Alan Sparhawk, guitarist and lead vocalist of legendary alt-indie act, Low, has mixed feelings about returning to Canada. The Minnesota trio’s Oct. 18 show at Winnipeg’s West End Cultural Centre marks the beginning of a three-week tour that will take the band across Canada and the United States. However, it’s not the canuck audiences that worry him; it’s the border crossing.
“I don’t know if it’s a 9/11 thing,” Sparhawk says, “but the last few times we’ve come back into the U.S. from Canada have been the most tedious, unnecessarily humiliating experiences of our touring history. We get treated better by officials in foreign countries than in our own. I hate to risk it by complaining, but it’s true.”
Despite border crossing issues, Sparhawk is eager to perform north of the 49th parallel.
“U.S. audiences are more self-conscious,” Sparhawk says. “Canadians are more honest. If it’s a good moment, they express that. Canadian audiences seem to pay more attention. Canadians also react without pretense, whereas Americans are sometimes too busy trying to weed through the irony.”
Sparhawk founded the band over 20 years ago with his wife Mimi Parker, the band’s drummer. The line-up has gone through changes, with Steve Garrington serving as the bassist since 2010. Low’s most recent album, 2013’s The Invisible Way, was produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy at the Wilco Loft in Chicago.
“Jeff was very helpful in getting good takes out of us,” he says. “Knowing when to push a little and knowing when we needed to clear the air. We were able to get good sounds right away. Singing is very intimate. Having another experienced singer there while working on vocals was probably the most significant benefit.”
Sparhawk is reluctant to cite musical influences, stating that he listens to a lot of “old reggae and new metal.” But he does confess finding inspiration in David Lynch’s 1977 film, Eraserhead. Low also has the distinction of having two songs, Monkey and Silver Rider, covered by Robert Plant’s Band of Joy.
“(Plant) heard our record in a store, bought the last copy they had and kept it in his car for the next eight months,” Sparhawk recalls. “I love the versions he did. I’m still smiling. We’ve met him a few times since and he’s always the most gracious dude ever. He’s a life-affirming person.”
Sparhawk says that Low is currently writing with the intent to start recording this winter, noting that the “new songs are not pretty.” The Invisible Way marked a divergent point in Low’s career, as the band once described as slowcore was playing what Spin Magazine referred to in their review as “country music, or an idea of it.”
“My tendency in the past is to counter anything pretty with some dissonance or noise,” Sparhawk admits. “Maybe I’m afraid of letting stuff be nice. I’m not sure why. For the last couple records, the songs I loved the most were pretty and intimate.
“I decided to just let them be that.”