too. I suppose you meant a low song. . . It sounds
arrogant, but i don't regret any low songs. "Don't understand"
puzzles me because singing it sometimes makes me cry like
a girl - meanwhile everyone hates it. There are songs that
we get tired of, but no regrets."
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