Low | Interview
Alan Sparhawk talks recording with Jeff Tweedy.
Twenty years is a feat for any band, yet longevity seems especially fitting for Low, the indie-rock trio known for its “slowcore” sound. We caught up with frontman Alan Sparhawk, who explained why the Minnesota group chose to record its just-released tenth album, The Invisible Way, in Chicago with Jeff Tweedy, in addition to offering his views on America’s drug war.
What made you decide to work with Jeff Tweedy on the new record?
We played with Wilco on a couple tours and I went running in the woods with Jeff a few times. There was this vague invitation to check out the studio at the loft. We finally stopped there on the way through town and Jeff was working on the new Mavis [Staples] record. We heard some tracks, and it was just really like, wow! It really left an impression on me. We pretty much set it up right away.
Producer can mean a lot of things depending on the project and the band.
Jeff and Tom [Schick, who engineered the album] know how to get good songs right away. They know how to mic the piano and the drums. They know which guitars sound really good recorded, and stuff like that. That’s key. Jeff’s an artist so he’s been in our position and he’s made a lot of records. Between that and knowing the studio, he was able to see the trajectory of where we were going and whether it was getting there. He saw what was almost there, and made that last difference that essentially no artist can figure out.
You were able to trust him more.
Yeah. You have to trust that person. Otherwise, your mind won’t really let go and say, like, “Play the song. Someone else is going to tell me whether that was the one or not, and I know that person will be right.”
You and your wife Mimi Parker started Low 20 years ago. Does the success of your marriage relate to the success and longevity of the band?
That’s an interesting one because you never know what life would have been like different. I’ll be the first and she’ll be the first—we would actually have a fight about who would be the first—person to say that as much as it has been great, it’s also extremely stressful on a marriage and a family. It’s a very fragile thing to mix creativity with love and business at the same time. We’ve really been lucky. We have two awesome kids and if we can figure out how to provide for them through these next few years, it’d be really awesome. I think probably we’ll be able to do that.
What do your kids think about their parents being full-time musicians?
They’ve been around recordings that we’ve done and they’ve been on the road with us quite a bit. I think in the long run we’re able to be with them more than most parents.
Do they play music?
Yeah, we got them going with the piano a few years ago and Hollis especially, our 13-year-old—she’s getting pretty good at the piano. She likes writing songs and singing and stuff, so that’s been fun and interesting. The boy plays piano too, but he’s a little more wild.
Mimi sings lead on five songs, more than on any other album. Why the change?
It’s sort of who writes the song. We’ve been trying to encourage Mim to do more songs. I’m convinced that if we ever did a record where she sang everything, it would probably be our biggest selling record [laughs]. I think people like her voice, but she doesn’t really have any interest in being a frontperson. I’ve begged her, believe me.
Why is that?
I don’t know. I think she’s genuinely shy and uncomfortable with being the center of attention.
Political themes run through the new record. Do you have a strong anti-war stance?
Well, yeah, we do. I’m against violence. Unfortunately, in this day and age, I guess the higher message of “Hey everybody, quit killing each other” is a little too vague to take effect on people. But essentially, that’s where I’m coming from. One of the things I refer to is the drug war. There’ve been some friends of ours who’ve had their lives semi–shut down because of the marijuana laws. I think [marijuana] should be legalized across the board. There’s definitely way more effective things that could be done with the resources and negativity that go into it.
Low plays the Metro Friday 22.