Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.
 

Clip: No More Slowcore

Expand Messages
  • Carl Zimring
    No More Slowcore Hushed Minnesota trio Low cranks it up to midtempo on its latest LP. Andrew
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 28, 2005
      <http://music.clevescene.com/Issues/2005-01-26/music/music2.html>

      No More Slowcore
      Hushed Minnesota trio Low cranks it up to midtempo on its latest LP.
      Andrew Marcus

      Published: Wednesday, January 26, 2005

      "This sounds very rock and roll, but I'm out sitting next to the pool at
      the Best Western on Sunset Boulevard," says Alan Sparhawk, singer-guitarist
      for Minnesota's Low, who's in L.A. with his band to shoot a music video for
      its new album, The Great Destroyer. "This is not what we do every day. It's
      20 below back in Duluth -- they just got nine more inches of snow." In the
      background, his wife, singer-drummer Mimi Parker, can be heard talking to
      the couple's two children, an infant and a seven-year-old. Bassist Zak
      Sally is nearby as well.

      If poolside, Sunset Strip, doesn't sound like a surprising setting for a
      rock band, consider that Low isn't a rock band -- or at least has never
      easily been characterized as one. This is Low, the wintriest of the wintry.
      But its current locale, like its jump from the Kranky label to the
      higher-profile Sub Pop, isn't the most striking thing about the trio
      nowadays. A band that once wrote essays in atmospherics has become more
      emotionally and musically direct than any group on its new label's diverse
      roster. A band that spent a decade as an influential cult act has opened
      for Radiohead on a two-week European tour. This is a band whose songwriter,
      Sparhawk -- once the subtlest of the subtle -- recently battled with
      something akin to a nervous breakdown, facing his personal demons in bold,
      passionate strokes.

      "Trust was when I knew everything," says Sparhawk, referring to the band's
      2002 album, "and sometime between then and writing this stuff, I realized I
      don't know anything. I used to always write afterwards -- like, 'This
      happened and this happened,' or 'Here's my thought on this thing that I've
      been carrying around for years,' whereas this record feels more like 'Holy
      crap, what's this?'"

      To grasp the unexpectedness of Low's new turn, you have to know how the
      ride started. After knowing each other since the 4th grade, Sparhawk and
      Parker hooked up with original bassist John Nichols in 1993 for their first
      show, at the RecyclaBell, a phone company building turned music venue in
      Duluth. "It was really funny -- it was what we expected: Most people hated
      it and ran out of the room," says Sparhawk, crucially adding, "Some people
      really, really liked it." The people who walked out weren't reacting to
      some loud, fast racket, but just the opposite. "When we started out, we
      intentionally pursued minimalism and slowness," Sparhawk explains. "It was
      almost a joke, like, 'Let's see how slow we can play and have it still be
      music.'"

      To the group's slight annoyance, if also to its indie-world benefit, the
      sound quickly gained the band a label as well as a dedicated cult
      following. Low invented the dark, easy-listening music of the '90s, which
      an acquaintance with a sense of humor dubbed "slowcore."

      "A friend of mine heard us at the show, and he just kinda called me one day
      and was like, 'I got it! I got it! Slowcore!'" recalls Sparhawk. "And then
      he just laughed, and I was like, 'Yeah, that's great.' A couple months
      later, when the record came out, we had our first interview and they were
      like, 'You play so slow, it's so weird.' And I just kinda laughed and said,
      'Yeah, a friend of mine calls it slowcore.' And then, six months later,
      that's what everybody was calling us."

      Not anymore. Compared to 2002's languid Trust -- much less the band's '93
      debut -- The Great Destroyer is, well, pop-rock: ragged, folky, deep
      pop-rock, but both pop and rock nonetheless. Sparhawk's voice, raised above
      a murmur and past a croon, is closer to Matthew Sweet than to Leonard
      Cohen. Parker, whose drumming, at its sparest and most supple, approximates
      the beating human heart perhaps more than that of any drummer before her,
      speeds up to (gasp) midtempo and creates a wide-ranging panoply of sound.
      Bassist Sally, who joined in 1995, admirably provides the constant between
      divergent gems like the sticky riffs of "California" and the gorgeous
      acoustic quietude of "When I Go Deaf."

      This transformation can be attributed, at least in part, to Sparhawk's
      state of mind. "I'm not afraid to say that our records always kinda reflect
      where my head's at and, looking at this one, I can definitely look back and
      say, 'Yeah, well, it's been a shitty year,'" he says. "Shitty in the world,
      with some people we know," he elaborates, "and my own sanity being somewhat
      in question." But he won't give specifics beyond the following: "I spent a
      little time with doctors and medication and -- you know. To me it's just
      been something that's been coming for many years. I've been fighting it off
      frantically, and the process of having to fight it off so hard has kind of
      made me collapse and . . . I'm doing OK now. We'll still be able to tour."

      Whatever Sparhawk went through, whatever internal confrontation he's faced,
      its effect on his lyrics is dramatic. Where he once wrote songs so pent-up
      that they added faint new shades to the word sublime, Destroyer is filled
      with passionate, direct lyricism. "When I Go Deaf," for instance, has
      lyrics so sharp and evocative -- "Stay out all night/Looking at the sky/We
      will make love/We won't have to fight, won't have to speak, won't have to
      lie" -- that if the song isn't covered by another band within a year, it
      can only be out of respect for the original.

      But it's not just introspection that's changed Sparhawk -- forced
      extroversion has also played a part. In 2003, Radiohead invited the band to
      tour Europe. Low subsequently played live for tens of thousands in Milan,
      Florence, Madrid, and elsewhere, but according to Sparhawk, it was
      Radiohead, the band itself, that had the greatest influence on Low. "To see
      a band that's sometimes doing some pretty bizarre music, and yet the fans
      are totally there with them -- it makes you think, 'Wow, maybe we should
      see about a bigger label and see if we can just make music; let's not think
      about it so much,'" says Sparhawk. "You forget sometimes that you're lucky
      -- you get to make music. I mean, do it, quit sabotaging yourself. And quit
      thinking it's gotta be so high on the mountain, you know? What the hell's
      going on right now? Think about it. That's kinda what I did, and I'm
      excited," he says. "I guess."

      This transformation can be attributed, at least in part, to Sparhawk's
      state of mind. "I'm not afraid to say that our records always kinda reflect
      where my head's at and, looking at this one, I can definitely look back and
      say, 'Yeah, well, it's been a shitty year,'" he says. "Shitty in the world,
      with some people we know," he elaborates, "and my own sanity being somewhat
      in question." But he won't give specifics beyond the following: "I spent a
      little time with doctors and medication and -- you know. To me it's just
      been something that's been coming for many years. I've been fighting it off
      frantically, and the process of having to fight it off so hard has kind of
      made me collapse and . . . I'm doing OK now. We'll still be able to tour."

      Whatever Sparhawk went through, whatever internal confrontation he's faced,
      its effect on his lyrics is dramatic. Where he once wrote songs so pent-up
      that they added faint new shades to the word sublime, Destroyer is filled
      with passionate, direct lyricism. "When I Go Deaf," for instance, has
      lyrics so sharp and evocative -- "Stay out all night/Looking at the sky/We
      will make love/We won't have to fight, won't have to speak, won't have to
      lie" -- that if the song isn't covered by another band within a year, it
      can only be out of respect for the original.

      But it's not just introspection that's changed Sparhawk -- forced
      extroversion has also played a part. In 2003, Radiohead invited the band to
      tour Europe. Low subsequently played live for tens of thousands in Milan,
      Florence, Madrid, and elsewhere, but according to Sparhawk, it was
      Radiohead, the band itself, that had the greatest influence on Low. "To see
      a band that's sometimes doing some pretty bizarre music, and yet the fans
      are totally there with them -- it makes you think, 'Wow, maybe we should
      see about a bigger label and see if we can just make music; let's not think
      about it so much,'" says Sparhawk. "You forget sometimes that you're lucky
      -- you get to make music. I mean, do it, quit sabotaging yourself. And quit
      thinking it's gotta be so high on the mountain, you know? What the hell's
      going on right now? Think about it. That's kinda what I did, and I'm
      excited," he says. "I guess." -
    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.