"I'd guess that an overwhelming majority of people who exist in the world do not like what we do."
This is not a typical interview sound bite. In most interviews, musicians and performers want to give a reporter quotes that will sell their product, their sound and tickets to their upcoming show.
Yet the quote from Alan Sparhawk, the lead singer and guitarist for the indie band Low, neatly encapsulates the stripped down, glamor-free and honest allure of the group's music, which it will bring to the Turner Hall Ballroom tonight.
The band originally formed in Duluth, Minn., in 1993. Sparhawk was in another band at the time that worked out of Superior, when he, his wife and the band's drummer Mimi Parker and John Nichols, Low's original bassist, starting toying around with some new songs with a very unique, sparse sound.
"When we started Low, it was sort of out of curiosity and out of this fascination with minimalism, repetition and those kind of things," Sparhawk said.
At the time, grunge music was becoming a mainstream brand of music, with bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam moving from their underground origins into popular household names. As a result, Low's smaller, quieter music sensibilities served as a response and an alternative to the loud, punk sound that was dominating radio and pop charts.
"We weren't necessarily trying to be contrary," Sparhawk said. "It's just that when we started, we were looking at being very minimal, quiet and subtle. We knew it was going to be against the grain of what most people were getting excited about at the time. But I guess that was a part of the appeal: making something new and challenging people."
Low released its first album, "I Could Live in Hope," in 1994, and after a few more albums, the band began to develop a reputation on college radio stations, a quality fan base through touring and the label of critical darlings. As they and their unique sound grew more popular, however, people attempted to find a label or genre for Low's modest style of music.
The resulting title was slowcore, a label that Sparhawk at one time called the cheesiest category placed upon Low. After some time, however, Sparhawk lost his antagonistic feelings toward the branding and now sees its purpose.
"I'm perfectly satisfied with people starting out putting a tag on (the band's sound) and then spending the next couple of decades proving those people wrong," Sparhawk said.
"Labels are fine. I mean, heavy metal; okay, well then you have a pretty good idea of what that sounds like then. It's not going to sound like Bob Dylan. We were slow, and there's something about the word core that makes it sound DIY, punk and underground, so I guess that's pretty accurate as well."
Since the debut, Low has produced eight more studio albums, including its most recent, "C'mon," in 2011. The band has reached a nice level of indie popularity, with rock legend Robert Plant saying complimentary things about Low's 2005 album "The Great Destroyer," and a few songs appearing on television shows like the British teen drama "Skins."
However, even with this increasing public appreciation, Sparhawk still views the band as perpetually outside of the mainstream.
"I don't know if mainstream music really plays into what we're doing," Sparhawk said. "We've never been railing against or reactionary against something as much as this is just what we're really interested in. From day one, we knew that we were against the grain of what was going on, and we essentially planned for that as a band."
Despite that preparedness, Sparhawk admits that the line between audience accessibility and a creator's own goals of challenging and interesting content must always be discussed.
"The question is always there," Sparhawk said. "When you're writing something, the first question is always, 'Is this good? Do I like it?' Then the sub-question is, 'Do you think anybody else will?' Sometimes, the answer to that is 'I don't care' because how I feel about this is strong enough."
According to Sparhawk, it usually depends on a song-by-song basis. For instance, a song, like "Pretty People" off 2007's "Drums and Guns," needs to communicate with listeners since the lyrics find their importance and significance by explicitly addressing the audience. On the other hand, Sparhawk noted there are other songs that "I can sing to just myself, and I'd be just as happy."
Low just finished mixing its latest record, "The Invisible Way," which is aiming for a release date in March. In a change of pace from their previous records, Mimi Parker sings on about five of the album's 11 tracks instead of her usual one or two.
"I think a lot of people like her voice better than mine," Sparhawk noted with a laugh.
He also hinted that the new album will be "pretty stripped down" and one of the most minimalist records the band has done in a while, an aesthetic that Low is always looking for in its music. The band plans to play several of these new songs at the concert tonight at Turner Hall.
"It's gonna be like a prequel to what we've got coming up next year," Sparhawk teased.
The odds are good that the results will be more "The Godfather: Part II" than "The Phantom Menace."
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published May 24, 2016
A UWM graduation video featuring new grads dancing around Milwaukee to Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop The Feeling" has racked up a ton of views - one of which must've been JT himself, as he took to Twitter to congratulate the new graduates.
Published May 22, 2016
According to Greg Mclean, "The Darkness" comes from a true story passed along to him first-hand. Judging by the results, maybe someone was just recalling the plot of "Poltergeist" to him. Or an infinite number of scarier haunted house tales from before.
Published May 18, 2016
Milwaukee native Bay Dariz's plan was to become a star musician, then turn into a movie mogul. The stage star part didn't quite happen, but no bother; he's already jumped to movie producer status with his feature film debut "Welcome to Happiness."
Published May 18, 2016
Save for a visit from a street-corner preacher, a trip to the bus stop rarely qualifies as a religious experience. However, those taking the bus to or from the Cathedral Square stop on the corner of Wells and Jackson might sense a little extra spirit.
Published May 17, 2016
While it was called "a dialogue," Tuesday's hour-long conversation between State Rep. Dale Kooyenga and MTEA executive director Lauren Baker, hosted by Marquette University's Eckstein Hall, sure resembled a debate - an often politely testy one.
Published May 16, 2016
How does Harry Connick Jr. kick back and relax the morning after a Saturday night show at the Riverside Theater? Apparently he cures his custard craving, as he tweeted out that he stopped by Leon's Frozen Custard for a sweet treat - and then some.
Published May 12, 2016
In between chats about her new movie "Money Monster," Jodie Foster dropped quite a bombshell last night on "Conan": The two-time Oscar winner and L.A. native is a Packer fan.
Published May 11, 2016
Before his Riverside show tonight, OnMilwaukee chatted with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson about the state of science, his thoughts on movies - including "Batman v Superman" - and why he may quit tweeting about them altogether.
Published May 10, 2016
May 4 would've marked the 100th birthday of urbanist Jane Jacobs. The Rotary Club paid tribute to the author at a luncheon by bringing former mayor John Norquist to chat about her work and ideas - and, of course, that new arena going into the space he once helped open up.
Published May 9, 2016
Businessman and star of CNBC's "The Profit" Marcus Lemonis has obviously gone places since his time at Marquette. But today, he's returned to the Cream City -- and he's apparently bringing some cameras with him.