Low on Politics, Music and How Love Wins in the End
Political news is a lot like cigarette smoke. It permeates everything in the vicinity, leaving its stink long after the initial fire has been extinguished. Such is the case with Low’s upcoming record, Double Negative (out September 14 on Sub Pop), a beautiful yet abrasive album that has not escaped the current political climate unsullied. And that is not a bad thing; often the most effective commentary doesn’t hoist a sign, but rather sets a mood.
Although Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker are entering their 25th year as a band, Low is constantly evolving. Nearly 10 years ago, Drums and Guns took on, in part, the Iraq war and, although appropriately dark, that album is arguably far poppier than Double Negative. The static and feedback has increased, the wires further crossed; it’s like when you’re driving in Nowheresville, USA, and pop radio bleeds into the local news report.
Double Negative flaunts the talents of producer B.J. Burton, who also recorded Low’s 2015 album, Ones and Sixes. According to a release, the band traveled from their hometown of Duluth, Minnesota, to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, to work in close quarters with Burton — rehearsals that Sparhawk says would often devolve into discussions about the latest American atrocity.
Ahead of the record’s release, TIDAL spoke with Sparhawk about politics, music and finding happiness in an increasingly dark world.
On politics and music… We were writing different stuff influenced probably by what’s going on in the U.S. with politics and sort of the general psyche — the questions on everyone’s minds. ‘How does a group of people get along and move forward? What is truth? What is confusion and the power of hope?’
I’d be lying if I didn’t say we were fairly conscious about what is going on politically; we talk about it a lot. If we rehearse for two hours, we probably get through four or five songs and then the rest of the time, we’re talking about different things we’ve read or listened to and just sharing our concerns, hopes and fears in an ever-changing world.
At least for me, I don’t really write intentionally. I don’t really sit down and consciously say, ‘OK, I’ve been thinking about this lately and I want to write a song about it.’ It’s never like that for me. You have to engage your instrument and your voice, and open the window and listen for something that you like, something that happens accidentally, listen for a melody that comes out of your mouth and comes alive and has a little spark to it.
The fragments, the pieces that come together and create a song that, looking back — I’m amazed that as much as that process seems so isolated and separate even from what’s going on in your conscious world — it very much actually becomes a reflection [of what’s going on in the world]. Your subconscious is actually very affected by what’s going on and can be a lot more articulate than a planned message or a planned concept.
On touchstones for good in an uncertain world… I find that the most effective people are the ones who go to extremes, you know?. … There are people like Andrew W.K. who you can go to when you’re completely swamped with negativity and what’s going on. You can go and listen to him and for some reason, as absurd as it seems in the face of what’s going on, he completely cuts right to your soul without referring to anything that’s going on — only referring to positivity and encouraging you to do your best.
Maybe that’s the key to surviving, is having people you can go to and and resonate with on one perspective, but also be able to take a complete break. To be able to say, ‘Oh, yeah, I forgot, love is going to win, right?’ There’s a time for hearing what lies came out of the White House today and there’s also a time for remembering that love does win.
On strangest song sources… It’s pretty rare that I’ll feel something or see something and go write about it. Usually it’s a lot more of a subconscious process. We have a song called ‘John Prine’ and the reason it’s called John Prine is because I wrote it after seeing him play something on TV. I just thought, ‘Wow, that’s a really moving set.’ It was the first time that I kind of ‘got him.’
I remember later that night, going to write a song and there was a verse that referred to this moment where I had been watching [John Prine] and it hit me. I ended up not using the line, but because the song was inspired by him, I still called it ‘John Prine.’ That was a weird one.
There’s also a song we have called ‘Murderer’ that I remember writing in kind of a cheerful fury one night after seeing this documentary about violence in another country. It wasn’t necessarily about it, it just sent my mind into such a state that this whole song just fell out. It’s interesting when that happens. It’s definitely rare and usually happens in the middle of trying — after you’ve been trying for weeks to write something. It can be pretty cool.
Photo Credit: Shelly Mosman
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