Alan Sparhawk from Low

Alan Sparhawk from Low

by Brent

How did Low form?

We started in ’93.  I had been in a “louder” band for a while.  I quit and decided I wanted to make music with mimi and we just were attracted to quieter, more minimal ideas.  It started as just a fun experiment to see how far we could push a slow/quiet approach.  Once we had a few songs, we thought it would be interesting to see what kind of reaction it would get from people.

How did you develop the signature “Low” sound?

Like I said above, it was intentional at first to play slow and quiet, but once we had written a few songs we liked and started doing vocal harmonies, we were very excited because it took on a life of its own.  Over the next several years we toured all the time and I guess defined our own thing/sound.

How do you feel about being called “The Premiere Slowcore band”, and “a band that has defined a whole subgenre of music”?

It’s a bit flattering, even though I guess I’ve always been frustrated with knee-jerk genre names.  I hope we’re more than just “that slow band”, but it’s pointless to fight with critics.  There are definitely more slow/quiet/minimal bands around now than there were 10 years ago, but it’s all part of the cycle maybe.

What is your favourite Low recording, and why?

That would be hard to nail down. There are few things we’ve done that I regret, but no obvious favorites or records that are what I’d call the epitome of low.  The only record of ours that I ever listen to is the Christmas e.p. – it’s just fun to listen to. . . at Christmas time, of course.

How do you approach writing lyrics?

It varies.  It’s rare that I have ideas for lines without any music. I’m not a “set poetry to music” kind of guy.  Usually a song starts with me fumbling with the guitar and maybe a melody with a phrase or two will spill out.  With a little luck, I’ll end up with enough nonsense that can then be formed into a song that makes sense.  a lot of times, lyric writing is an act of allowing the subconscious to speak and then forming it into something.  Once a few ideas come out, you can look at them and get an idea of what’s going on and then finish the song based on that.  Some songs take months to finish, but some of my favorites were written in 5 minutes.

What was the recording process for your most recent cd, “Trust”, like?  Give us an inside view on the thought-processes you had as you entered the studio.

Recording “trust” was the marriage of two ideas – since the last record, we had been talking about recording closer to home, sort of doing it ourselves, without time restraints.  The other idea was to work with someone who took a very different approach to mixing from how we had done the last few (with Steve Albini).  This was not because we disliked how we had worked before, it was just that we know ourselves enough to know we need to always try different things or we get too lazy.  Anyway, we arranged to record the record here in Duluth, with a very open schedule and cheap enough that we could take some risks with ideas without worrying about wasting money.  Meanwhile, we were able to convince Chad Blake to work with us, but he only had time to do the mixing (he was in the middle of finishing peter Gabriel’s record) so it worked out well – track it on our own and then take it to someone cool for mixing.  as for our approach, we had some songs we liked and they seemed a little darker and less ornamented, so we let them go that way.  Usually the songs steer the mood in the studio.

You’ve been with kranky (one of our favorite labels) for a while. How did you hook up with them, and what is your relationship with them like?

We met them while we were still on our earlier label, Vernon Yard.  They used to come see us in Chicago, and we had been introduced to them by our friends in Labradford.  When we found ourselves without a label, they wrote us a very nice letter, extending an invitation to work with them.  There was no need to think twice – we love working with them.  I think they are the best label in the world.  once you get past how mean they are, they are very supportive of their artists and they pay their bills.

How did you hook up to tour with Radiohead? Have you met the guys from that band? Is there any chance of a recording collaboration between both bands?

We heard a few years ago that they had mentioned us favorably in some interviews.  That was nice.  last summer we met them in Spain at a festival we were both playing at.  They came and saw our set and left a nice note for us and invited us to come say hello after their set.  We chatted a bit – nice guys.  The invitation to play with them this summer came unexpected.  It should be fun, or at least strange.  I highly doubt there will be any collaboration. They seem to stick to themselves.

You mention on your website that two of the members of Low are Mormon.  Does your religion affect your music or lyrics in any way?

I think it does, but that’s mostly just because I see hints of it in the ideas that fall out of my head (as mentioned above…) that end up in songs. I don’t force it, but then I don’t hold it back.  There’s probably more in there than most people (including myself) think.  it’s important to us.

Who are some songwriters/bands that your are listening to now? Who inspires you musically?

I am, naturally, listening to the new radiohead record.  I like it – it’s . . . enjoyable.  I just keep listening to it and it keeps getting better.  The last Gillian Welch record has been a big favorite around here since it came out, so now we are rolling with her new one.  As for musical inspirations, we’re just inspired by all kinds of stuff – anything that’s good and real.  Son House, System of a Down, Lucinda Williams, Califone, our friend Haley Bonar – anything is fair game.

In your eyes, what do you think of the “slowcore” scene? How friendly is the music scene for quieter bands like yourselves?

Honestly, I don’t listen to as much slow/quiet stuff as people would think, in fact, I’m probably a worse critic of it.  It’s rare that something like that really blows me away, so I’m probably not the best person to ask about any “scene”.  seems like people are more open to that stuff now than they were back when we started, but then there’s alot more of it going on, too – harder to find the worthwhile stuff.  We have been very lucky to have been able to do things the way we have.  Our fans are very loyal and smart and it took a lot of work to get where we are.

Besides the radiohead tour, what is in the future for Low?

We are trying to get a little time off the road and maybe wait a bit before putting out another record.  Over the last 10 years, we’ve put out a record every 12 -15 months.  Most bands are nice enough to give people a break from time to time, so that’s what we’re trying to do.  We’re working on a film soundtrack later this summer for a director named Travis Wilkerson, Zak is finishing up another comic, and the Black-Eyed Snakes have a record coming out in August, so there’s plenty going on.

Any other comments?

Feel free to ask anything else.

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