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Q&A: THE LOW ANTHEM

The Low Anthem.JPG

The Rhode Island-based folkie trio The Low Anthem made a splash late last year with the release of Oh My God, Charlie Darwin.

On June 9, the Nonesuch label released a remastered version of the album with a different track sequence. Bassist Jeff Prystowsky recently discussed the thinking behind the reissue, working with studio ace Bob Ludwig on the project, the band’s experience at Bonnaroo this year and other subjects.

Medleyville.us: What was the thinking behind updating the track sequence for Oh My God, Charlie Darwin? And was it the band’s idea, Nonesuch’s idea or a mutual decision?
Jeff Prystowsky: “When we first started playing music, we played in bars and small coffee shops and fought with clanking beer glasses, vintage PA systems and Red Sox games. In those early days, playing louder songs early in the set was our only chance of survival. So, we made the record’s track sequence like a set list at a gig: soft-soft-loud-loud-soft, because that’s what we were hearing then. Now, we’re playing better venues where we can actually hear the songs. We’ve become more patient with our sets. Certain songs have emerged as our favorites, like ‘Ticket Taker’ and ‘Cage the Song Bird.’ So we moved those up in the order.”

Sonically speaking, what differences would you say were most important to the band when it came to having Bob Ludwig remaster the album?
Prystowsky: “Nonesuch asked if we wanted Bob Ludwig to remaster our album, and we were thrilled. He is a legend in the audio world. We knew that he had the best analog mastering gear and invented many of the techniques the rest of us emulate.
“The record was very bright and harsh and digital when we brought it to him, and he warmed it up. How did he do it? We would ask, ‘Hey Bob, could you get rid of that nagging high frequency?’ And he would zap it away. That’s about all I could tell you; there’s a lot of magic in that studio. I think the record is fine without the remastering, but now that I’ve heard it both ways, I much prefer his version. ‘(Don’t) Tremble’ and ‘Ticket Taker’ came alive during the session.”

How was the band’s experience at this year’s Bonnaroo festival, both on and off the stage?
Prystowsky: “Bonnaroo was incredible. Onstage, I’ve never seen an audience so enthused. They started to go nuts even when we plugged our guitar into the amplifier. It wasn’t the best set we’ve ever played — in fact, I wish we could have another go at it. But people told us afterward that we sounded good. Well, we weren’t prepared for a 15-minute soundcheck. We didn’t have time to get the monitors the way we wanted them, and it was hard to hear the mix over the sound of the rain and generators.

“Off-stage, we didn’t get to explore much, since we were booked with interviews all day. However, walking around backstage we met some great musicians, like Lucinda Williams, Decemberists, Bon Iver, St Vincent, David Byrne‘s band,Elvis Perkins and also Triumph the Comic Insult Dog, who made fun of us during one of his sets.”

The Low Anthem MySpace page includes a list of instruments that the band is currently traveling with. Is there a particularly interesting story about how any of them were acquired?
Prystowsky: “The WWI portable pump organ was purchased on eBay from a woman named Thelma from North Carolina, who told us the organ was previously played by the ‘hired help.’ We haggled her down to a fair price. The Eb horn we found in the attic of an old house. The scrapmetal drum kit was pieced together from four different places — the bass drum we traded a friend for a bottle of white wine, the kick pedal was our drum teacher’s when he was a student in the ’50s, the hi-hat was my ex-girlfriend’s father’s and the snare and cymbals we are ‘borrowing indefinitely’ from a friend.”

The band’s current tour ends Oct. 2 in Austin, Texas. What’s on tap after that — a vacation? Writing and recording new material? Or are more tour dates on the horizon?
Prystowsky: “We are about to announce a West Coast tour in late October, and then a short European run in November. After that, we’ll start making a new record. The songs from Oh My God, Charlie Darwin were written over two years ago, so we have a new batch of songs ready to go. We are all very excited to get to work. The studio is our favorite place to be.”

— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior

The Low Anthem on tour (schedule subject to change):

* July 25: Wiggins Park – Camden, N.J. (XPonential Music Festival)
* Aug. 1: Newport Folk Festival — Newport, R.I.
* Aug. 4: Club Café — Pittsburgh
* Aug. 6: Locals Only — Indianapolis
* Aug. 8: Lollapalooza — Chicago
* Aug. 10: Southgate House — Newport, Ky.
* Aug. 11: The Basement — Nashville, Tenn.
* Aug. 12: Grey Eagle Tavern — Asheville, N.C.
* Aug. 14: Local 506 — Chapel Hill, N.C.
* Aug. 15: Ottobar — Baltimore
* Aug. 16: Philadelphia Folk Festival
* Aug. 29: Plymouth Waterfront Festival — Plymouth, Mass.
* Oct. 2: Austin City Limits – Austin, Texas