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Low, one of the Midwest's premier indie groups, to perform Friday in Rochester

Low, one of the Midwest's premier indie groups, to perform Friday in Rochester

For more than 25 years, the band Low has been dazzling audiences with their own distinct brand of hypnotic sounds and harmonies.

Now, fresh off a year-long tour, the Duluth-based group is preparing to head south for an intimate performance this Friday night inside the Mayo Civic Center’s Dr. Charles H. Mayo Presentation Hall.

Ahead of the show, we had the chance to speak with band co-founder Alan Sparhawk. Alan, along with his wife Mimi Parker, form the core of what has been described as an “indie rock institution.”

Here are some of the highlights of our conversation.

Humble roots

Sparhawk and Parker have known each other since they were nine years old, growing up together in a small town north of Bemidji.

Music had also bonded the two of them, though it was not until they moved to Duluth that they began to meld their sounds into original songs.

“When we first started, we were very, very quiet and slow and kind of minimalist — and we still are for the most part — but when we first started, it was a real contrast to what was going on at the time,” says Sparhawk.

It was a slow-go at first, but the two continued to grind — putting on show after show. "We’d go play and there would be a few people that would like what we did,” he says. “You know, the next time you show up, those people would be there and they would bring a few friends. That kind of thing.”

The hard work paid off. They eventually caught the attention of a producer in New York, allowing Low to reach heights they never imagined.

But even with the success — they have recorded 13 albums together — the couple continues to remain grounded, an attribute Sparhawk credits, at least in part, to his northern Minnesota roots.

“It’s so overwhelming you’re almost scared to accept it,” Sparhawk says of Low’s success over the past two-plus decades. “I don’t know if it’s growing up in Minnesota, but there’s something about the caution, about letting yourself take credit for anything. Every time we play music I am humbled, I am overwhelmed with this the feeling — and that I am lucky to just be in the room and maybe be a conduit for this energy.”

Praise from a rock legend

Low has received critical acclaim, sold-out shows across the world, toured with Radiohead, and had their music featured in popular television shows.

But no amount of success could have prepared them for the news they received some years back: Robert Plant, the iconic singer best known as the front-man of Led Zeppelin, wanted to record their music.

“When we heard that was going down, it really was a surprise,” recalls Sparhawk. “I was literally blushing with pride.”

Robert Plant went on to record two Low songs on his solo album, Band of Joy, which was recorded right after the release of Raising Sand, Plant’s Grammy-winning collaboration with the bluegrass singer Alison Krauss.

In a 2018 interview with The Current, Plant talked about what turned him on to Low: “I went looking for material, and Low, that particular album [The Great Destroyer, 2005], which had ‘Monkey’ and ‘Silver Rider,’ it's just one of the greatest sonic experiences that I've ever had, really.”

Sparhawk and company later invited Plant to one of their shows in England. And like a true fan, the rock legend took them up on the offer.

They later met up with Plant backstage after one of his performances.

“It was really amazing. He is really kind, a very conscientiousness person, and just aware of who he is,” says Sparhawk. “He talks to you like you’re hanging out in a bar, and he’s excited. He tells you stories. He wants to know what you’re up to. And he does this for everyone in the room.”

Other notable tidbits

On performing live: “There’s something about being in the same room with a bunch of people and that moment of creating — you’re literally using your hands and voice to make this sound that everyone is hearing — you, of course, want people to be a little a surprised, a little bit moved, maybe where they have to check themselves for a moment.”

On living in Duluth: “It’s the underdog city. We’re just off the map a little bit. If you do end up staying here and you want to do something creative, just have to set your jaw and grind your teeth a little bit harder to make it happen…. inadvertently, that kind of enhances it. If you’re isolated, you’re stuck with yourself a little bit longer to figure out what you’re doing.”

Advice for aspiring musicians: “Just play. Put the time in … Come up with something interesting and original, even if it’s something you think people are going to be shocked by, or at first repulsed by. If it’s something really from your heart, don’t dumb it down. Don’t water it down. Be direct and bold, and do something original.”

You can experience Low live in concert this Friday night as part of the 2019-20 Riverside Presents concert series. Tickets to the show are $32 and can be purchased by visiting Riverside Concerts in City Hall (walk-in or by phone, no handling fees), the Mayo Civic Center Box Office (walk-in, no handling fees), or Ticketmaster (online). You can learn more about the show here.

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