Today’s Feature – March 12-13: The Low Anthem

March 13, 2008 at 12:23 am (Today's Feature)

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“Music that really is music, not an advertisement. Imagine that.” Ben Miller, Jeffrey Prystowsky and Jocie Adams of The Low Anthem represent exactly that. Not music that a label wants. Not music made just to be called “indie.” Not music for the songwriter squad. The Low Anthem create music based on music, music based on song. It’s no surprise that their shows are attended very often by other musicians. The group puts it best; “Our band is a musician’s band. It’s certainly not the music that is sold on the radio or something with catchy hooks.”

The group’s style is in no way traditional, as one can tell by the absurd assortment of instruments used on their album, “What the Crow Brings.” Something like a Tibetan singing bowl is an excellent example of the alternative sounds you can hear at a Low Anthem show, but you can expect to hear toy pianos and pump organs in “textures through different combinations of instruments” on the record. “You’ll never hear a guitar solo or a trumpet solo. The instruments are all there, but blended together in very minimalist parts.”

While “What the Crow Brings” sounds like it has roots deep in Americana, it can also be listened to as a very contemporary work, adopting a style that cannot be categorized by any current or past standards. The collection was also placed into 500 recycled cereal boxes on hand-silkscreened, serial numbered CDs (as if their music wasn’t interesting enough for you).

A live Low Anthem show is a little different from the album sound itself. These guys try to make every show unique, introducing new ways to perform on their instruments as well as using them in different arrangements – a true experiment in action. Keep an eye out for the next record scheduled for release in September, and get into the XXQ’s.

XXQs: The Low Anthem – Ben Miller, Jeffrey Prystowsky and Jocie Adams

(The following interview was done over Skype video)

PensEyeView.com (PEV): Alright now, I can see you guys.

Low Anthem: Hey Richie.

PEV: So how you guys doing?

Low Anthem: Alright man, doing well.

Jeff: Where are you? Are you in Baltimore?

PEV: Yeah, I live in Baltimore. Where did I catch you?

Jeff: Providence (Rhode Island).

Ben: I’m an Orioles fan… Baltimore Orioles!

PEV: Alright!

Jeff: Cal Ripken Jr. fan! (points to himself)

PEV: I appreciate you taking the time with me today. You mentioned that you are in Rhode Island, did you all grow up there as well?

Ben: We grew up in New Jersey, New York and in Boston but living in Rhode Island for a while now and that’s where we all met each other.

PEV: What kind of music were you listening to growing up?

Ben: All different for each of us. But I was raised on Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Paul Simon…

Jeff: I listened to a lot of Miles Davis… a lot of my parents stuff.

Jocie: Um… (laughs)

Ben: Jocie is a classical musician so she doesn’t know a single cultural reference you might make. (everyone laughs).

PEV: How’d you go from classical to folk and rock music?

Jocie: Good question…(laughs)

Ben: I think we met because I was into classical music, actually we were in composition class together and she was “convertible” (laughs).

PEV: Ok, that’s a good way to put it. So, it seems like music was something right from the start.

Ben: Yeah, I think independently we all definitely felt that way.

Jeff: For a while I thought I was going to be a professional baseball player but that was until puberty and I got the short end of the stick.

(Everyone laughs)

PEV: Tell me about when you first started out as a band… those first couple of shows.

Ben: A pretty gradual process from there to where we are now. Jeff and I have known each other for about six years and always kind of played in a revolving cast of characters… all different sorts of music we played together. And about a year and a half ago, we decided to do it professionally. That’s kind of the way, or at least for me when I established Low Anthem as a band. Low Anthem was established in 2006, I guess. I think in the beginning, it was just something we loved doing and we would tell all of our friends to come and see it. I don’t know… some of the older recording were pretty embarrassing though.

PEV: Was there a certain time when music stopped becoming a hobby and became a profession?

Ben: It’s definatley a choice because it’s a whole other set of things you have to do. It’s a whole other network of people you have to be in touch with. We had no idea how to do the professional sides of the music thing-

Jeff: The music doesn’t change so much as the business sense of things. I don’t think that music was ever a hobby for us, it was always serious but we didn’t have the business savvy, like getting in touch with someone like yourself.

PEV: (laughs) The internet!

Ben: Yeah, so we just kick around and just try to play these gigs and there is a whole lot of level of things you go through. I don’t know which level that we’re at but we are just now able to finally make a living playing, which is a goal for a long time. It’s a good milestone for us since we can do it and sustain it, as long as we keep working and do it the way that we have been. But musically, it’s changing always, so I don’t think that we ever said we were going to take music more seriously. Like Jeff said, we were always doing it anyway, we were just figuring out how to do it all the time.

PEV: And what can fans expect from a live Low Anthem performance?

Ben: That’s a good question. A lot of people don’t ask that. The live show is really different from the record in a lot of ways and it’s a pretty dynamic thing for us. We travel with about like twelve different instruments, some of them are stranger than others. Not all of us play any of them particularly well, but we play all of them a little bit. We rotate around. We have these songs that are at the core of what we’re doing and we try some creative arrangements to serve the song well. So a lot of the efforts is what is the perfect texture and instrumentation that will bring the song out. I think that’s what we evoke the majority of our time around.

Jeff: We’ve been able to pull off regular shows at venues and playing a different live show weekly, so audiences have come to expect a fresh take on each set. The fans have said that that is something they really have enjoyed. Each time they see us it’s something new; a new song or a old song played in a different way.

Ben: Some times we’ll travel as a folk band playing acoustic instruments, with a lot of arrangements and vocal harmonies, it’s pretty simple organic stuff. We have plenty of electric rock n’ roll songs too. Sometimes we’ll play a lot of rock n’ roll stuff depending on the venue. For example, we play the Rockwood Music Hall in New York and every week we try to insert a different version of ourselves – in a good way. But there is a folk set and a rock set. We never really tell people what they are going to expect. Like if someone says, ‘you gotta go check out this great folk band’ and then they were kind of confused (laughs). I figure for the people that most come out, it’s nice to do something different, something more creative.

Jeff: We think a lot about it, our live show and how to make it the best it can be.

PEV: Is there a certain city or scene to play that sticks out?

(Low Anthem laughs)

Jeff: We don’t like the hipster scene, we know that much (everyone laughs).

PEV: I say that because bands tend to play a certain venue and they get there and they are like, ‘this is NOT my crowd’.

Ben: We just came from New York, after spending a few days there and kicked around after we had our live show and did some work with a new producer. But we saw a bunch of shows in these trashy but elitist version of trashy bars; no names on the outside, looks like a rubble on the inside but in an obnoxious elitist way. We really don’t like that (laughs). There are a lot of really cool kids in New York and I don’t think we are among their ranks (laughs). We tend to have a little older fan base or at least it extends a huge age range. A lot of kids like our stuff and-

Jeff: I think we have the record for the oldest fan, he is I think 83. He’s one of our biggest fans.

Ben: He makes jokes but it is really true. We aren’t like the indie scene so much but we are not straight up the songwriter alley as well. But we are also not traditional folk either. Our music, at the core of what we’re doing, would never call ourselves traditional. We are just trying to make the best music for now… It just happens to be it’s song based music but not songwriter music, because there’s too much of the crazy stuff going on. And we’ll play seedier venues than most songwriters.

PEV: Do you guys have any pre-show rituals?

Jeff: I always do my pitching exercises… just in case I get the call.

PEV: Hey, you never know, you never know.

Ben: We work on our harmonies before every show and sing songs together to try to get our voices ready.

Jeff: I also do a… someone told me it’s the last pose you do in Yoga, where you lie down on the floor and do these breathing exercises.

(Everyone laughs)

Ben: Jeff eats a banana split after every show.

PEV: You guys seem to have a lot of fun together. What is it like on the road?

Ben: It’s hard to make touring profitable. What we’ve done is just taken a handful or markets and just toured around where we’ve known these people. It’s nice because we’ll go back and have this little community wherever we go. It tends to be our shows are attended by musicians. Our band is a musician’s band. It’s certainly not the music that is sold on the radio or have catchy hooks. I think in general, I think the listeners that listen to us are more interested in the song-writing and instrumentals that we do.

????Touring is great. I love hanging out with musicians. These guys and the musicians we meet on the road are just the best kind of people. We drink a lot of bourbon-

Jeff: The technique is called Shivasina! (Everyone laughs) I just remembered it.

Ben: A lot of touring is supporting acts for other musicians of for someone who works in radio. We regularly go across Massachusetts, Pittsburgh, New York, Providence and Boston. New Haven as well.

PEV: Do you think there is another band that we should be looking out for?

Ben: Chris Thile is well known for Nickel Creek and now is signed to Nonesuch records (the best label in the world). His new band “The Punch Brothers” is unbelievable. There record is called “Punch” is one of the most beautiful I have heard in a long while. “Annie Lynch and the Beekeepers”, they are a fantastic country/songwriter band; cello, mandolin, when that girl sings, it is just the most beautiful music with great sprit to it. Another band we love is “The Accident That Led Me To The World”, some country as well. It’s a crazy concept where each album tells a story. Those are two bands we really love playing with. Also Bob Iver, who just released a record on “Jagjaguwar”. He’s got a beautiful voice. Elvis Perkins too, he is just fantastic.

PEV: I have a copy of “What The Crow Brings”. What can fans take away from this album?

Ben: It is a very personal record. Jeff and I, just the two of us and Jocie is on the record but only in a small way. We did it all ourselves. The production is not top quality of production you hear in the studios. But it was a labor of love for over eight months. The songs on there, we’ve probably arranged five or ten ways before we settled on that recording. We really crafted it in a way too meticulously in some ways. It definitely comes straight from us. There is no filters, no one else’s ears to tweak anything. We’re proud of it, spent so hard working on it and we are now thinking about the second record. We almost lost our minds on this record… And a band member-

Jeff: And my girlfriend (everyone laughs).

PEV: Baseball, girlfriends, you are suffering for your art.

Ben: Hey, listen to this Richie. (Jeff pulls out a Tibetan singing bowl and plays it)

(Everyone laughs)

?????It is a Tibetan singing bowl.

PEV: Is that going to be on the next album?

Ben: We went into this shop, and there we all these bowls, we drove people crazy… We took every single one and started to play them. Everyone was very suspicious about what we were doing. It’s supposed to be a very spiritual ritual. It’s important to have a sense of respect for spiritual traditions… but it’s also important to have this on our next record (everyone laughs).

PEV: What’s something we’d be surprised to hear about the members of the band?

Ben: Jeff here is-

PEV: I don’t know if I want to hear this answer…

(Everyone laughs)

Alright, go ahead, lay it on me.

Jeff: Well, Ben’s dad is a philosopher…

Ben: Jeff is a baseball historian of sorts. Jocie, is a beautiful classical musician and composer… I don’t know, I’m not trying to fool anyone. I am also a fan of John Steinbeck but you’ve got to be a fool not to. I don’t what else that would surprise people.

PEV: So what’s next for Low Anthem?

Ben: Well, we’re working on our next album, which won’t be released until September. So we are working on that in between touring. We have about seven tracks finished but are still working on about twelve others. There is a radio sample that is going through re-mastering. And there is going to be a folk radio campaign based on that. I think this next album is even better. We really got to be artists and I’ve said all along that it’s about being in touch with the material. Also an extensive tour based on this one as well and some song writer series and college gigs. There has been a lot of growth this year, and based on What The Crow Brings and our audiences have grown exponentially. We all think that our next record will just be even better.

PEV: Alright, thanks guys for taking the time to talk with me today.

All: No problem, thanks Richie

For more information on The Low Anthem, check out www.LowAnthem.com

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