The Low Anthem - Q&A
The Low Anthem released their fifth studio album, Eyeland earlier this summer. A departure from previous works, the musical opus is ambitious and innovative in equal measure, representing a fascinating evolution in their sound and future direction.
Unfortunately a motor accident earlier this year prevented the band from touring the album. However, they are now ready to overcome that disappointment and spread their sound. The Low Anthem embark on their European tour this month and we caught up with vocalist and founding member, Ben Knox Miller to discuss their thoughts on the new album and their upcoming travels.
Q. Greetings and salutations to you, Ben. You released your fifth studio album, Eyeland this summer. Can you tell us a bit about the ambitions behind this album, the recording process and what your thoughts are on the finished product?
Hi there! Eyeland is 4th album we’ve released though there are some other recordings that have found their way on to the internet.
It was recorded gradually over a few years while we were living in Providence, Rhode Island in an abandoned vaudeville theatre. The theatre had beautiful acoustics and was an attic of obscure ancient sound technologies - a silent movie Wurlitzer organ in the rafters, a mono horn driven PA, an orchestra pit under a double proscenium to throw sound into the hall and garage-y concrete basement dressing rooms. We were pretty taken with the space and built a permanent recording studio in the front offices over the years.
The album is a theatrical psych-noir. It’s weird. It’s a journey. Not our most lucid work, but complete and for us, very new. We learned how to record during the process and many drifting musicians came in and out leaving their marks on it in various ways.
Q. The sound of Eyeland is somewhat of a progression from your earlier works – with psych and noise elements embraced and explored. Can you tell us a bit about the evolution in your sound?
There are these bizarre abstract departures, but under the noise are tried and true song structures. For a while we were steering the songs, looking for the new, but there came a point when the songs had become so dense with layers and players that we were just holding on. At the end of the process the label asked us for stems, and we tried to dig back through and separate the tracks. We were like oh yea! the baseball bat in the scrap metal heap, oh yea! the mic in the shower, oh yea! the bird sanctuary, the skateboards, the pop-corn kettle… it’s hard to remember if there was any logic imposed. There’s a logic to song skeletons…. like you can go mental with the ornaments but still recognize, oh that's a Christmas tree.
Q. There are a lot of influences present in Eyeland as well as a few references. One such reference is evident on the track Wzgddrmtnwrdz in which we hear the melody of Yellow Submarine being whistled. We assume The Beatles are one of your influences? But can you tell us a bit about your other musical influences and what sparks your creative process?
To the extent that it’s possible not to be influenced by the Beatles we not really Beatles nuts. That song also makes warped reference to Taylor Swift’s Shake it off, Old McDonald Had a Farm, Genesis (bible, not band), birds and a kaleidoscope of Shakespeare anagrams. All unavoidable noise on the human planet. More deliberate influences would be Captain Beefheart and Ivor Cutler.
Q. You signed to Washington Square Music this year. How did this come about and what was it about this label that encouraged to you to sign with them.
We are grateful to have their collusion and appreciate they weren’t intimidated by a fairly bizarre record. Bold moves from their team.
Q. Your attempts to instantly tour this new album were somewhat curtailed by your unfortunate involvement in a motoring crash. How are you all now and how upsetting and disruptive was this at the time?
We all survived, but were crushed. We had to nix the US tour and were in recovery for months. All of our touring instruments were smashed. What can I say. Life happened.
Q. You are now embarking on a UK and European tour. What can your fans and audiences expect to see?
We listen to each other. Maintaining that, we can wander around the stage making noises and hanging on to these song skeletons. In the best moments it feels like being in a shop surrounded by tools, so that decisions can be spontaneous. Pick up brush, throw paint. It makes me so happy that everyone in the band has no idea what’s going on. As long as we respect the classified formula and listen, something seems to happen.
Q. What do you most enjoy most about touring in European and what is your favourite memory from past tours of this continent?
It’s nice to travel. It’s nice to see old friends. But the reason we are traveling is to play one or two hours of music each night. That’s home. Building our Frankenstein's monster. It makes no difference where we are. What matters is that we have a tour long enough to develop and animate the creature...teach it spirituality...to go deep with the ritual.
Q. Your live performances have been described as ‘somewhere between an art happening and an absurdist musical circus’. Some musicians seek to replicate their recorded work as much as possible – what are your thoughts on the differences between recording and live performances and the challenges of communicating your music.
We feel similarly about the two formats. In both, the goal is a psycho-sound experience that sustains, modulates and lives from first to last. Both are possible because there is an internal logic. The difference is the variables that you have control over. In the live setting you can control the length of note in reactive time, the volume of perception and the order of gestures. In the studio setting you can control exactly the shape and color of each gesture, exactly the pace and exactly the length.
You can only hope in record -making that someone will sit and take the journey. Our records are not competitive on airwaves, shuffle machines, laptop speakers, third space PAs, etc. they are built for the long-form experience - audio fidelity, delusional idealism, maybe. Otherwise there’s really no point unless your goal is fame and it’s perks but, that narrative seems to be in decline with younger bands. Musicians are getting smarter as music becomes less culturally potent. IMHO
Q. Although you have always maintained a core to the band you have also worked with different musicians who have come and gone – notably Jocie Adams and Mat Davidson. Would you say that there is a core musical concept to the group or does this evolve and adapt according to what other musicians you work with?
Jeff [Prystowsky] and I have been playing together since we were 18 and we’ve been lucky to collude with some rare scientists and mystics. See Arc Iris, Twain, Futur Primitif. Our engineers have been central to the equation as well. Hieronymus Melchers is a bit of a freaky genius.
Q. Besides the grand tour, what does the future hold for The Low Anthem?
We are guarding two secrets.