Purveyors of sparse, heartbroken songs played at the speed of a funeral procession, Low have just released possibly their finest album in the form of 'Things We Lost In The Fire'. Comprised of guitarist/singer Alan Sparhawk, percussionist/singer Mimi Parker and bassist Zak Sally, this trio from Duluth, Minnesota have been utilizing their exquisite harmonies and restrained instrumentation since 1994, in a career in which they have previously been described as "Joy Division meets Simon & Garfunkel". Mudmag spoke online with Alan Sparhawk.
Your new album is called 'Things We Lost In The Fire'. What is the relevance of the title?
"It is a line from one of the songs that we thought sounded good on it's own. If you lost everything in a fire, you'd be faced with how much or how little you needed those things. "What is really important.""
Many people would be surprised to hear that you used Steve Albini to produce your music. What was it like working with him? And in comparison to Kramer (who produced work previous to 'Secret Name')?
"Albini works best when you have a fairly defined idea of what you want to do and what you want to sound like. We get along well with him. If you don't know what you want something to sound like, Albini is not the person to turn to for ideas. Kramer has a particular sound and style he likes. He was very helpful on our first few records when we were new to the recording process."
Do you feel that this album has carved out a different trajectory to 'Secret Name'?
"I think so. this is the first record where we let the songs dictate us instead of us forcing each song into our preconception of what Low is. Some of the songs are a bit more bold and "louder" than our past music. I'm not sure why."
One of your songs has been used in a Gap advert. Was it difficult coming to a decision about it being used?
"Not as difficult as answering ethical questions about it in interviews."
Point taken. Is the different packaging of the album a 'present' for fans buying vinyl (the vinyl version contains two extra songs and the 4th side is an etching of all the lyrics from the record)? Do you share Steve Albini's intransigence on matters of analog/vinyl purity?
Vinyl is more expensive to make, so we try to make it more worth it to pay the extra money. We do share Albini's favor of anolog media.
What's your opinion on Napster and peer-to-peer file sharing software?
"Taping didn't destroy the music business, so I doubt it will spell doom for artists. I have faith in our fans that they understand and respect what it's all about."
What other projects have Low band members been involved in recently?
"I play in a blues band called "The Black-Eyed Snakes" sometimes in our hometown. Our baby is a big project, too." [Mimi and Alan had a baby last year].
What was the last/first record you bought?
"Marc Ribot y Cubanos Postizos."
You've had many label changes in your history. Do you feel settled on Kranky/Tugboat?
"Yes. They are very appropriate. Not too big, not too small."
You had quite a rapturous applause from a relatively small audience at your recent Peel Session on Radio 1 in the UK. What do you think of the reaction towards you in the UK?
"They were drunk."
How do you make sense of the philosophical Problem of Evil?
"Without opposition, we do not learn anything. People who think their minds are so open just can't seem to get past this."
Finally, many people presume that religion plays a large part in your music (Alan and Mimi are both Mormons). How would you respond to these presumptions?
"Religion is a large part of Mimi and my life. So is music. How could that be without them being one and the same."
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