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Low's Haunting And Holistic Rock Struggles To Answer Life's Big Questions

"I think our music a lot of the time struggles with, 'Who am I? What is truth? What is the correct path when you don't really understand what it should be as much as you have hope that it would have at some point.'" Alan Sparhawk says.
"I think our music a lot of the time struggles with, 'Who am I? What is truth? What is the correct path when you don't really understand what it should be as much as you have hope that it would have at some point.'" Alan Sparhawk says.

The sound of Low has changed a lot since husband and wife Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker started the band in 1993. But its harmonies remain central to the band's music.

"As soon as we'd sing, and you would sing harmony, I thought, 'Wow this is beautiful,'" Sparhawk says.

Sparhawk and Parker are relaxing at home in Duluth, Minn. — the band's birthplace — after getting back from an overseas tour. Sparhawk plays guitar and Parker plays drums, with bassist Steve Garrington rounding out the trio. And while their singing has remained a constant, Low's sound has evolved in striking ways.

"They've gone from this quiet and somewhat haunting thing, to full on blaring rock songs that will make your hair stand on end," Chris Riemenschneider, Minneapolis' Star Tribune music critic, says.

Fellow Minnesota musician Dave Simonett of Trampled by Turtles is a long-time friend and collaborator of Parker and Sparhawk.

"They have done whatever they've wanted creatively their entire careers and taken so many risks on and off the stage," Simonett says. "You know, normally people get tamer as they get older, but I think they're getting more adventurous." Low's adventurous side is evident on its latest album, Double Negative, out now.

The band has been recording and performing for 25 years now, though Sparhawk and Parker have been married for even longer. And just as their music has changed over the course of time, so have their lives. The couple had already been touring for eight years when they had their first kid. Their two children are now teenagers.

"We just assumed that we're going to have these kids and we're just going to bring 'em [on tour]," Parker says. "If we'd had thought about it a lot, we probably would have decided not to do it."

One of the constants in Sparhawk and Parker lives, and in Low's music, has been faith. Sparhawk and Parker are Mormon, and you can hear spirituality in their lyrics. In "DJ," a track from Low's 2015 album Ones and Sixes, Sparhawk sings, "You want religion, you want assurance / A resurrection, some kind of purpose / You have the vision, you opened your eyes / A complication, you should have looked twice." And although Sparhawk and Parker note that they've never set out to write a religious song, it seems that they've also never set out to not write one.

"I think our music a lot of the time struggles with, 'Who am I? What is truth? What is the correct path when you don't really understand what it should be as much as you have hope that it would have at some point.'" Sparhawk says.

On "Quorum," the opening track of Double Negative, Sparhawk sings of putting away a book. "The book representing the idea that what's going on is inevitable, that it's already written," he says after a moment of hesitation. "I refuse that. There has to be something you can decide to do to change the future."

Sparhawk and Parker seem confident that they'll be able to keep doing what they've been doing in Low's music. But in life, they're adjusting to something they seem less confident about: Their oldest just graduated from high school. "Off to college and then we'll be alone with a 14-year-old," Parker says, "I have no idea how that's going to pan out."

Web intern Kristy Guilbault contributed to this story.

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