Low, a band notorious for doing the same great thing for quite a long time – 13 years to be exact – appear to be doing something different.
First there was The Great Destroyer, Low’s first semi-rock record, which was released in January 2005. It was recorded by Dave Fridmann, and the band experimented with distortion, a faster tempo and a heavier use of dynamics. Next, longtime bassist Zak Sally left the band (again). The band replaced Sally with Matt Livingston in December of 2005. And while these three things admittedly aren’t exactly earth-shattering events, if you’re a Low fan, well, they kind of are.
So how is all of this change affecting the band?
“So far, so good,” said Alan Sparhawk. “Matt is a Duluth [Minnesota] native. His first instrument is actually saxophone – he studied it and is a ‘trained musician.’ I’ve known him for about 12 years. And, you know, there are two paths that you can take as a musician: the technical one and the one based more on feeling. And Matt takes the latter, which we really like.”
Preparing to head back out on the road yet again to support The Great Destroyer, and with the sound of his child echoing in the background, there is a noticeable restraint in Sparhawk’s voice as he slowly considers every answer that he’s about to give.
“Matt’s a different mixture than Zak was. It’s been interesting so far,” Sparhawk said. “Mimi and I are coming up with ideas and bouncing them off of him. And we’re both really just looking at this as a time to get adjusted, work on new material and to kind of wait and see where the songs take us. I guess we kind of have a clean slate to work with.”
Sparhawk said the band has enough songs to start recording a new record. “At a certain point you reach that stage where you have options about where the songs are going to take you. It’s nice because I feel like we’ve always been able to do what we want as a band. Mimi and I are trying to treat this as a time to see what other things we can possibly do, in terms of our music and our sound. I feel more of a sense of freedom than ever before.”
Perhaps the single most important key to Low has always been its intelligent and inspiring grasp of the possibilities that lie in the use of dynamics and minimalism.
A compliment: no other band in the rock world has ever sounded like Low. Often relying on nothing more than melodic rhythm guitar, light drumming with just a snare and a ride cymbal, single bass notes and the complimentary and often stunning vocals of Sparhawk and Parker, Low has created more with less than any other band since rock fell into favor.
“We try to reach into the extremes,” Sparhawk said in agreement. “It’s like with rhythm: at the end of the day, you’re either they’re or you’re not. And with the music, I have a certain peace right now in where we usually end up going. But the trouble is just making sure that it still hits me in the face as hard as it used to.”
After 13 years Low is still working to create a sound that sounds like fresh, cold air when compared to all of the cliches that currently inhabit the rock world.
“I feel like we’re lucky,” Sparhawk confessed. “It’s one of those things that I think about at 2 in the morning when I’m lying in bed.”
Low will play at Doug Fir with Lavender Diamond March 6. Tickets are $15.