Duluth, Minn. trio Low make music that’s been described as "slowcore" and often bordering on depressing, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t got a sense of humour.
"There were times over the years," says singer/guitarist Alan Sparhawk, "where I thought, ‘Man, if someone else did this song, it might have a chance.’"
While 2005′s rock-oriented The Great Destroyer proved that Low are able to negotiate an aesthetic other than sonic minimalism, their newer Drums And Guns shakes a fist in the face of anyone who thought they might be on their way to becoming a pop band.
"We wanted to kind of push the envelope a bit of what we thought Low was," Sparhawk says of their especially stark new disc. "Try to find some new sounds, new things.
"I guess the last couple of records, people have started to notice that more. I don’t know if it’s maybe because we’re taking larger steps or if, over time, it’s beginning to get more noticeable that it’s evolved from what we started out with.
"For Great Destroyer, I felt we sort of hit the ceiling with things we’d been experimenting with for a few records. Drums And Guns is the first one where we’ve set aside the normal instruments we use. That was an intentional way to throw ourselves off. We knew the songs. We’d played them live for quite a while… We set those normal sounds aside."
The result was an album that’s void of conventional instrumentation, containing songs that are carried nearly solely by Sparhawk and his wife Mimi Parker’s harmonious singing. While the group’s lyrics seem overtly political at times — "All the soldiers, they’re all gonna die. All the little babies, they’re all gonna die," they sing in opener "Pretty People" — Sparhawk insists that Drums And Guns isn’t a political record.
"No, no, violence and war are not about politics. [Politics] is about lying and trying to get large groups of people to do what you want them to do. The idea of violence is much deeper — this idea of who is man and why do we kill each other and why do we have this penchant for destroying everything around us. That’s been speculated on by many people before.
"We never really set out to write songs about certain things or make records that say this or that. The songs just come. I was happy at the end of the record to realize that it was saying something about the world’s situation. How to address that without being cliche and without reducing it down to names and places, I guess that’s the trick."
While Drums And Guns may not have been inspired by his country’s leaders or turmoil in the Middle East, Sparhawk admits that the band’s lyrics are unintentionally a product of the times.
"For years, I really didn’t think that I was that affected by things around me. Part of me thought that writing was a little more independent from what was around me, but I guess the last few records, I’ve had to admit that to myself. I think by the time the songs get filtered through myself personally and things going on, even changes in the band [longtime bassist Zak Sally recently left and was replaced by Matt Livingston], it’s hard to pinpoint if the message has changed."
Drums And Guns is the eighth full-length for the band and, while Sparhawk would like to see things continue as they have for the last 15 years, he begrudges that it’s time for the members of Low to alter their lives to better fit reality.
"I think especially now, our daughter’s in school… the last couple months we’ve been away from [the kids] quite a bit. I think we’re probably going to be adjusting things in the near future, taking most of the winter off for sure… It kind of just hit me in the head. Maybe we should give ourselves a little leeway.
"We’ve been really lucky as a band so far. Even if it lets us down sometimes, in the end I think it’ll let us down easy."
Low are currently on tour supporting Wilco. They’ll make one Canadian stop on Saturday at Toronto’s Massey Hall.