2015 Artist Survey: Low | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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2015 Artist Survey: Low

Alan Sparhawk on Music Streaming, Childhood Memories, Star Wars, and the Genius of Taylor Swift

Feb 16, 2016 Photography by Zoran Orlic Artist Surveys 2015
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For Under the Radar’s 13th annual Artist Survey we emailed some of our favorite artists a few questions relating to 2015. We asked them about their favorite albums of the year and their thoughts on various notable 2015 news stories involving either the music industry or world events, as well as some quirkier personal questions.

Check out our Best of 2015 print and digital issues for answers from Arcade Fire’s Will Butler, Julien Baker, Blanck Mass, CHVRCHES, Dan Deacon, The Dears, Dutch Uncles, EL VY, Everything Everything, Father John Misty, Field Music, The Flaming Lips, How to Dress Well, Sondre Lerche, Low, Luna, Mew, NZCA Lines, Cullen Omori, Natalie Prass, Small Black, Surfer Blood, Tamaryn, Telekinesis, Vampire Weekend’s Chris Baio, The Walkmen, Youth Lagoon, and others.

Here are some answers from Alan Sparhawk of Low. The band’s latest album, Ones and Sixes, was released in 2015 via Sub Pop. A shorter version of this interview ran in the Best of 2015 print issue, which is still on newsstands now. This is the full unedited version of the interview.

Top 10 Albums of 2015

1. Scott Walker + Sunn O))): Soused
2. Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp a Butterfly
3. Julia Holter: To Have You in My Universe
4. Colleen: Captain of None
5. Blitzen Trapper: All Across This Land
6. D’Angelo: Black Messiah
7. Psalm One: Psalm One Loves You
8. Wilco: Star Wars
9. Rivulets: I Remember Everything
10. THEESatisfaction: EarthEE

What was the highlight of 2015, for either you personally or for the band? What was the low point?

Usually new experiences are the highlight of the year. This summer we got to go play some shows in China. We brought our kids, walked on The Great Wall, ate weird food, and met a lot of awesome people, so that was exciting. Low point would be the jet lag we had for over a week after we got home.

What are your hopes and plans for 2016?

I hope terrorism settles down, I hope good cops step up, I hope people eat less meat, and I hope we can stay home more. We will try to record some ideas we have, probably end up doing some shows in strange new places.

With the launch of TIDAL and Apple Music in 2015, there are more streaming music options, but the same issues of adequate artist compensation persist. What are your current thoughts on streaming and which service would you most like to have your music on?

I’m not familiar with the difference between the companies that do that, but as always, and as expected, artists are the last and least to be paid, if at all. The cheaper something is, the less the consumer values its creator/provider. There is a small but awesome population of music fans who search for and support music, but these are the exception. I’m glad there are big artists who are putting their foot down and demanding that these services treat artists better, but we don’t have that kind of power, so we just do our best. Every form of entertainment is dealing with this right now.

What are your thoughts on Friday being the new global release day for albums? Is it helping or hurting album sales?

No idea what difference it’s making. I always thought Tuesday was great; not as busy as the weekend.

Mainstream pop music is increasingly embraced by indie rock musicians and listeners, as well as serious music critics. At this point, do you draw any distinctions between Top 40 pop and indie rock/pop? Are you comfortable with this shift?

Indie/underground artists have always had one eye on the mainstream (see Sonic Youth and Madonna)-partly to know what the enemy is up to, but also because there’s always interesting fragments in there to draw upon. It’s part kitsch, part genius. There are some very smart people behind what at first seems shallow. As cool as we think we are in the “indie” world, WAY more people would rather listen to commercial pop. Meanwhile, there is still a very vibrant underground that has nothing to do with the mainstream, takes no cues from it, and doesn’t even want to be blanket-categorized as “indie.”

What are your thoughts on how the 2016 U.S. Presidential election is shaping up?

Skeptical. It’s going to be awesome.

Ryan Adams covered Taylor Swift’s 1989 (and then Father John Misty covered Adams covering Swift). If you were to cover another artist’s album in its entirety, which would you pick and why?

We’ve thought of having Mim [Mimi Parker] sing all of Dreaming My Dreams by Waylon Jennings. Maybe we should cover Joanna Newsom covering Dawes covering Yeezus.

Have you ever been fired from a job (be it a day job or musical one)? Why were you fired?

Band I was in at age 19. Got told to go home after first of three sets at this cracky metal bar in Wisconsin.

What’s your earliest music-related childhood memory?

I remember being outside, on a vast grassy hill, evening sun, other people there, and music coming from a big thing at the bottom of the hill. My parents must have taken me to some concert.

What outrageous request would you most like to put in your tour rider as a joke?

A pig, any size, to pet and talk to for the evening.

What’s the most disastrous date you’ve ever been on?

First date with Mim, when we were teenagers. We are still paying for it.

Which Star Wars character are you most like?

Princess Leia, because she talks too much and loves/hates being in a position of leadership.

Where do you see yourself in five beers?

I don’t drink, so five beers would turn me into a foul-mouthed liability pretty quick.

Taylor Swift has been celebrated by indie rock fans and mainstream pop fans alike. Is she truly this generation’s pop genius or is she a talented, if overrated, songwriter?

She is what Madonna was for the ‘80s/‘90s: a pop maverick who knows how to manage her image. Foremost, she is a great songwriter, but it’s the whole package that sells it. I think it takes a genius to be that person and maintain it through the insanity of celebrity.

What song will most unite or amp up the tour bus or van (à la “Tiny Dancer” in Almost Famous)? Which song do you love that the rest of the band or crew refuse to let you put on?

“Mirrors” by Justin Timberlake always gets a mass sing-along. Nobody lets me play “Burning Witch” in the van.

With Twin Peaks, The X-Files, Gilmore Girls, Full House, and other classic shows returning, what other TV show would you like to see come back with its original cast?

Um, hello! Magnum P.I.!

What’s the biggest goal for your life that you have yet to achieve?

It would have been fun to coach a football team, but that dream is slowly fading with time and every concussion.

In which way would you least like to die?

I watched my dad die of cancer recently, but what he really died of is starvation, because your body stops working and you just waste away. That would be hard. I’d rather have some crazy bastard cut my head off.



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