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The Low Anthem

4 Mar

Last year, The Avett Brothers gave CakeIn15 one of their favorite shows of the summer- at the MN Zoo Amphitheater, outdoors, packed in close with a slight drizzle breaking into golden dusk and the perfect cool night, transcendentally American and energetic. Thoreau would be proud. You get the feeling, too, that Thoreau would take a shine to the Avett’s current tourmates, Providence, RI’s The Low Anthem. Starting with their 2007 debut What The Crow Brings and followed up with Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, which was self-released in 2008 and then picked up by Nonesuch Records in 2009, multi-instrumentalists Ben Knox Miller, Jeff Prystowsky and Jocie Adams have worked together to create an intense, shambolic vision deeply rooted in American traditions and nature. Oh My God, Charlie Darwin was recorded on a near-deserted island off the coast of Rhode Island and in late 2009, the band retreated to an empty pasta sauce factory to record, again reveling in the silence and isolation to draw out the melodies. But before any of that hits wax, there is touring to be done, America to see and songs to be sung. The Low Anthem open for The Avett Brothers in the First Avenue Mainroom this Friday, and CakeIn15 shot some e-mails back and forth with Miller to get his take on the importance of naming, solitude and who he likes for the baseball season.

You and Jeff met hosting a graveyard jazz radio show- What were some of the records you bonded over?

Jeff made most of the picks, because I don’t know much about jazz. He’s obsessed with jazz bass, so there was a lot of that on the show. Mingus, Christian McBride, and the best of them all Ray Brown.

You and Jeff went through several different bandmates before Jocie joined- how did she come in to the picture and how did you know it would work?

Yea, when we got serious about the band, we started as a trio with a blues song writer named Dan Lefkowitz from Virginia. He split after a year leaving us as only a duo. That’s when we started learning lot’s of different instruments so we wouldn’t be a bass and guitar songwriter duo. We wanted to have beautiful and deliberate textures for all the songs. Jocie first came along because we asked her to play clarinet on a track of our first record. But she started showing up to shows with her clarinet and we’d invite her to sit in. Before we knew it, she was picking up all sorts of instruments that were on the stage and playing fluently. She’s so very talented.

Unlike many band names “The Low Anthem” feels like a deliberate statement. How did you choose that name?

Not deliberate at all. In fact it was given to us by a childhood friend of mine who played ever so briefly with us in the early days of the band. It wasn’t until years later that we learned the name came from an Ayn Rand book called Anthem. It’s an awful book. Really boring. But what’s in a name anyhow?

The band holed up on Block Island to make Oh My God, Charlie Darwin. What was it about that place and experience that was integral to the record?

It was an eerie ghost town. Empty. All the summer shops and bars closed except one market. We didn’t see a soul. The quiet and the emptiness sank into the sound. It was also a pressure cooker. To be in such intense isolation together during that time.

When you are working together, how songs form? Who brings lyrics, melodies? How much give and take is there?

I write the songs for the most part. Jeff is a big help and also writes some of the songs. Once they’re written though arrangement is a trial and error with all hands on deck. Nothing comes out the way I expect going in. Everybody brings ideas. We try them all until we find something that excites us.

The acronym “OMG,CD” contains obvious contemporary slang, which has a dissonance with the more anachronistic music contained therein- was that a consideration in titling?

No, those are just the initials. That’s all. We didn’t want to name [the song] “OMG,CD”, “Oh My God…” because then that would be the title track, which wouldn’t have made sense. Maybe it’s funny I don’t know. We don’t use a lot of internet slang.

Why choose the Tom Waits tune “Home I’ll Never Be” to cover? Are there other cover songs that have worked their way into your repertoire?

We love that song. Have you heard the two versions on Orphans: Bastards? Amazing. Most covers that we’ll play are traditional or old songs, and mostly about whiskey. Cigarettes and Whiskey. “Sally Where’d You Get Your Liquor From”, “Moonshiner”, “Rye Whiskey”, “Yes I Guess They Ought To Name A Drink After You”, “Beefstakes” and so on.

Given the theory of punctuated evolution, and as somebody in it, how do you explain the emergence/resurgence of Americana and folk music like yourselves, the Avetts, Bon Iver, Megafaun etc.?

Hey, I don’t know if there’s any one reason, but music that comes from the old traditions will always be around. It’s real, it’s simple.

Nonesuch is one of my personal favorite record labels, but you were selling well before you joined. What was the reasoning to have OMG,CD picked up there and how do you want that relationship to develop?

It’s a great label and one of very few we were interested in. Like you say, we were doing well before they came into the picture. But we like the team there a lot and we trusted them truly. They’re music lovers full on and they make a point not to meddle with their artists’ work. They’re also focused on the long term. None of the McHype thing that you see so often. It’s a very nice situation.

I hear you are a baseball fan- Who do you like now that spring training has started?

I’m a Baltimore [Orioles] fan through and through. It’s pretty depressing these days, but we’ve got good young arms this year and Markakis, Jones, Weiters and Roberts are solid. We might have a fighting shot this year at breaking .500. It’s been 11 years now if I recall correctly.

Would you grow a mustache to complement Jeff’s?

I’ve been working on one, but I’ll always been in his whispy shadow.

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