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coverpic flag US - Minnesota - Full Moon 53 - 02/08/01

Low-talk with Mimi Parker

Music with healing power

"The sound of Low is the sound just above that of silence", noted my collegue Colm Downes in last month's review of the bands recent show in Dublin. That's only partly true for their new masterpiece of an album though, the beautifully titled Things We Lost In The Fire, again produced by Steve Albini. Of course, all the trademarks of the band from Duluth, Minnesota, are still there, but amidst all the slowness, the quietness and the sad stories you will find quite a few real pop gems as well, tracks like Sunflower (with its great harmonies possibly the best Low song yet!) or Dinosaur Act, that rocks harder than any Low song in the past. Throw in a couple of campfire tunes (Don't Carry It All and Kind Of Girl) and you get the most varied Low album to date. In fact, Alan Sparhawk (vocals, guitar), Mimi Parker (vocals, drums) and Zak Sally (bass) did the unthinkable, and managed to deliver an album that actually is even better than their gorgeous last proper record, Secret Name.

The band tours the States in February and will be on the road all over Europe again in March and Luna Kafé had the chance to talk to Mimi just days before the new album was officially released. Here are some excerpts:

Luna Kafé: Low took the first half of the year 2000 off, because you had a baby last March. Did that shake up your life as much as one would expect it to?
Mimi: Well, we're touring again, so she [Hollis, her baby daughter] hasn't turned everything upside down, but she has definitely made it more of a challenge. I can't deny that my baby is my main focus now. She gets up in the morning and I take care of her all day and when she goes to bed I have a few minutes to just relax.

Luna Kafé: You returned to the life on the road very quickly. Was that merely a financial necessity or did you miss playing live in front of an audience?
Mimi: I don't know if it was a financial necessity... we knew we have a new CD coming out, actually it's coming out in the States on monday, and we just kinda wanted to get out to play some of the new songs and to get our feed wet again. So we started out slow, talking her along obviously.

Luna Kafé: Having seen your show in Amsterdam last fall, I noticed that almost half of the set were new (and, at the time) unreleased songs. Do you see this as a bigger challange, to play new songs rather than the tunes the audience kind of expects?
Mimi: It's always exciting to have new songs, because it brings back a little of the tension. After you play a song 15 or 20 times it kinda loses the excitement.

Luna Kafé: You also have more guests than ever before on the new album. Did that make the rehearsals for the tours more difficult, because some parts were simply missing?
Mimi: Not really, because when we originally write the songs, we are always thinking of how we are going to perform them live. Even though there are a lot more added elements on the recordings, the basic feel of the song is there when we just play it with us three. Every once in a while it would be fun to be able to take somebody along, but so far we haven't been able to do that (laughs).

Luna Kafé: You always have great support acts with you on the road. Is that really acts you get to chose or is it just the booking agents that pick them for you?
Mimi: Over in Europe we really haven't had a lot of say as far as the choice of support acts is concerned. Which show are you talking about?

Luna Kafé: Well, the first time I saw you live, you played with Shannon Wright in New York City, and most recently I noticed that you will play with Pedro The Lion in the States this February.
Mimi: Oh yeah! Shannon is a great friend of ours. We have more say over here who we play with...

Luna Kafé: ...and I guess in March you will play Europe with the Kings Of Convenience from Scandinavia...(...Norway - editor's note).
Mimi: We just got a CD from them, but I haven't had a chance to listen to it yet...

Luna Kafé: I suppose they are very quiet as well and get compared to Belle And Sebastian a lot. Which sounds like a good combination to me.
Mimi: Oh, good! I'll take your word for it! (laughs)

Luna Kafé: To me at least Things We Lost In The Fire sounds a lot more like a typical Steve Albini album than Secret Name did...
Mimi: You think so? (giggles) I think some of the songs are just a bit poppier and louder; but Steve just has a reputation for recording loud punk rock bands. Actually he is just a very good engineer. He just records bands very well. I don't know... I think both records are a pretty good indications of how he records people.

Luna Kafé: Overall the new albums seems to sound a little different than the previous ones. Did that happen naturally or did you get together to talk about what you liked best about Secret Name and how to go further in this or that direction?
Mimi: I think it's just a natural thing that happens. Alan does a lot of the songwriting and I think it's just something that happens. I can't really think of a time where we sat down and said: "We really need to think about how we want to sound like". It's always what occured naturally.

Luna Kafé: It seems that the singing takes a more prominent part on the new record...
Mimi: That was part of our intent. We wanted to build the songs not so much with instrumentation but with more vocals. That definitely was our intent.

Luna Kafé: Does that mean you spend more time on arranging and recording the album?
Mimi: A little bit. We spend maybe a total of four days more... (giggles)

Luna Kafé: ...which I guess is a lot for Steve Albini.
Mimi: Yeah... we did four days with Steve and then we did four days in a different studio [with longtime collaborateur Tom Herbers] and then went back to Steve for four or five days. It was a total of 12 or 13 days.

Luna Kafé: Talking of new recordings, I read on your excellent official webpage that you at one point wanted to record the entire first Bee Gees album [which of course includes some of the best songs you're ever going to hear]...
Mimi: Yeah I know (laughs out loud)! That's something that Alan and Zak probably thought about, but we never really considered it. It's something we just talked about...just something strange...

Luna Kafé: Talking of covers in general... how do you usually chose them? I know you actually recorded a Bee Gees song a few years ago (I Started A Joke) and you did a Beach Boys tune on your last tour as well.
Mimi: It's just songs we really like. Surfer Girl, the Beach Boys song we did, for some reason Alan just started to sing that to our little baby and she really loved it so then it was like: 'Hey, that's a really pretty song...', it just kind of evolved. We don't think about it a lot.

Luna Kafé: You're also featured on Duluth Does Dylan, where artists from Dylan's former hometown-area do cover of songs by his Bobness. How did you get to chose the song you're doing?
Mimi: Alan has this other band, it's kind of a blues band, Black Eyed Snakes, they do Tombstone Blues and we do Blowin' In The Wind. We were just listening to a lot of Dylan songs and at first we were gonna do this kind of obscure one, that none of us had heard (laughs), but after a while we decided to do Blowin'..., even though it's an obvious choice. It just came naturally to us and we didn't have to work on it much, it was just easy to do.

Luna Kafé: You also got some unlikely exposure with the GAP commericials.. How did that happen? I guess they just approached you?
Mimi: Yeah, they actually did... We were doing some touring, it was in September, we got a call and they said they were interested in using our version of Little Drummer Boy in their commercial. That was really some sort of an unexpected surprise. We talked about it a little bit, because usually we don't jump right away when somebody puts something like that in front of us, but they told us their idea and it sounded like something that wouldn't be offensive to us, so we said: 'Sure, why not?' The idea of millions of people listening to our song - even they wouldn't know who we are - was kind of appealing!"

Copyright © 2001 Carsten Wohlfeld (picture is © 2001 Jessica Bailiff) e-mail address (picture is © 2001 Jessica Bailiff)

You may also want to check out our Low articles/reviews: C'mon, Musik-Tanz-Club, Cologne, Germany, 01.11.1999, No Comprende, Ones and Sixes, Some Hearts (At Christmas Time), The Great Destroyer, The Invisible Way, Things We Lost In The Fire, Trust, Whelan's, Dublin, 18.11.2000.

© 2011 Luna Kafé