Mike Mantin 30/04/2006
Minnesota's Low have been making consistently excellent and affecting music for over a decade. Now with new bassist Matt Livingston, the band have recently overcome psychological and line-up problems and kindly let me talk to them before the first date on their UK tour in Brighton. In a couple of hours, the band will play an astonishingly beautiful set, a sublime mix of old and new. The delicate but deeply emotional melodies and vocals hypnotise the silent audience. I am completely entranced: if they whispered extreme right-wing messages, I'd probably go out and join the BNP the next day.
Before this quiet onslaught, though, I talked to Matt (who tells me beforehand that Low are writing some new material, hinting- and boy do I wish this was serious- at a Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince cover) plus married Mormons and founding members Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker about life in this much-adored band.
Is this tour for your last album, The Great Destroyer?
Mimi: This is kind of a strange tour, we're not really sure why we're doing it.
Alan: We did some shows over here when The Great Destroyer came out but a couple of specific shows came up and we put together a tour.
What was Dave Fridmann (of Mercury Rev)'s input on the change in direction for that album?
Alan: I don't really know, if there was some sort of change in direction on this record, I don't know it was necessarily all him. We wrote the songs and the tracks, we stayed at home and brought the record and tracks to Dave. He's a really creative mixer, there were a few things he pushed us on a little bit. Dave wasn't all, “OK you guys, it's time to make Low a crazy, psychedelic noisy band!”
I did find it quite odd that you did this slight shift in volume with Dave, as Mercury Rev have got a bit softer recently, and not with Steve Albini, who produced Things We Lost In The Fire.
Mimi: Yeah, I don't know…
Alan: We pick people who we know are going to be interesting.
How did you feel about the minor backlash that greeted the change in sound?
Mimi: I don't know if we were aware of it, to tell you the truth!
Alan: If there was a backlash then they're all chickens, nobody's come up and said anything.
Mimi: If you go in and make a record thinking about how everybody's going to react to it then, well, it's going to be bad.
I guess there will always be people who want Things We Lost In The Fire 2?
Can you talk me through the process of writing a Low song?
Alan: Well it's not terribly glamorous. I usually write most of the songs and sit around on the guitar. I usually like to come up with the vocal melody as you're coming up with the chords and structure of the song. You've got to work out a few things, sometimes it goes really quick and sometimes it takes a long time.
You don't have a strict way of writing songs then?
Alan: No, not really…
This hasn't changed at all with the change in line-up?
[Alan, Mimi and Matt shake their heads]
Alan: No, you've done a song and you get out and play. If I have a song, we'll just get together and work it out, figure out the vocal structure.
What about the lyrics?
Alan: No, we've never sat down and said “we're going to write a song about this…” or “this seems to be troubling me lately…” It's more about opening up your head, something going around, something that's catching your ears. When I'm writing lyrics, I get a lot of ideas and words, maybe a phrase here, this sort of rhymes…
Is that reflected on the song from The Great Destroyer, 'When I Go Deaf'?
Alan: Yeah, that kind of illustrates writing songs. [Alan and Mimi sing the lyrics: “I'll stop writing songs, stop scratching out lines, I won't have to think, it won't have to rhyme”). I'm a big rhymer.
Mimi: It's hard; you get into that rhyming rut.
How important is your religious faith in your music?
Alan: Oh, it's important. I believe everybody's religious faiths are important to them. Even if you're atheist, everybody's influenced by what they believe, why do you get up out of bed every morning, there's something you're hoping for, some sort of reason you continue stepping forward. Everybody has a definition of that. You don't have to be religious to realise that spirituality.
Is that partly why you did the Christmas album?
Alan: Um… [laughs], no actually that was because…
Mimi: We like Christmas!
Alan: We like Christmas, we had a few Christmas songs and said, “Wow, let's do a Christmas EP” and it ended up getting a lot more attention than we thought.
What's it like bringing up a family while staying in a band?
Alan: It's hard, it's a lot of work.
Mimi: Yeah, it's hard bringing up a newborn, but yeah, what are you going to do with them? You've got to take them along!
Alan: They're flexible, they like adventures and travelling.
Mimi: Oh yeah, the parents suffer! But they do really well, they like going on tour.
Do they like your music?
Mimi: Well, I think so.
Alan: Some songs…
Mimi: Our six-year-old gets upset about the Monkey song [“tonight the monkey dies”]. There might be some people upset that the monkey dies. Other than that, I think she's fine. They don't really have a choice, we don't ask them.
Ever done experiments to see what albums they like?
Mimi: Yeah, when we recorded The Great Destroyer our little boy was only a couple of months old. He put the headphones on and listened to the songs over and over. At one point he was crying so we put some of our songs on and he stopped. Then after about fifteen minutes he started to cry. We were trying to figure out what was going on.
Alan: It was because he was listening to My Bloody Valentine.
Thank you for your time, Low.
Alan: No problem, I just hope Matthew [Low's tour manager] doesn't threaten you with physical violence for overrunning. I hope not.