A Conversation with Alan Sparhawk (Low) by Killian Laher
No More Workhorse got the chance to talk to Alan Sparhawk of Low about their new album and modern music. You can see the results below. Continued from Part 1
Do you listen to music much yourself?
Quite a bit. This girl EMA, she’s from the States. We keep trying to get her on tour with us. She’s really cool, she’s kind of semi lo-fi, simple recording style. She’s very visceral and strong. It kind of hits me in all my favourite spots in my brain. We listen to a lot of reggae, dub. I’m really into dub, breaking apart tracks and re-manipulating them. You might not hear dub on this new record but the idea of breaking up of the sound and treating the track, and it still being music, which fragments you can use, it’s there.
I would love more than anything to be able to confidently, legitimately play reggae music but it’s so sacred, it’s so deep. As much as I think music is for everyone, it’s one thing for someone to share what’s coming from a deep place within them, their roots, their upbringing, their family, and play the sounds they were hearing as a child, there’s a sacredness about that kind of music. It’s very hard for someone from the outside to jump in. It’s not a race thing. To play music honestly and really bare your soul and make pure music. If it’s not really where you came from it’s really hard to step in. It’s ok, just listen to it. Let it go into you, let them give you that gift to your heart and soul.
Is there roots music from where we come from? I grew up listening to the radio, listening to simple tunes. It’s not as cool and deep, Barbara Streisand, hear my dad playing drums in a country band, Mel Tormé, those are my roots. Those things come out. There’s something about the way Rosemary Clooney and Mel Tormé sing that I think goes really deep. Also church, I grew up singing hymns. I’ve sung more hymns than I’ve sung anything in my life. That’s a big part of our generation. If your parents were bringing you when you were a baby… it’s powerful shit! Can you imagine being a child, you’re in a room with people and the next thing you know they’re all making this sound that gets louder and more complex than anything you’ve ever heard before? Then you get that every week! By the time you’re three, you’re singing the church songs.
That’s our roots. And blues, it’s been something that’s always standing right there behind. You’re very aware that’s where stuff came from. It’s a love-hate thing. This record store used to tell me about punk records but also Stevie Ray Vaughan. When I was in my early twenties I was only interested in Throbbing Gristle, Swans etc. But always behind it was the blues. The guitar ‘wants’ to do that, your hand ‘wants’ to play those things.
Music is important, it matters.
If there is a god or if there is a higher eternal world I really believe that music is a special gift from that side. Trying to teach us that there is a wrinkle in reality. A window into what is actually possible, in eternity. A message from beyond.
You’ve had a great career and put out some great albums. Apart from the new album, anything that stands out?
We’ve had some difficult times, different bass players, different phases of the band, different styles. Nothing in particular stands out. We’ve always been lucky to work with good people that pushed us forward and helped us realise more about ourselves.
The Christmas record was a surprise. We did it at home, it was very casual, something to sell on tour, for the fans. Somehow it grew legs, still to this day we get notes and letters saying ‘I just love your Christmas record, I take it out every year, even my mom likes it’. That’s been very sweet.
We’ve always been lucky to work with people at the right time. I can remember struggles with each of them, sometimes personal stuff, difficulty of the situation, figuring out how it’s going to work. Pretty much every record that we’ve done, at the end we’ve always been really happy. Kind of surprised, it worked out better than we thought it would, and excited for it to come out. I’m glad there’s no regret. There’s definitely songs where I feel I don’t need to play that every night or any time soon. But in each case we made the best decisions we could at the time. It’s so random. Usually the thing you put the most hope in ends up not being as surprising.
Anybody you’d like to collaborate with in the future?
You almost can’t plan to collaborate. As much as we dream it would be great to work with so-and-so, even if you know a person, it never happens. There are singers that it would be fun to be the backing band for. They’d have to know what they’re getting into! It would be fun to do a tour backing up PJ Harvey.
We’ve met Robert Plant a few times but he keeps jumping bands and doing different projects. He did a couple of our songs (on 2010’s Band of Joy). I joke about it and Steve says it’ll never happen. We gave him an early copy of the new album. Two weeks later he did an interview and he mentioned it! That was long before it came out. I had a dream to back up Morrissey some time but at this point I don’t think that would be as comfortable as it would have been. He’s got his issues.
Do you believe in heroes, for want of a better word?
He (Morrissey) was definitely a hero. There’s a grey area. You can love a person’s art, and in interviews they’re really cool and you really agree with what they say about politics or world justice. When you listen to their music it seems like it goes deeper in you. With hero worship you’ve accepted that person into your soul.
Then with others… I’ve run into people who say someone like Lou Reed was the biggest fucking asshole and they can’t listen to his music any more. It ruins it for them. I used to work backstage at concerts for this arena where we lived. I drove Paul Simon around, Aerosmith were just chilling backstage and were super friendly.
Bob Dylan is super private, he doesn’t want to talk to anybody. If I was Bob Dylan I wouldn’t want to talk to anybody, are you kidding me? By the time he’s run into 8,000 people who tell him that he’s God and he spoke to their soul, by the time you’ve had crazy people show up naked on your doorstep calling you God you say “that’s it, I’m getting some security”. Last time I saw Dylan he had this big British dude running his security. It was a big outdoor festival and the guy comes out and says “alright guys Mr Dylan’s gonna be coming out soon, everything’s cool, if you could just back up and definitely I do NOT want to see any cameras”. So we backed up, gave him room, there’s only 20 feet between the bus and the stage. There was a dude there that I kind of knew and he tried to take out his phone. That dude (security) saw it, I don’t know how, and he went up to him and without touching him, absolutely shut his ass down and basically walked him off the ground! It wasn’t even screaming and foul language, his presence was like ‘I’ve got you. Do not even move, you are coming with me’. It made you feel kind of sick to the stomach, all that energy coming at me. But it worked.