Capital Times – Low Feature

Capital Times

Husband-and-wife team behind indie rock band Low rides highs and lows

JOSHUA M. MILLER | Special to the Capital Times Sep 14, 2015


Since forming in the early ’90s in Duluth, Minnesota, the trio Low have largely thrived in doing things in unconventional ways. They play rock and roll in their own frequency.

“We’re basically just a rock and roll band,” Sparhawk said in a recent phone interview. “We started out extremely quiet and slow but since then explored different possibilities within things.”

That line of thinking stems from singer Alan Sparhawk and his wife (and drummer) Mimi Parker as well as current bass player Steve Garrington. The trio is coming back to Madison to the High Noon Saloon on Friday with a new album, “Ones and Sixes.”

Initially, the band’s quiet sound was often described as “slowcore”. “It’s actually not that bad of a label. Core refers to a certain kind of tension or weight,” Sparhawk said.

But as they recorded more albums they got more ambitious in expanding their sound, and were ready to shake things up again for “Ones and Sixes.”

“Ones and sixes, those numbers came at a point when I was sort of doing demos and keeping track of beats per minute,” he said. “I kept writing them in fives and zeros so it’d either be there at 105 or 80 or 90, always ending in a zero or five. At some point I felt I was being too predictable and needed to start to randomize it more.”

Sparhawk tried to find something that was random but was still easy to remember later. Basically he wanted to make it “in control and not in control.”

“Which part of the chaos do you control? And how much of it do you need for it to fall into the direction you need it to go?” he said. “How do you grapple with the chaos in life and in the world? Where are the very small ways that we can nudge that in a direction that’s hopeful? Beginnings and ends and randomness, chaos and stability.”

For one of his songs he found some notes he had written in a notebook years prior that had a couple chords written that didn’t make a song. But when he revisited them, he found new inspiration and used them for a new song.

“It’s like time travel. A piece of you from something before,” he says. “This little fragment that you knew had something [special] about it and sometimes you have to let it sit for a long time and accidently come across it again and discover the rest of the puzzle.”

“Ones and Sixes” was recorded at Justin Vernon’s Eau Claire April Base studio with producer BJ Burton, a place Low had wanted to work at for years.

“They had some really good gear there and a good room and some really good people working there. It’s a comfortable place,” he said. “It’s few hours from our house so we could go work for a few days and go home and go back and work a few days.”

Having his wife as a musical collaborator has helped ground Low as a unit, Sparhawk said, even as the music has gone farther and farther afield.

“The unique feature is that the drummer and I are married and we have a family. In some ways it’s an anchor with some kind of complications and pushes and pulls,” he says. “It’s been an anchor for the band. We’ve been through a lot.”

Read Low feature at Capitol Times