Music & clubs

An interview with Alan Sparhawk of Low

The Minnesota-based band established a slowcore template that was, in retrospect, only slightly less significant than Nirvana’s. Low plays Lido on May 30.

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With the release of their first album in 1994, the Minnesota-based band Low established a slowcore template that was, in retrospect, only slightly less significant than Nirvana’s. Founding member, guitarist and primary songwriter Alan Sparhawk, who leads the band (and spookily harmonizes) with his wife, the drummer Mimi Parker, has spent the last few years undergoing an aesthetic crisis of conscience. The result has been both experimental solo work and a tougher sound for Low, which you can experience on their new album C’mon (Sub Pop) and at Lido on Monday, May 30.

What was the sound of your childhood?

My mother played piano; she was the pianist in church. We would go to church all the time and sing hymns quite a bit. My father was a drummer. He’s a fan of jazz, but as we lived in Minnesota the only gigs you could get were with country music, so he played in country bands. It’s funny, I don’t blame them, but they never taught me anything. [laughs]

You’re a self-made man.

What I took from my father was his love for music. I came away with the feeling of: people make music. It is not some distant thing. We were far out in the country, really isolated: no TV, no MTV – the only radio I could get was from Canada. And we were really poor. So we just didn’t have the references from normal society.

I hear a great freedom and joyfulness on the new album.

Yeah, there was a freedom that came out of realizing that the songs were very personal, that they were something you would say to someone you love or you have been through life with for a long time and suffered joys and pain and stuff. Once I realized the songs were feeling like that, it just seemed like: well, let’s let them be pretty then.

It is hard to let beauty shine sometimes.

Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that. Is it fear? Maybe it is selfishness. Maybe we’re afraid that if we do something that is beautiful that it is maybe saying too much about ourselves. Or that we are only telling one side of the story. The last record we did, we went in and said, “Okay, let’s break the song apart in fragments.” Almost intentionally being hard or ugly. Having done that record gave a freedom to then go and let something be beautiful.

I love that occasional banjo twinkling out.

[Laughs] Great! There’s a running joke in our town. It says you can’t make a record in Duluth without a banjo on it: the banjo is the sound that signals white people to start drinking and dancing.

It seems as if you were struggling a bit a few years ago.

Was it a spiritual struggle? How do you approach your spirituality? I think it’s everything. Your spirituality defines who you are and who another person is. And if true creativity is happening, I really feel that there is something outside of us. You can’t really take credit other than just spending a little time listening. For me, walking down the street is spiritual, so I’m not sure if there is really any weight to me saying that music is spiritual. When we are all together again for eternity, we will probably speak a language that just sounds more like music.

LOW W/ DARK DARK DARK Mon May 30, 21:00 | Lido, Cuvrystraße 7, Kreuzberg, U-Bhf Schlesische Tor,