Low is a band in its own genre — a three piece that includes a married couple, Mimi Parker and husband Alan Sparhawk — with a dedicated following and the ability to snare new devotees with nary one or two measures of their haunting, impossibly attentive sound. As they embark on an international tour with their new album, C’mon, drummer and vocalist Mimi took time to talk about their nearly 20 years of playing together, and what goes into creating the meditative, connective energy in their music — not to mention making lunch, dressing like a corpse and sharing airspace with a Scandinavian hardcore band.
To celebrate their tour, we’re giving away tickets to this evening’s show at Neumos in Seattle, and Saturday’s show in Portland at Aladdin Theater. Enter here and we’ll let you know by this afternoon if you’ve won.
So, I have been a huge fan of Low since I was a teenager and am still spreading the gospel.
Wow, thanks a lot.
And I remember the first time I actually saw you live, I’d already been listening to you for four or five years and it was such a different experience watching you and Alan sing together on stage — pretty amazing. I was with a friend that had never heard you before and when we left she asked, Are they married? They way they sing just makes them sound like they know each other better than anyone. What it’s like singing with Alan and making music together?
Yeah, I think, you know, there’s something to that kind of intimate relationship of a marriage. I guess I don’t sing with a lot of other people, but when I have, it almost feels like I’m doing something wrong, you know what I mean? Like I’m cheating on Alan in a weird way. So, it just adds weight to that relationship of — I guess it is what it is. You know, we have such a connection. I’m not thinking that [while performing], but I’ve been curious whether anything comes across at all, because it seems like we’ve been doing this a long time and there might be something that maybe somebody could hear.
Part of it is that with that kind of harmony, I think you have to pay so much attention to someone and it’s similar as a listener, as a fan, because the music is so quiet and that makes you kind of, like, turn yourself down and listen.
And, you know, it kind of demands a special audience and a special space. I remember reading about a show you had a really long time ago at South by Southwest, and there was a Scandinavian hardcore band booked at the same time one floor below you in the same building.
Right, that was our first South by Southwest experience.
And it kind of overpowered your performance.
Yeah, it definitely drowned us out.
So, do you tend to try to find spaces that are really quiet?
I don’t know. I think when we first started, we didn’t know the spaces we were playing and that just happened to be just really ridiculous and, you know, we didn’t know that that was going to happen. And we were young and probably didn’t think to check into those things. Now, we’ve been doing it long enough that a lot of the promoters just kind of automatically put us in really nice spaces. You know, we still play the occasional festival, and we still do kind of run into that situation every once in a while, where we’ll hear, like, beats pounding from another stage and we just laugh about it at this stage, because it’s kind of humorous and, you know — what can you do about it? It doesn’t do any good to complain or stop — you know, stop, throw your instruments down and walk off stage. But, we’ve been really lucky. We’ve been able to play in a lot of amazing spaces, a lot of cathedrals over in Europe and actually a few over here.
So, I mean, it’s not that we are super precious about our sets. It is great when that happens, but if it doesn’t, we can barrel through it and we might just change the set a little bit and do more of, like, a festival type set, where we tend to stay away from the really quiet songs, because you can’t really have that delicate dynamic going on — it kind of gets lost.
But, yeah, we’ve been pretty lucky so far.
Thurston Moore really needs no introduction — if music in the last 30 years matters to you, you know who he is. What you may or may not know is that he’s kicking off a tour with his third solo album, Demolished Thoughts. And that he does narration for National Geographic. And has a teenage daughter. He also recently taught poetry a workshop at Buddhist-inspired Naropa University. His music follows the same discordant, searching speck of light that poetry, and his life, do — sense doesn’t seem to matter, especially if it stands in the way of authenticity and previously undiscovered meaning.
We’re thrilled to see more work pouring forth and we’ll be following his shows up and down the West Coast for the next couple of weeks. After shows this weekend in Seattle (Friday) and Portland (Saturday), Thurston will leave momentos at each respective Ace Hotel — signed vinyl, set lists and other ephemera. We’ll be picking a few people to come claim them. Post a story or picture about Thurston — past, present or future — here, and we’ll announce winners early next week.
We had a chance to talk to Thurston about his album, solo work, side hustles and what he’d rather be doing.
You’re touring with a new solo album — it looks like your first one was in 1995 and then it was, I think, over a decade until the next solo and then that was only four years ago.
Yeah, I was a little busy. Sonic Youth tends to be kind a juggernaut. Once it gets going…
How you find time for solo work, and when you put solo albums out, is it just about having enough songs or about you telling a kind of story?
Yeah, each of those records was sort of about wanting to document a more personal period of time and I wanted to do it as less of a democratic band thing. I wanted it to be something that I completely oversaw; it didn’t really have to be a collaboration so much. Even though I ultimately do collaborate with the other musicians on the solo record and whoever else works on it, but it’s all my call as far as what’s being produced. I don’t know, it’s just a matter of time. I don’t really think about it in any kind of careerist kind of way like I have a solo career that sort of exists. It has more to do with documenting personal ideas and that’s about it. At first, the record in 1995, it was so long ago, and it just was sort of an exercise. I wanted to do a record that was really stripped down and minimal than a lot of song concepts that exist before I introduce them to Sonic Youth when they become more worked on and people come up with their own parts. And I sort of liked the idea of having a record with that title. It sort of started with the title, that I wanted to do a record called Psychic Hearts and it sort of took off from there. There were some lyrics I was working on, and some writing.
The second album was 2007 and again that record was basically about wanting to do a record that was called Trees Outside the Academy. Again I came up with all this writing I was doing and wanting to build some sort of personal solo record. I mean this new record is probably the most intense record to this degree.
What do you mean by that?
Well, just the fact that I really wanted it to be this record that was focused on this one period of time for me and it was kind of dealing with sort of personal issues and stuff like that. It had a more removed feeling — I kind of hide things with more abstraction in the words, I guess. I don’t know. That was the feeling I was getting, I felt a little exposed in a way on this record. And it was also, just I didn’t really know what I was doing. I mean I basically sort of write all these songs and I’m not quite sure what I want to do. I was just going to do it myself in my living room. It was really gratuitous last summer running into Beck and talking to him about it and having him offer his services. It became what was…meant to be. I was really happy with what happened. It became less of a neurotic experience and more of a…I don’t know, he certainly gave it some kind of brightness.