To Our Knees: Low

Jeff Tweedy, Pom Poms and Life Lessons: Lauren Down catches up with Low

There's a moment on Low's new album, towards the end of 'Amethyst', where Alan Sparhawk sings “Oh time, it pulls out your eyes” – Mimi Parker's breathy, faithful backing vocals igniting his weathered timbre. Two tracks in and, although most of the record sees Mimi taking the lead, we already feel like we've arrived at The Invisible Way's core focus: Time. It's passing weighs heavily on the duo's latest full length, its heartfelt offerings scattered with overt, and not so overt, references to the frustrations and fears that accompany each falling grain of sand.

The product of an autumn's worth of recording with Jeff Tweedy, the creation of The Invisible Way is clearly a time the pair recall fondly. They describe the Wilco man as their “cheerleader” before Mimi makes imaginary cheering gestures and we all contemplate what he would look like in the traditional get up. Pom poms “everyday” says Mimi. “With different colours,” Alan chimes in, both breaking into warm laughter. But it's more than just the time spent at The Loft, or working at home on demos, it's the culmination of 20 years as a band and even longer as a married couple, and that has certainly not been all dance routines and pep.

“Have you found the theme yet Alan?” Mimi poses to her right, with tongue half in cheek as she in turn gets to the crux of my line of questioning. Constantly looking to one another for reassurance, reiterating my questions, it almost feels like I'm a redundant fixture in this interview, not that I mind, it's a fascinating window into their personal relationship. “Sorry we're falling back on inside jokes,” they say in unison. Sitting in an over-sized armchair, investigating his tall drink Alan smiles and eventually replies “No” in a slow, drawn out sigh. “Usually we do this and eventually later on” Mimi continues before Alan cuts back in “later on, at some point in your life, if you're lucky enough, you'll realise what it meant, or at least part of what it meant. The songs explain themselves, and even if that's not really an explanation, it's always going to be the most accurate. I've always respected that the listener is going to hear things differently and interpret them in their own way, so it's best to leave it open.”

Inevitably though, artistic creation becomes an extension of the self and when you offer up music as honest and straight up as Low do, the fact that you're releasing your tenth studio album isn't going to escape your attention. The same can be said of any experience that has made them who they are, as they explains when I ask them about their minimalist approach. “It might be our upbringing,” Alan ponders “Where we grew up, we were sort of farmers, it was out right on the edge of where things turn from civilisation to emptiness.” He turns to Mimi who continues “There was a need for it, when we started it was definitely a intentional thing and even though we've veered away from that slightly, and played around with piano, we've never completely come out from underneath it. It's rewarding at this point to get on stage and have that nakedness.” Alan takes back over: “Ultimately it forces us to be better writers. If you can make those few things really present and full that is kind of the allusive trick. You've gotta work a little harder to keep something simple and still have the strength and the spirit of it in there.”

Alan continues to explore how their experiences inform their music when I question them about the spirituality of their output. “Well, it's just a matter of being honest with who you are. I mean if religion is part of your perception of life, or if it's the core of who you are, it just naturally comes up from time to time. It's a natural part of us. It's not a calculated thing. If you tried to plan those references, it would come across completely wrong. They find their way without being intentional. People can smell a proselytiser from mile away. They can tell if you're trying to tell them something you think they need to know.” Mimi interjects “We've never felt that we have any right telling anybody anything” before Alan continues in agreement “We don't have any answers.”

They may not have the answers, but it feels like there are real life lessons to be learnt from The Invisible Way. “It's an unpredictable business,” Mimi replies when I ask her what the years have taught her “and no matter how hard you plan for something, it doesn't necessarily happen the way you want it.” Alan, having fought with addiction, depression and anxiety in recent years, offers further insight into his life's experiences. “There are some things that you can control and some things that you can't. And you know, the things that you can't control, you let them go and they usually end up working out fine as long as you're attentive to the things you do have control over. You learn to be more patient. Years ago I remember writing would be really frustrating, humiliating and dangerous,” [a feeling reflected most aptly in the cutting cynicism of 'Plastic Cup's closing line “Maybe you should go out and write your own damn song”], “but over time you realise yeah, sometimes you're going to feel like you have nothing, you're gonna feel empty. And as petty as that sounds, for something you care about, it really does actually eat at your self esteem and your ego and you do start questioning everything else you've ever done.”

Moving onto what continues to motivate them Mimi says, “It's the drive to create something lasting. Something that is alive. Something that makes a connection. Ultimately you're looking for those sweet moments that occur, sometimes they're few and far in between but I guess that just keeps us propelling forward, trying to get to the next one.” And well, with The Invisible Way out now via Sub Pop, it's safe to say they are on the brink of their next moment.

Words by Lauren Down

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