Off the Record: Low + Jeff Tweedy at Saki
Listening to Low's latest record, The Invisible Way, it's difficult to fathom that its inception was essentially a matter of chance. After numerous invitations, the band finally stopped by Wilco's studio last year and witnessed Jeff Tweedy at work on the next Mavis Staples album. Hearing the intimacy and warmth of these recordings, the Duluth-based group was inspired to book some time in the Loft, with Tweedy acting as producer. Last night's monthly Off the Record event at Saki homed in on the inspirations and process behind Low's new album, culminating in a lengthy Q&A session with the band and Tweedy.
Over the course of a short, stripped-down set that preceded the interview, Low showcased songs from its upcoming record alongside tunes that dated back to the group's formation 20 years ago. The voices of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker intertwined atop the group's delicate arrangements, bolstered by instrumentalist Steve Garrington, who coaxed haunting chords from the store's upright piano. New songs like "Plastic Cup" and "Clarence White" seemed to signal a return to the sparse yet focused aesthetic that the band channeled on its early releases. The parallels were especially pronounced when the band played a rendition of "Words," culled from its debut LP, a song that established many of the defining characteristics that the band still clings to. Sparhawk acknowledged the similarities, explaining, "There's a lot of what we do that I feel is pretty much exactly that same as when we started, and there are parts of my brain that feel like they're trying to frame the same question over and over again."
In the Q&A session that followed, Sparhawk and Tweedy spoke about their experience working together and—at the behest of a fan—their purchases at Saki (most notably, a well-worn copy of Pat Travers's Makin' Magic). Sparhawk was quick to praise Tweedy's expertise behind the boards at the Loft, noting that "There's something about really knowing your studio…because Jeff and Tom [Schick] had been working in the studio for a long time, they had it all figured out." Tweedy acknowledged his increasing preference for production work, claiming "I do feel more comfortable doing that than making my own records because I have to deal with my own psychology which is much more difficult—you kind of need outside help for that." However, he continually downplayed his influence on the recording of The Invisible Way, insisting that Low came to him with ideas that were nearly fully realized. "I see Low and Mavis Staples as the same kind of thing," the Wilco frontman commented. "It's a beautiful thing that you just need to stay out of the way of and it sounds good."