The Low Anthem comes with a passel of backstories: its leaders, Ben Knox Miller and Jeff Prystowsky, met as radio DJs at Brown; the band dumpster-dived for cereal boxes to make its early CD packages; the band sold 75,000 copies of Oh My God, Charlie Darwin and were signed to Nonesuch; the band recorded its fourth, latest and most terrific album Smart Flesh, in an old pasta sauce factory; the band plays slow, pastoral folk with mostly acoustic instruments, breathing textures into artfully arranged, intricate arrangements of songs made by pump organs, woodwinds, strings and banjos, among many others.
An easy classification would be "old-timey," but to do that would be to undercut its modern-feeling vitality, especially on the heels of the Americana folk revival led by Edward Sharpe, Old Crowe Medicine Show and double Grammy winners The Civil Wars. The quintet plays the Cohn this weekend for a pair of shows with City and Colour.
"I think of us as being pretty open-minded and experimental with our approach," says Prystowsky from his home in Providence, Rhode Island. "For instance, we have many different instruments in our studio, not just traditional instruments, but traditional instruments are among them. This was a kind of project that was about learning how to play the traditional instruments--- well, I say traditional instruments, the pump organ is from 1917---we've played for a few years now trying to play spare and minimalistic, you know, pump organ and upright bass and a little bit of drums, trying to be pretty textural."
Though doing music on its own terms has paid off for the band, Prystowsky admits that The Low Anthem's day-to-day is more difficult than most: "It's always very hard," he says of shows. "It's polarizing in terms of the sound spectrum. We're pretty demanding as a live band because we have all these instruments that can't be plugged in, so you need to mic them from the outside, and then we have instruments that do plug in."
The band doesn't want to be crammed into the abandoned pasta sauce factory of an acoustic box forever, though. "But now we've kind of expanded a bit and we have an array of electric instruments that we're experimenting with for this next record," says Prystowsky. "We are equally interested in the kinds of textures we can get with electric instruments as what we can get with acoustic."
A group like this is less likely to come from the nearby urban hubs of Boston and New York, where life and music move faster. "Providence is interesting cause it's a little bit off the circuit of going from New York to Boston, so the scene that's developed here is more underground or alternative," says Prystowsky. "It's really still the fact that a touring band might come to Providence and only a couple dozen people come out to your show, and in Boston or New York you can draw a couple hundred. So it's not typical just because people come to your concerts in Boston or New York that people will come in Providence."
This next part will sound familiar: "It's more word of mouth, a little more on the street, you have to know where to post in town. It's a poster town. If there's an event, you wanna go around town and poster. But it's wonderful and certainly vibrant---the arts community here is certainly thriving."
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