Stirring up a good rumor about an extremely low-key band is harder than it looks.
Talking to Alan Sparhawk, singer-guitarist for the notoriously slow 'n sleepy Low, the conversation turns toward the album they're currently recording. Over the phone from the home he shares with singer-drummer Mimi Parker in Duluth, Minn., Sparhawk confirms that the upcoming CD will be a departure.
Eagerly, I try to sniff out a bit of sensational news, asking whether the band is headed for wilder waters perhaps a jaunt into Beck's dance partyland, or some good ol' fashioned hardcore?
"It'd be great if we could sound like Public Enemy, actually," Sparhawk says.
Alas, he's only joking, and my attempts at a National Enquirer headline are thwarted. The gist, however, is real. For years, Sparhawk and Parker, along with bassist Zak Sally (who left in 2005, and was replaced by Matt Livingston) produced music categorized as "slowcore," marked by extremely quiet, minimalist and snail-paced melodies. There were times when audiences at Low concerts actually sat or laid on the floor. And it wasn't meant as an insult actually, it was a sign of appreciation.
Nonetheless, Low started playing with sounds that were louder and more dissonant. By the time they released their 2005 album, The Great Destroyer, Low were almost up to a, well, normal tempo.
For the album, the group switched to Sub Pop Records and wrangled Dave Fridmann to take over production duties. Fridmann, who has worked extensively with the Flaming Lips and Sleater-Kinney, steered the band toward a fuller, lusher sound, evidenced in the bass-thumping, fuzz-heavy "Monkey" and electronic heartbeat on "Cue the Strings."
Their 13th full-length though still in the works is already turning out to be quite different from anything Low has ever produced before. Sparhawk says the group is trying to break out of its normal patterns.
"We've always done that approaching each record with a sense of wanting to do things differently," he says. "But this is the first time we've taken some strides to get away from being comfortable. Maybe after 13 years of making records, I'm starting to feel like, well, if I'm going to make a record, it better be interesting and be something that significantly adds to the vocabulary of what we do. Otherwise, it's just a redundancy."
To accomplish this, the band is taking apart what it's previously learned, embarking on a process of deconstructing and rebuilding their sound. It's been a matter of Low trying to push their strengths and toss out the elements of their style that they had grown tired of sort of a cleaning out the sonic closets.
"It's not so much "Go change!' It's more like, "What has to be here to hold this together?'" says Sparhawk. "A lot of the things I play on guitar, I've been reassessing. We actually ended up taking the guitar out of a lot of stuff. A lot of the time, the only thing that's recognizable is the voices."
Sure, change is good, but what does it sound like? Sparhawk says it's hard to tell just yet, but he's very happy with the results thus far. One thing is for sure: Audiences won't be lounging on the floor any longer.
"We have the name [of the CD] narrowed down: Either The Violet Path or Drums and Guns. I'm leaning toward The Violet Path, because it sounds like a cult."
Low with Laura Veirs
CC's Armstrong Hall, 14 E. Cache la Poudre St.
Saturday, Oct. 28, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $15-$20; available at Independent Records, the Worner Center at Colorado College, KRCC and ticketweb.com.