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An interview with Alan Sparhawk from Low

November 7, 2009


Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to chat with Alan Sparhawk (he’s in the middle in the above picture, if you’re wondering) from the band that are deemed slowcore masters – Low. They had been out here for the 2009 Sydney Festival and can remember being raptured by their set in the most serene of places – The Famous Speigeltent set up in Hyde Park. At the time Drums And Guns had been out for not too long, and the album was something I did get into in the interview, but I was intrigued to see what Alan though of the concept of the Don’t Look Back (done in conjunction with ATP) show that they played as part of the festival. They would be revisiting their classic 2001 release Things We Lost In The Fire for that particular show.The below is a transcript of that chat earlier this year.

Philippe – What convinced you to take on that kind of concept (Don’t Look Back)?

Alan – It’s an interesting challenge. As a band over 15 years we’ve probably played over 1000 shows, just the opportunity to do something a little bit different in that way is interesting. Most of the time our set list and our sets are very loose and we don’t know until right before we play what we’re going to be playing. This is interesting because it’s sort of a set thing and you have to find yourself in the moment there. It’s different from doing our own shows where we’re playing the songs that we’re working on right now, or we’re excited about at the time. It’s a good exercise and I think the first time we had to go back and learn a couple of the songs again it was fun.

You never had reservations about learning those songs again?

No, it’s so, I don’t know. We’ve never really been too hung up on the past or comparisons of what we were then and what we are now. It doesn’t really, I guess for someone it must be sort of a weird game that I have to go back and do that, but I was comfortable with it. A lot of those songs we still pull out live from time to time anyway, so it wasn’t a big stretch, but yeah, it’s fun. It is what it is, it’s Low playing songs from a record we did seven or eight years ago.

Let’s move on to another subject, I was wondering if you could tell me more about your school project in Kenya, it sounded fascinating.

Well, it really is more a friend of ours project. We went to him and we were going to do some Christmas shows a few years ago and we raised some money and I went to him and said “with this much money what can we do in this village in Kenya?”, this friend of ours had been going over there for a couple of years and recording their music, getting to know the village, doing some projects there and raising money for what already was a running school. They were basically meeting under trees and makeshift buildings here and there and he came back and said “well, we can build a school”, and it was sort of a surprise because the economy’s different there and a little money goes a long way in their economy, so we were able to finance most of building this school.

Did you visit the school?

Yeah, when I went over I guess a year ago this past summer. I did go over there and got to meet the village, the people are the Masai, one of the Aboriginal cultures of Africa and they live a few hours drive outside of Nairobi. It was amazing, it was really interesting. They were beautiful people, and I guess more spiritually intense than we are.

It fascinates me to know people are making music in such far off places.

Oh yeah, most of the music is vocal which is interesting because they’re traditionally nomadic, they don’t have a lot of possessions. Music is something they never really made with instruments, it was all singing and rhythm. I guess personally it was an amazing experience because for a middle American farmer kid it’s the other side of the world, and just to be there and feel the resonance of who they are spiritually was in many ways a shock to me and it really woke up parts of my mind. I said it a couple of times, the only thing I can really liken it too is meeting Jesus or something. Strange. It was really great, I’d like to go again. This friend of ours who coordinated that, who’s the original person who’s been going over there and working with them, he’s actually going to be over there while we’re in Australia.

I was wondering if we could talk about your latest release called ‘Drums and Guns’. I found that with every release you look to not limit yourselves too much in sound, and I thought you really stretched your wings with ‘The Great Destroyer’. But with ‘Drums and Guns’ I thought you wanted to explore more of a sparse, electronic edge to what you do, that was my personal opinion while I was listening to it, what are your thoughts on that?

Yeah, I agree. We didn’t set out to make electronic or sample based music with Drums and Guns. Right after we made Great Destroyer, the stretch we took on that album to me answered some of the things we were headed for the last number of years. I remember very distinctively after that record thinking “OK, there’s a weight of my shoulders, I feel like the next recording is going to be further out”. I guess I knew after making Great Destroyer that it would be very different. Not because we didn’t like it, I just felt it did what we were hoping it to. Like I said it answered some questions and resolved some stuff we had for a while, and having that off of you gives you a sense of a little more freedom. Sorry about that, that’s my three year old son on the kazoo.

It’s all good, obviously some musical influence there.

Yeah, he’s got a thing for David Bowie. It’s sort of disturbing.

I also read at the time of Lost In The Fire, the album you’ll be performing down here for the Don’t Look Back series, the bassist at the time of the recording of that album, Zack, had mentioned that touring was just strange and you’d been used to slowly increasing numbers at your shows, and then crowds just grew expediently after that release. Did you ever feel it was strange?

Yeah, it’s always strange to see a few more people coming. Particularly that record in England and Europe was a big step forward. We had done a few records before that and were growing a little bit in America and stuff, but Europe and UK that was sort of the arrival of records. The Christmas record and that record are the ones that they’ve stood up and paid attention to, for some reason. Yeah, it’s strange. For most part the fan base has been a very steady growth and I can’t imagine being a band that’s around for a year or two then has a huge, huge hit and plays to thousands of people, that would be overwhelming. We’ve been lucky, it’s grown pretty solid over the years. Every once in a while there’ll be a little bump, but I’m surprised anybody shows up any night!

Low – “Breaker” mp3
Low website
Low myspace

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