A New Low
When minimalist rock gets remixed
Duluth, Minnesota's Low have made a series of quiet, gorgeous records that seem like the antithesis of dance music. Their songs move slowly and subtly, and their rhythm is more a gentle ripple than an outright beat, with Mimi Parker playing a stripped-down percussion kit as though she were taking a deep breath and centering herself before each stroke. Their virtues are timelessness, understatement, and simplicity. So the new owL Remix Low (Vernon Yard/Caroline), a collection of dance remixes of old Low tracks by the likes of Tranquility Bass, DJ Vadim, Neotropic, and Jimmy Somerville, seems like a strange idea, if potentially a promising exploitation of the gentle repetition that underlies Low's records. It's made even stranger by the fact that Low don't actually record for Vernon Yard anymore--they were dropped by the label after 1996's The Curtain Hits the Cast. (The Chicago label Kranky released 1997's Songs for a Dead Pilot.) Amazon.com writer Douglas Wolk spoke to Low singer-guitarist Alan Sparhawk to find out how owL Remix Low came to be and what the band is up to now.
Amazon.com: How much were Low involved in putting together owL?
Alan Sparhawk: There was one point at which we said, "Sounds like an interesting idea," and there was another point at which we said, "Oh! It's done!" It was kind of weird. We were dropped from Vernon Yard [in 1996]. Before we were dropped they had contacted us with this idea because [parent company Caroline's electronic imprint] Astralwerks was starting to really happen and they thought it'd be cool to do this remix record. We said, "That sounds interesting." They asked, "Do you have any ideas for remixers?" "Well, we know a few people," we said, and we gave them a list of maybe half a dozen people.
Amazon.com: What kind of people?
Sparhawk: We'd talked to John McEntire [of Tortoise]; we're friends with Soul Coughing; we know a guy named Rich who was in a band called Rome and does dub stuff, who's really a good friend of ours; I'm a fan of Alec Empire ... I don't know a lot about that world, but there are a few people that we thought it'd be interesting to see what this person would do, especially since we knew that they'd already expressed interest. Let's just say that when it was all over, none of the people we thought would be really great to be on it ended up on there. Whether that was a failure on our part to really push the issue or a failure on Vernon Yard's part to take us seriously is a mysterious question.
Nonetheless, we got dropped, and a few months later we got a call saying, "We're still interested in doing this remix thing." We had the typical grudges: how dare you call us and do this when you've just dropped us? But we were like, "Yeah, whatever." And tapes of remixes would trickle in, and we'd listen to them, and we'd say, "Sounds interesting--have you talked to Rich yet?" And before we knew it, it was done.
Still, I like all the people that are on there, and I think the original idea was probably accomplished--the remixes vary from in keeping with the band to completely opposite, which I think is interesting. If it had been something we did and had complete control over, there would probably be different people on there, but being as it is, it's done. But we didn't get paid any money or anything for it.
Amazon.com: So who masterminded the project?
Sparhawk: David Levine at Vernon Yard. He was our A&R guy for a couple of years there. He's a cool guy, and he's got a lot of great ideas. Like I said, I think the idea of this is really cool. I know for sure he had to knock down a lot of doors to make it happen.
Amazon.com: Have you done any remix projects before or thought of different ways your songs might be interpreted? I know of only one Low cover so far, Eggs' version of "Words" from a BBC radio session.
Sparhawk: Oh, we've been sent tapes--"Here, we have a band and we cover thus-and-such song by you." Sometime that's interesting--hardcore bands or whatever--but as far as someone sending us a dance version of something, we've never gotten that before. It never ceases to surprise me that anyone's thought to remix us. I guess I never thought that we scream "dance remix," you know? But I always thought it'd be interesting to hear someone try.
Amazon.com: Do you still have the cute sound guy that That Dog wrote about [on Retreat from the Sun]?
Sparhawk: Chris Freeman, you mean? Oh, we do! I saw him a few days ago. That song That Dog did--that was very surreal.
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