Low turns it up to high on 'Let It Rip'


February 11, 2005



After seven years and more than a decade as a band, the Duluth, Minn., trio Low continues to surprise listeners with just how much can be done with a lot of atmosphere and the sparest ingredients of guitar, bass, drums and vocals.

On "The Great Destroyer," Low continues the move away from the somnambulant and understated "slowcore" sounds of its earliest albums that began a few years ago when it worked with Chicagoan Steve Albini. For the second disc in a row, guitarist-vocalist Alan Sparhawk, his wife, drummer-vocalist Mimi Parker, and bassist Zak Sally recorded in upstate New York with Dave Fridmann, who's best known for the lush, orchestral sound he's brought to the Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev. But more than any studio trickery, the album succeeds because of the strength of the songwriting.

I spoke with Sparhawk while the group was on tour, driving its van through the Holland Tunnel en route to a show in Manhattan.



  • 9 tonight
  • Metro, 3730 N. Clark
  • Tickets, $16 (18-over show)
  • (773) 549-0203



    Q. Tell me about making this album, Alan.

    A. I hate to be anti-mysterious or anything, but I'm really happy with it. We had wanted to work with Dave [Fridmann] for some time, but had never really gotten to the record where it was like, "Ding! This one has to be with Dave." But I knew that if I was going to do pop songs again, I want to make sure they sound right.

    Q. So you consider this a pop record?

    A. That was part of working with Dave. I knew he'd do a good job no matter what we brought him, but I knew this album was going to have some songs that were going to be louder, a little more aggressive, and ... I don't know, I don't want to call it "pop," because essentially we've been making pop music all our lives. It's just that sometimes if you're going to do a certain kind of song, you need someone to really do that thing and just exploit it -- make it big when that chorus comes in -- and Dave's the guy for that.

    We noticed when we were starting to write these songs that they were pushing us toward a louder, more aggressive thing, and we said, "You know, we always regret when we stifle that. Let's just let it rip, let's go, let's do it." It wasn't so much, "Let's make a loud record" as it was, "Let's record these songs the way they want to be recorded instead of sticking them in a box." It was exciting, and I'm happy we did that. It's confusing a lot of fans and a lot of critics, but it gives them something to talk about. Despite the fact that it took 12 years to do something that sounds this different from our first record, every record we do, we usually try to push it a little bit, and push ourselves into a place where we're uncomfortable. Hopefully, that keeps people listening.

    Q. Critical shorthand seems to hold that Low gets louder with every new album. How do you think the sound has developed over the last few releases?

    A. When we started, we had our rules that we placed upon ourselves: We were the slow, quiet band, and we were comfortable exploring the possibilities of that. But I think as we explored that, we took on new factors. On the last couple of records, we were kind of dipping into something else, but we were a little cautious. This time, with everything we've been going through and a certain maturity in the band, we just went for it.

    Q. There seems to be a conceptual construction for this album, but I'm not sure I follow it.

    A. When I saw these recurring themes happening, I thought, "Oh, that's interesting." I wouldn't say there's a really defined flow and story from song to song, there are just a lot of references to this character "The Great Destroyer." Sometimes it's talking about him or something that he or she is doing, and sometimes it feels like the song is in the voice of the character, like the last few songs on the record. At the time we were making it, I didn't necessarily have any huge concepts. But now that we've done it, it seems like this character is a way for me to say what it would be like if you woke up one day and realized that you were the devil or the source of all the negativity in the world.


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