By Alexander Laurence
all the deserved excitement in San Francisco for The Noise
Pop 2004 Festival in the last week of February, Low was
(oddly enough) one of the most anticipated shows. The band
formed in Duluth, Minnesota in 1994. Low is perhaps the
slowest of the "slow" bands such as Mogwai and
La Bradford. During their shows nobody would even dare to
whisper during one of their songs. Low is centered on the
husband and wife team of guitarist/vocalist Alan Sparhawk
and drummer/vocalist Mimi Parker. Bassist Zak Sally joined
them in 1995. They started out working with the producer
Kramer, who mostly known for the band Bongwater.
Their first record was called I Could Live in Hope
(1994) followed by Long Division (1995) and The
Curtain Hits the Cast (1996). Back then Low was all
about minimalism. The "less is more" theory even
applied to Parker's drum set that was only a snare drum
and cymbal. When Zak Sally joined they recorded an EP of
Joy Division songs including the most famous "Means
To An End." In 1997, they merged with Kranky Records
and started a rich relationship. On Kranky, they released
the critically acclaimed albums Secret Name (1999)
and Things We Lost in the Fire (2001).
In 2001, Sparhawk and Parker had a child. They released
their sixth and most recent album Trust in 2002.
In 2004, we will be seeing a box sex by Low, which will
collect all their b-sides and collaborations.
by Keith Martin
Low were in San Francisco for Noise Pop and doing a mini-tour
of the West Coast. It was sold out. Mimi Parker was obviously
pregnant again with another child. I got to talk to Alan
Sparhawk before their show. Mimi Parker and Zak Sally joined
in before they all went to eat dinner. Low are nice, easy-going
people. They were refreshing to talk to after having interviewed
The Unicorns (who are, um, not very mellow) the day before.
AL: Were you in other
bands before Low?
Alan: Yeah. We were in rock bands. We were punk rock. It
was a mix between REM and Jane's Addiction. I remember playing
once with my shirt off. That would never happen today. With
Low we tried to do something really different. We were very
serious at the beginning. It was a little experiment at
first. We ended up writing some songs that we liked. We
thought it was good. We kept at it. It wasn't a joke as
much as an experiment to see how slow and quiet we could
play. We wanted to bounce that off a crowd and see how they
AL: Were there a lot
of bands playing slow music ten years ago?
Alan: No. There were not many of them. Now it is more commonplace.
It's not as shocking to play slow and quiet. Back in 1993,
most music was pretty loud.
AL: One of the members of the band Wire played the festival
All Tomorrow's Parties a few years ago. He called the festival
that year "a festival of slowness." I think bands
like Mogwai were there.
Alan: Godspeed You!
Black Emperor. We were there at the same time as Wire.
AL: Is each of your
albums like a chapter in a book?
Alan: A little bit. We have slowly mutated without forcing
it. Each record is a different phase. There are different
things we were into at each time. On different albums we
would steer things one way or another. On the first few
records we were still exploring how slow and empty we could
be. After three or four records, we were exploring textures.
Then we got more pop. We were more into song arrangements
AL: Have you worked with a producer before?
Alan: Yeah. We had producers before in the sense that there
was a person recording it. We never worked with a real producer
who told us what to do with a song. Someone who would come
in and say "let's try a different part here."
We never did anything like that. But we have worked with
some stylized people like Kramer. Everything he did had
the same style. That was the same deal when we worked with
Steve Albini. It's not like they enforce their sound on
you. It's more like there is a way they work. It all comes
out a certain way. It all depends on what the band sounds
AL: You found the sound of Low early on?
Alan: We are always finding it. I don't think that we have
found it yet. We get closer. For a few records we would
do a certain things and get to that point, but we would
Zak: We are not consciously looking for a sound. It's just
what comes out at that time. No matter what we do, it still
ends up sounding like us.
AL: You sort of have a bunch of influences and interests,
and write the songs. By the time you record them or play
them all that is forgotten?
Alan: The influences are whatever we are into or whatever
we are writing at the time. All that shapes where we decide
to lean that time into. It could be a very different place
than where we were at the beginning.
AL: Do you transform old songs live and change them because
you have moved on as a band?
Alan: Sometimes. What we put on the record: that is what
we decided how the song should be done. Sometimes by the
necessity of playing live a song will mutate and we will
play it differently. If we play "Violence" from
the second record, we play it very close to how it was played
on record. I don't feel that we have this desire to update
or rehash something we did. When we are playing songs from
eight years ago we want to do those songs justice. We would
rather save the new songs what we are feeling in the moment.
AL: What songs are you playing on this tour?
Zak: We are trying out some new songs.
Alan: Half the set will be new songs. We are getting ready
to record the new album so we have a bunch of new songs
we want to try out. You learn a lot about a song by just
AL: You have a box set coming out?
Alan: Yeah. That is going to be all the odds and ends.
We have been on a lot of compilations. We have a lot of
b-sides, split singles, and demos. We have different versions
of songs that never saw the light of day. There are a bunch
of songs that we recorded that never came out.
AL: Did you write the liner notes?
Alan: Yeah. That's the last thing we are waiting on. There
is going to be a booklet with a lot of photos.
Zak: We are putting it out ourselves. It will be on Chairkickers
Records. It's pretty massive.
AL: How many songs will there be?
Zak: It has 57 songs. It will come with a DVD.
AL: When will that come out?
Alan: It will be out in June 2004. It will available in
stores. They can go to our website.
AL How did you do the collaboration with The Dirty Three?
Alan: The people who did this EP series in Holland asked
us to be part of this series. We had just finished recording
Things We Lost In The Fire. We were tired of looking at
each other and making music. So we thought what would happen
if you brought in some other people? The Dirty Three were
going to be on tour in Europe at the same time. We asked
them if they had a day or two off so they could record with
us. That went really well. There was no preparation. Nothing.
We came in there with a few ideas and threw them around.
It was one day and a half of work. That's it. That was in
AL: What other bands have you played with in the past two
years that you have liked?
Alan: We did some shows with Radiohead this last summer
and fall. That was really fun. We opened a bunch of shows
for them in southern Europe, and in New York at Madison
Square Garden. It was really bizarre. We like Radiohead
and respect them. There are a million bands that would like
to open for them. But they chose us for a few shows. We
would like to do more with them but that is wishful thinking.
They are busy.
AL: Is there going to be a split CD with Radiohead?
Alan: Yeah. Thom Yorke might produce our next record.
AL: Are there any other bands you listen to?
Alan: Isis. We listen to so much stuff.
AL: When will you start doing the next record?
Alan: We will record in March and April. Mimi is going
to have a baby in May so that will take us out of commission
for a while.
AL: How does the family life, having kids around, go along
with the band?
Alan: It goes all right. It's hard work. But it's just
as hard as any other parent's life.
AL: The kids come on the road?
Mimi: One does.
Alan: Hollis comes. The other one has too because it's
still in Mimi's stomach.
AL: What music does Hollis like?
Alan: She likes Weezer and Gillian Welch. She's four. What
Mimi: She likes the "Hey Yeah" song.
AL: Hollis likes Outkast.
Alan: She likes to jump on the bandwagon.
AL: Are you reading any good books?
Zak: I am reading Charles Dickens right now. I am reading
about Henry Darger. Those books go good together. I read
Tale of Two Cities before and now I am reading Great Expectations.
AL: How about you?
Mimi: I got this book of Sam Shepard short stories.
Alan: He lives near us in Duluth, Minnesota.
AL: Have you seen any films?
Zak: We just got the Cramps DVD. It's where they play at
the mental hospital. I highly recommend it.
Alan: Spellbound is good. That is the most interesting
thing I have seen in a while. We don't have a lot of good
theaters in Duluth. I saw The Elephant Man.
AL: What do you like best: writing songs, recording, or
Alan: Each part has its pluses and minuses. They vary wildly.
Writing is fun, but sitting in the basement all the time
and not coming up with anything is horrible. Playing songs
is fun when it works. Touring and the stress that comes
with trying to coordinate things when you are bringing along
a child can wear on you after a while.
Mimi: Touring is more stressful for us. It's the only time
I have a vacation.
Alan: It's a vacation for Mimi and hard work for me. I
tend to more of an asshole when on tour.
AL: Do you think the whole idea of slow music, since it
is psychedelic and spacey; it encourages people to smoke
Alan: Sure. Doesn't all music. Every band is like that.
People, who are going to do it, are going to do it anyways.
It doesn't explain to me why at one point in my life I thought
Bob Mould was the devil.
Mimi: People who don't smoke pot attend shows too.
AL: It's like trance music.
Alan: "Introspective" is the word people use.
Some music appeals to the physical interactions of the brain.
Physical experience makes your body come alive. Some stuff
is like more taking it through your mind, or whatever. We
are just playing our music. If it's something nice and pretty
that they go to sleep to at night. If they get an altered
reality or revelation that is great.
Zak: I would be spooked. I don't smoke pot myself.
AL: What is Duluth known for?
Alan: It's cold and it's on the tip of Lake Superior. It's
like a mini San Francisco. There are water and bridges.
It's like an arts community of one hundred thousand people.
Bob Dylan was from there.
AL: Who does your website?
Alan: Catherine Lewis keeps track of it. It's getting re-designed.
AL: Do you have any advice for people who want to form
Alan: Don't be like Low. You'll be fine.