"I'd guess that an overwhelming majority of people who exist in the world do not like what we do."
This is not a typical interview sound bite. In most interviews, musicians and performers want to give a reporter quotes that will sell their product, their sound and tickets to their upcoming show.
Yet the quote from Alan Sparhawk, the lead singer and guitarist for the indie band Low, neatly encapsulates the stripped down, glamor-free and honest allure of the group's music, which it will bring to the Turner Hall Ballroom tonight.
The band originally formed in Duluth, Minn., in 1993. Sparhawk was in another band at the time that worked out of Superior, when he, his wife and the band's drummer Mimi Parker and John Nichols, Low's original bassist, starting toying around with some new songs with a very unique, sparse sound.
"When we started Low, it was sort of out of curiosity and out of this fascination with minimalism, repetition and those kind of things," Sparhawk said.
At the time, grunge music was becoming a mainstream brand of music, with bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam moving from their underground origins into popular household names. As a result, Low's smaller, quieter music sensibilities served as a response and an alternative to the loud, punk sound that was dominating radio and pop charts.
"We weren't necessarily trying to be contrary," Sparhawk said. "It's just that when we started, we were looking at being very minimal, quiet and subtle. We knew it was going to be against the grain of what most people were getting excited about at the time. But I guess that was a part of the appeal: making something new and challenging people."
Low released its first album, "I Could Live in Hope," in 1994, and after a few more albums, the band began to develop a reputation on college radio stations, a quality fan base through touring and the label of critical darlings. As they and their unique sound grew more popular, however, people attempted to find a label or genre for Low's modest style of music.
The resulting title was slowcore, a label that Sparhawk at one time called the cheesiest category placed upon Low. After some time, however, Sparhawk lost his antagonistic feelings toward the branding and now sees its purpose.
"I'm perfectly satisfied with people starting out putting a tag on (the band's sound) and then spending the next couple of decades proving those people wrong," Sparhawk said.
"Labels are fine. I mean, heavy metal; okay, well then you have a pretty good idea of what that sounds like then. It's not going to sound like Bob Dylan. We were slow, and there's something about the word core that makes it sound DIY, punk and underground, so I guess that's pretty accurate as well."
Since the debut, Low has produced eight more studio albums, including its most recent, "C'mon," in 2011. The band has reached a nice level of indie popularity, with rock legend Robert Plant saying complimentary things about Low's 2005 album "The Great Destroyer," and a few songs appearing on television shows like the British teen drama "Skins."
However, even with this increasing public appreciation, Sparhawk still views the band as perpetually outside of the mainstream.
"I don't know if mainstream music really plays into what we're doing," Sparhawk said. "We've never been railing against or reactionary against something as much as this is just what we're really interested in. From day one, we knew that we were against the grain of what was going on, and we essentially planned for that as a band."
Despite that preparedness, Sparhawk admits that the line between audience accessibility and a creator's own goals of challenging and interesting content must always be discussed.
"The question is always there," Sparhawk said. "When you're writing something, the first question is always, 'Is this good? Do I like it?' Then the sub-question is, 'Do you think anybody else will?' Sometimes, the answer to that is 'I don't care' because how I feel about this is strong enough."
According to Sparhawk, it usually depends on a song-by-song basis. For instance, a song, like "Pretty People" off 2007's "Drums and Guns," needs to communicate with listeners since the lyrics find their importance and significance by explicitly addressing the audience. On the other hand, Sparhawk noted there are other songs that "I can sing to just myself, and I'd be just as happy."
Low just finished mixing its latest record, "The Invisible Way," which is aiming for a release date in March. In a change of pace from their previous records, Mimi Parker sings on about five of the album's 11 tracks instead of her usual one or two.
"I think a lot of people like her voice better than mine," Sparhawk noted with a laugh.
He also hinted that the new album will be "pretty stripped down" and one of the most minimalist records the band has done in a while, an aesthetic that Low is always looking for in its music. The band plans to play several of these new songs at the concert tonight at Turner Hall.
"It's gonna be like a prequel to what we've got coming up next year," Sparhawk teased.
The odds are good that the results will be more "The Godfather: Part II" than "The Phantom Menace."
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published Oct. 1, 2014
The Milwaukee Rep's latest production, the drama "after all the terrible things that I do," deals with some of today's most difficult and challenging modern conversations, ones as a society people are still parsing through - or maybe trying to avoid. Yet that's not what scares the show's lead actors, Mark Junek and Sophia Skiles, going into the show's opening.
Published Sept. 30, 2014
Almost all of the animals in the animal kingdom have the people's care, appreciation and respect ... except bugs. They are annoyances, they are pests and we have no problem brutally murdering them for trespassing on our territory. We have vegetarians and vegans, but very few coming to defend the rights and dignity of little multi-legged critters. Consider writer-director Eric Gerber, the writer-director behind "Pester," one of those very few.
Published Sept. 29, 2014
No matter how much you try to dodge or avoid or fend it off, age comes for us all. But what if it ... didn't? That's the obvious yet unanswerable essential question driving Bill Andrews and Aubrey de Gray, the two scientists at the center of "The Immortalists," the thoroughly compelling new doc currently showing at the Milwaukee Film Festival.
Published Sept. 29, 2014
After working in cheap reality TV for years - including an MTV show called "That '70s House," essentially "Big Brother" or "The Real World" clad in hippie garb - Marquez decided he needed a break from reality TV and wanted to dip his toes into something completely different: actual reality. A decade later, the result is "Psychopath."
Published Sept. 27, 2014
Before his keynote state of cinema lecture at the Colectivo on Prospect today at noon, OnMilwaukee.com got a chance to chat with Wesley Morris - Pulitzer Prize winning film critic and 2014 Milwaukee Film Festival tribute - and pick his brain about his movie memories and - what else - the state of cinema.
Published Sept. 26, 2014
There's something charmingly retro about the tools of the thieving trade on display in "1971," Johanna Hamilton's new documentary that opened the Milwaukee Film Festival last night. However, those tools, plus maybe a few pairs of oversized glasses and some playful period protest cheekiness, are the only things that feel dated about the thrilling, all too timely story "1971" comes to tell.
Published Sept. 26, 2014
Before "Winter's Bone," Jennifer Lawrence was an aspiring actress with a couple of little-seen indie credits and a running TV gig on "The Bill Engvall Show." After "Winter's Bone," she was one of the hottest names in the business. Of course, much of that is because Lawrence is a talented actress, but on some level, she has writer-director Debra Granik to thank.
Published Sept. 24, 2014
A story about concerned citizens stealing FBI info gathered in ethically dubious ways sounds ripped from today's headlines. This particular story, however, doesn't take place now but over 40 years ago, and instead of Edward Snowden's name in middle of the debate, it was a small group of activists called the Citizens' Commission. This all too relevant moment takes center stage in "1971," the Milwaukee Film Festival's opening night selection.
Published Sept. 23, 2014
"The Maze Runner" is a fairly impressive feat: It feels fresh, edgy and exciting - despite the fact that, as the 47th YA adaptation in the last month (a rough estimate), it absolutely shouldn't.
Published Sept. 22, 2014
Cory Chisel currently calls Nashville home, but the folk country Americana rock band leader certainly hasn't cut ties with Wisconsin, the state that he called home for many years before hitting the road and making it big.