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Low: an interview with Alan Sparhawk




As a long, cold winter slowly and reluctantly starts to shake off its heavy coat in the US midwestern state of Minnesota, and spring is barely alive, Alan Sparhawk of American Indie rock band Low feels its time to 'come out of the cave and greet the world again,' and he has good reason to.

  

Low, the band Sparhawk started back in 1993 with his now wife and mother of his two children, drummer and vocalist Mimi Parker, have just released their new album C'mon and they are ready to pack their bags and hit the road for a pretty extensive tour of the US, Canada and Europe. The current three piece ensemble comprises Mimi on vocals and drums, Alan on guitar and vocals and Steve Garrington on bass.

  

Their music seems to escape pigeon holing, sliding between genres and sounds, always evolving and changing. It's slow and melodic, simple yet intricate, quiet and unassuming yet demands attention. With amazing harmonies and a pure, unique sound Low's music is simply beautiful.

  

C'mon has been three years in the making, with songs written and ideas explored in between other projects. Alan has been involved in a side project called The Retribution Gospel Choir, and along with Mimi worked on writing and performing the music for "Heaven", a contemporary dance piece they were involved in. It gave them all a little time out from the band, letting them come back fresh and with new ideas.

  

The album itself was recorded in an old church in their hometown of Duluth. "The local community took over the church, and we've installed a studio as well and worked with using the whole space." Alan said.

  

The sound achieved in the church/studio, with its high vaulted ceilings and open spaces is amazing. There's a certain magical element to the acoustics and resonance you hear in a church. "There's so much history here, I'm sure it leaves a residual in the space." Alan shared.

  

Some of the songs on the new album have been bouncing around for a while. But being familiar with a song doesn't always make it easier to record.

  

"Sometimes the ones you've had the longest are the hardest to record. It's hard to let go of your preconception of what it should sound like, and there's the chance you could miss out on opportunity for something new and unexpected", Alan declared.

  

"You've played it on stage and dreamed of what it would sound like. Like $20- we've had it for a while, it's familiar, and it was very hard to find the right way to deliver it in the studio."

  

For a band that has been quietly standing just to the outside of mainstream recognition for over 15 years , they seem to have picked up a few quite well known fans along the way. Robert Plant covered two of their songs on his album Band Of Joy and even picked up a Grammy nomination for his interpretation of Low's song "Silver Rider."

  

"It was such a surprise and honour to have him cover our songs. And we didn't even know about it until the album came out." Alan shared.

  

And having such a legendary musician recognise and admire your songs has its advantages. Alan was off to meet the man himself at Plant's show the following evening.

  

A band renowned for their impressive stage presence and performance, Low started off as a heavy touring band. As circumstances have evolved, their touring schedule has slowed down a little over the years. But getting on the road and keeping in touch and engaging with their fans is still at the core of the band existence.

  

"It's the part of it that makes it real." Alan said.

  

But with 2 children at home, it's not always easy. "For the first 6 or 7 years of her life, our daughter Hollis saw the world," Alan recalls.

  

Now that their offspring are a little older and at school, Mimi and Alan are lucky enough to have a good friend who comes and stays with the children when they are on the road. And they will be on the road for a good few months, and it is hard being separated from their family.

  

"But hopefully they'll come and join us later in this tour," Alan added.

  

There may also be a little visit to Australia later in 2011.

  

"We are definitely hoping to make it down there before the end of the year" Alan revealed.

  

Our fingers are crossed that we may have the chance to share the musical virtuoso that is Low again soon, but thankfully we have a beautiful shiny and new collection of musical brilliance entitled C'mon to keep us amused until they find their way down here again.

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