Low on “Double Negative”

Pushing the Boundaries

Nov 08, 2018 Photography by Shelly Mosman Issue #64 -  Kamasi Washington
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If you're looking for someone to congratulate (or blame), Alan Sparhawk points to Dave Fridmann. It was over a decade ago when Sparhawk and his wife Mimi Parker, the core members of Low, joined forces with Fridmann, the famed producer for The Flaming Lips, Sparklehorse, and Sleater-Kinney among others, for the first of two consecutive albums, 2005's The Great Destroyer and 2007's Drums and Guns. Those back-to-back studio sessions opened the lid, as Sparhawk describes, for a new chapter for the band, one that's continuing to unfold over 10 years later on their latest release, Double Negative.

"It was [while recording] Drums and Guns when it was clear that we were definitely stepping out of our normal element, even though it still felt like us," says Sparhawk. "I guess we've been trusting that since then. Up until that point, we were building and adding, thinking, 'This makes sense. This must be part of the big picture.' At a certain point we realized we can really leave a lot up to chance and a lot up to the unknown and trust that whoever we are will still cut through."

Fridmann has long been out of the picture, but Low has consistently challenged themselves by working with a varied range of producers-from Matt Beckley (Avril Lavigne, Vanessa Hudgens) to Jeff Tweedy (of obvious Wilco fame) to, most recently, B.J. Burton (Lizzo, Twin Shadow), who has produced Low's two most recent albums, 2015's Ones and Sixes and this year's Double Negative. While it's not anything resembling a mission statement, Sparhawk admits there's a drive toward experimentation that fuels much of the band's creativity.

"Ever since we worked with Fridmann, I think we've been on this personal challenge to push things far out," says Sparhawk. "Working with him, we realized just how far out we could go with this as long as our voices are there, as long as it's still us. It's still going to resonate on a personal level since it's still coming from us. So that's just always in the back of our heads. It's taking the ceiling off to see how far we can go with things."

Double Negative ventures into darker and deeper waters than Low has ever explored before. It's an album that sounds near-apocalyptic at times-frenetic strings, heavy beats, chilling space, hazy static. It's all part of the trust the band, which also includes bassist Steve Garrington, built with Burton during the recording of Ones and Sixes.

"After doing the first one with B.J., we knew we wanted to work with him again," says Sparhawk. "He really inspires our creativity and comes up with great stuff. It's a good collaborative exchange with him, where he'll expand elements that we're not as we bring in the structure."

After 25 years, the members of Low have learned to trust their instincts in the odd confines of the studio. Stretching themselves as they have on Double Negative is as much a part of the creative journey now as it has always been.

"In the beginning, because we had to make records really quick, we learned really fast that you go in with these concepts and the idea you want to push this way or that way and you get what you get,"

Sparhawk says. "Rather than fighting against it, you learn to go with it and that there will be surprises. You keep your mind open, accept them and even thrive off of them. It's hard work and it's sometimes boring and it can be hard to get perspective on what you're doing, to me that's an exciting reason to go into the studio."

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's Issue 64 (August/September/October 2018), which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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