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LOW-Interview at the Foxfire, 11.O7.98.

On Saturday, November 7th, 1998 Low wound down a U.S. tour at the Foxfire Cafe in Minneapolis with two evening shows, one at five with local indie goofball Sean Na Na and again at nine with Darling opening. Alan (guitar, vocals), Mimi (drums, vocals) and Zak (bass, keyboards) were kind enough to sit down before the sold-out second show to answer a few questions.

Low are a three-piece from Duluth, Minnesota who have released three acclaimed albums on Vernon Yard, the excellent Ep "Songs for a Dead Pilot" on Kranky Records, and several singles on various labels. Journalists tend to lump their sound together with the likes of Codeine, Red House Painters and others saddled with the silly "slowcore" or "sadcore" tags. These comparisons fall short in that they don't accurately reflect Low's unique style, aside for pointing out a shared fondness for deliberate rythms and occasional reverb. Low's musical heritage lies closer in truth the to likes of Joy Division, Wire and Swans yet their sound is their own.
Anyone interested in Low would do well to pick up a copy of "the curtain hits the cast", their third and probably most "accessible" album, and then, go out and see them live! In a live setting Low's music takes on a life of its own that is hard to describe or capture on record, tense, alive, growing and breathing.

So you just got done with Iowa last night...
Mimi-Yeah, Iowa last night.

And you went to L.A., Tucson and Philadelphia in the past week?
Mimi-No, we haven't played Philadelphia for a while.
Alan-No, we were mostly on the west coast, L.A., San Francisco, Reno...
Mimi-But we didn't play Philly, did we? No, we played Baltimore.

Are you planning on going overseas in support of the next album? You're going to Chicago at the end of the month to record, and you'll be recording with Steve again...
Alan-Mm-hm, Steve Albini.Um, yeah we'll go over to Europe probably in March, the record will be coming out around then. There'll be a single and all that.

Do you have a title yet?
Mimi- Mmm, not really...
Zak- We have a couple of them...
Alan- Yeah, a couple...
Mimi- Yeah, but nothing really...
Zak- Forerunner being...
Mimi- No...

No forerunner.
Mimi (laughs)- No forerunner.

How do you feel about people taping and trading your shows?
Zak- I don't know, it kind of reminds me of the Grateful Dead. It kind of makes me nervous.
Mimi- Yeah, I don't know, it's kind of strange because we have no control over what's getting sent out and traded back and forth.
Alan- Well, it's not like your having control is that important, necessarily. I mean, what's to control? Like "oh no I'm sorry you can only listen to this show or that show" or whatever.
Mimi- I don't now, I like the idea...
Alan- If it was like that we'd never have a tape out.
Mimi- But I kind of like the idea of a show being a show at that point in time and that's it.
Zak- It being an actual live experience, I mean that's the way I felt about that live thing that came out, it was, I kind of remember it being as like a really nice show...

The one on Bluesanct ("One More Reason to Forget")?
Zak- Yeah, and, when we got the cd, it's, it's not like it's horrible or anything, but it was just like...
Mimi- It just didn't live up to the memory?
Zak- Just like, I remember this song going all over the room, with all this natural reverb and compared to that...
Alan- It doesn't quite sound the same.
Zak- ..."wow, that was a great show" and then when I listen to it, I kind of remember that show being a lot...better.
Alan- Yeah, I mean we're very, we're kind of into the moment, you know. I mean playing live is a very momentary, static thing for us, and, I don't know, it's like hearing your on voice on a tape recorder for the first time, you always think, "golly, do I sound like that?". So it's kind of weird for us, but I imagine it's weird for everybody. I don't know, if people are that into us, and they want to hear a tape of some show or whatever...
Zak- Then they must be crazy (laughs)...

Well, there's quite a few of them out there...
Zak- Nutcases, all of ya!
Alan- I don't know, people who are gonna, like track down a tape of us playing on the internet have probably heard a tape live of stuff and probably are not gonna mind the fact that it sounds like a tape of some band playing, so, it's not like...
Mimi- Disappointing.
Alan- ...it's not like our mothers are here or something like that who'd kinda go, "gee, sounds funny..." or, "how come all the people are talking?". I don't know, you can see a pattern here, I'm trying to buffer...trying to buffer everyone. Zak and Mim hate it.
Mimi- No, (laughs) I don't hate it...
Alan- I'm trying to be buffer.
Zak- I don't mind.

If you saw the little red light in the audience, and someone had a mic, you wouldn't really be upset by that?
Alan- Oh no, that's fine, I don't mind people recording us. I mean they get in trouble more with the club than they would get with us. I mean, if people ask us if they can tape us and were like, "yeah, sure", it's not...
Zak- Virulently anti-taping...
Alan- It's when someone gets a hold of your demo that you've sent to like two people in the whole world and suddenly you hear they're trading the demos of your tape on the internet it kind of makes you really nervous, so, you know, that's kind of like, jeez, you know...
Mimi- And you can't do anything about it...
Alan- You can't do anything about it, you know, I mean these are like half-finished songs. The fact that they're not recorded means that were not done with them. You know, we'll probably change stuff on them or you know, whatever. I don't know, you just kind of feel weird that people are going to get versions of songs that, later you hate, that you change or whatever so, that's probably more disturbing to me than...
Zak- Just, you know like sending a letter to your friends...
Alan- Yeah, (and someone) putting it up on the internet.
Zak-...and then finding out that somebody had photocopied it and puts it up all over town.

It's all over the world now!
Alan- Like, "hey man, I really love ya..."
Zak- (In creepy old gossip voice) "...and his mother died, and he's sad and.."
Alan- "...it's tough for me to say but, but I love ya a lot..." and it's like, yeah, yeah.

Hmm, I had a couple of kind of, gearhead questions for you guys. I hadn't really read anything related directly to your setups, do you mind talking about that?
Alan- That actually will be a nice change of pace.

How does your live setup differ from your recording setup? Or your studio setup?
Mimi- Not, not by very much...
Alan- Not that very much. We experimented with different amps and instruments a little bit. You know, like I don't use the delay, the only pedal I use is the delay pedal live. So I usually in the studio I'll just plug into different amps, try different stuff so, same with the bass, we'll try different amps. Sometimes what works good live doesn't work as well to record in a studio and kind of, same with Mim, you know, she has a couple various things, you know she might try a different snare or something. Most of the time it's pretty much the same. We, you know obviously if it's something like a keyboard or something on a song that's obviously something we don't nessacarily carry around to shows a lot.

I noticed at the 400 (in August, Low's last show in Minneapolis prior to this one) that both Alan and Zak used Boss effects pedals. I think Alan was using the old tremolo, the two-knob one? And Zak was using the compression/sustainer.
Alan- No, actually that's a, I have an Ibanez delay. And Zak, Zak every once in a while tries that compressor and usually it just goes back in the box...
Zak- Compression, jettisoned.

I loved it (the bass sound) at the 400, I thought your bass notes just rang...
Alan- It was probably more due to the bass, or the strings, than it was to the compressor.
Zak- It was nice sometimes it was just like, a little um...
Alan- I don't even know if you were using it there, were you?
Zak- For a while...
Alan- We just got this new Sansamp, Sansamp bass preamp d/i thing that...
Mimi- That we noticed shut off, tonight (at the first show), and it cut out.
Zak- It took out the xlr, and all the buzz went out of the monitor...
Alan- Well it's, it's a grounding thing. It's just a matter of finding the right combination of polarity on your amp and the polarity on the thing and then the fact that the board here is only...(drifts off).

Mimi what are you playing with now?
Mimi- What am I playing now? Drums...I don't know...
Alan- A floor tom...
Mimi- Yeah, yeah. Well, I've had this setup for a while. A floor tom, a snare, you know. The same old ride cymbal that I've had for years...

Will you be experimenting with any different percussion on the new album?
Mimi- Maybe a little bit...
Alan- Timpani...
Mimi- Yeah, maybe a timpani...
Alan- And a big, ugly drum that I bought for twenty bucks...
Zak- The Sizzler.
Mim- Oh yeah...
Alan- A Sizzler cymbal that we bought.
Mimi- I have a tambourine that I'm playing with, and I got a new brush. That's exciting (laughs).

You recorded "Songs for a Dead Pilot" on an eight track in your basement in Duluth. What was your setup for that like?
Alan- It depended. We tried different things for each song, a lot of different stuff. I mean, you know someone had to engineer, so usually there was only one or two of us recording at a time. So it kind of, it was a little more piecing together. Well, actually like "Born by the Wires" we did just all in one take. We just set up the mics and said, "well, let's see how this goes..." and we just played the song. And it turned out in one take, it turned out fine. I don't know, just lots of different things, Mim played the washing machine for "Be There". I don't know, the same thing as usual, we just tried to try different sounds, try different amps and different things until we'd get the right thing. It was an eight track reel to reel machine.

So have Darling been with you on the whole tour or just tonight?
Mimi- And last night (in Iowa).

But you've played with them before...
Mimi- Yeah, a few shows, here and there. I don't think we've actually done a tour with them though have we?
Alan- No. Yeah, we think they're really amazing, especially in the studio. They're having a really hard time finding a label that will understand what they're trying to do.

Speaking of labels, the new album will be out on Kranky again?
Alan- Yeah.

How did you hook up with them?
Alan- They used to come to our shows in Chicago, so we met them once or twice and we're friends with some of the bands on the label. I don't know, when we were without a label, they wrote to us and said they'd love to do it and we said "sounds great". We have nothing but respect for everything they do.

Okay, well I think I'll let you off the hook, but thanks. I'm looking forward to tonight. This is just my second time seeing you live, but I really enjoyed the show at the 400.
Alan- Oh thanks, yeah, that was fun, that was a good show.

At this point Zak took leave to go watch Darling, whose set had begun, and the tape recorder was put away. Alan, Mimi and I tried in vain to remember the name of Low's opening band at the 400 show. In retrospect I realise that the band I was describing to them was the opener at Mark Kozelek's show a month later. Still can't remember their name or the name of the band that actually did open for Low at the 400, although they emulated Low in their quieter moments, and had this cheesy bass player who stood in front the whole time and looked eerily like Corey Haim.

Alan and Mimi stayed a bit longer and I had the opportunity to ask a few more questions, regarding voice training (despite their incredible tone and ability to sustain notes, they've never had any, although Alan was in choir in high school, "You learn pretty quick how to breathe and control certain things..."), what they've been listening to (early Wolfgang Press, Elliott Smith and a bunch of obscure records that Alan picked up on tour), doing a U.S. tour ("You wear out all the cool tapes after three days and then you're listening to the classic rock stations."), and fan mail (they receive mail from as far away as Pakistan, Africa and a large amount from France).

Low's set that night was amazing. Songs that really stood out included a song about a "friend of ours in Duluth who drives an ambulance" ("Starfire"), the classic "Words" and a truly beautiful version of "Will the Night".



Low Links.

Issue three of pretty bruises zine was dedicated entirely to Low.
Copies are $2 cash or trade to - pretty bruises / PO Box 583113 / Minneapolis, MN 55458

Vernon Yard Low's former record company has a page on the band.
Billions Corporation Low's booking agency. Check here for tour dates.
Low at Cro-magnon The most comprehensive site on Low. News, tour information, lyrics, images, discography and more links. Home to the Low mailing list.
Kranky Records Low's current label.
Darling interview. Hacked out via cut and paste email, Spring 1999.
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