Finding the Outer Edge with Low

Interview conducted by: Sarah Cline

Audio and photos by: Makenzie Creden

WLUW talks with Low about creative exploration, strange Tasmanian cafeterias, and letting go of expectation…

There are few things more exciting than meeting your musical heroes. Under a noisy tent backstage at Pitchfork 2022, that’s exactly what happened for us at WLUW. 

Between a busy tour schedule and maintaining their arctic garden back home, Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker of the iconic indie-rock group Low found the time to take the Pitchfork blue stage for the third time this year. Releasing consistently remarkable music is no easy feat, but Low has managed to pull it off for nearly thirty years, providing listeners with glorious walls of sound and intricately crafted guitar tones. 

We had the opportunity to sit down with Sparhawk and Parker before Low’s Pitchfork set on Saturday to talk about creative exploration, strange Tasmanian cafeterias, and letting go of expectation.

I wanted to start off by asking you guys how it is to be back at Pitchfork? I know you have played a couple of times before…

Mimi: We’re always excited to come back to Pitchfork, this is great. Traffic was kind of hairy getting here but that’s always typical… But yeah, we’re excited to play on the same stage!  We’ve played on the same stage a few times, so it feels like home.

Alan: It’s in the woods. Well, it feels like we’re in the woods a little bit, but it’s in the middle of the city. It’s actually a really unique festival because most of the festivals around it are somewhere out in the country, but this one’s in the middle of a major, major city. Despite what you think that energy would have, it’s actually really chill here and really comfortable. The layout is really great, and you get a lot of great music for just the one day or three days.

As a group that’s been putting out critically acclaimed music for nearly thirty years now, you’ve been able to experiment and your sound has been able to evolve… Your more recent releases especially seem to have undergone a sonic transformation for the group. I was wondering what inspires the Low we here now and how have those influences changed over the years?

Alan: Well, like you said, we’ve been around long enough. We started pretty simple and the way we recorded was very quick and low budget. We were lucky enough to have all this time to kinda build and with each record learn a little bit, experiment, try things in different directions, work with different people– that’s actually a big part of it. We’ve been able to work with people who have helped us along, people who have been the right people to work with at that stage of our learning, and people that have pushed us and helped us see angles of us that we didn’t realize were there and finding new territory… So that’s been really helpful. 

“You’re going to be much happier knowing at any moment you can take a turn or jump off a creative cliff and be fine.”

Alan Sparhawk

Alan: But again, it’s time. I think any artist, anybody who’s creative, you like to think that you evolve and you like to think that once you finish one thing, the next thing is sort of going a little further– whether it’s challenging yourself or by trying something different or letting go of something your hanging on to that you’re using to lean on too much… Maybe you need to let go of that to find something new and find some new possibilities for yourself. You have to trust that you can let go of your tools and grab something else.

A leap of faith of sorts…

Alan: Yeah, it’s a leap of faith a little bit. And again, it’s just time. We were really lucky to take each step, and nobody ever was really telling us to this direction or that…

Mimi: I think that had a lot to do with it. We didn’t have a label that was coming down telling us to make hits… Thank goodness, because we would’ve been lost. So we didn’t have a hit to be beholden to. All these years we could just do whatever we wanted, and we’ve been lucky to work with good people who are willing to kind of push us and vice versa.

Alan: When we started we were doing something kind of that was kind of contrary and weird and most people didn’t get it. If you start with that, you’re always going to be comfortable and have the right perspective to move into something new that’s going to maybe challenge people a little bit. 

If there’s any advice I’d give to people who are trying to do something creative: really find that outer edge. Find that thing that you kind of secretly think is really cool that everyone maybe looks sideways at. Go there. That’s the place people will find you and you’re going to be much happier knowing at any moment you can take a turn or jump off a creative cliff and be fine.

Alan and Mimi at Pitchfork 2022, by Makenzie Creden

Kind of related to that, I know you kind of talked about dismantling your sound and pushing towards these sonic extremes. What’s been the most exciting part of that experimentation?

Alan: I think anyone can identify with that kind of moment where you’re working on something and something kind of falls together and surprises you: something sounds great or looks great that you didn’t expect. I think those sort of moments… You know the last few records, we made a little more out for us…

Mimi: Yeah, I think just going to the studio for us and not really knowing. You know, in the past, we’d go in and be really well rehearsed and kind of know what we were gonna get.

Alan: Because we were playing the instruments…

Mimi: Yeah we were playing traditional instruments. So once you throw that away and you don’t become so precious about your instrument, then the doors open.

“You have to trust that you can let go of your tools and grab something else.”

Alan Sparhawk

I think there’s a lot to be said about letting those sorts of expectations for yourself go… That’s where a lot of creative greatness comes from.

Mimi: Yeah, exactly. 

Very much easier said than done…

Is there anyone you’re especially looking forward to seeing this weekend?

Alan: We’re just here for the one day, but I’m excited to see Mitski, I’ve been a fan.

Mimi: Japanese Breakfast… We play at kind of the same time, so I’m bummed about that.

Then what’s next for you guys?

Mimi: A few weeks off then in August we got some festivals in the UK, and I think we’re going to go to Scandanavia for a little bit, so a few things coming up.

What’s the coolest tour location you’ve gotten to go to?

Mimi: Possibly Tasmania, maybe? Yeah, we played Hobart in Tasmania. We played this art gallery with this really eccentric dude. The gallery was really amazing and then we played this strange, low-ceiling, weird…

Alan: It was like a lunchroom…

Mimi: A cafeteria! Yeah, so you go all this way… and then you play a cafeteria.

The duality of man, truly.

Mimi: *Laughs* Yeah, but it was really great, it was great…

Be sure to check out Low on their tour with Death Cab for Cutie this fall and follow them on Instagram.

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