2009 saw The Low Anthem (comprised of Ben Knox Miller, Jeff Prystowsky, Jocie Adams and now Mat Davidson) release "Oh My God, Charlie Darwin", their first full-length album, on Bella Union. A gruelling tour schedule has seen both the record and the band convert mere spectators into die-hard fans all across Europe and the U.S. with almost religious-like live shows seeing the band taking in hundreds of shows since 2007 and the release of their debut E.P., "What The Crow Brings". Last year even saw the band pick up the "coveted" G-Man Album of the Year!
2010 has already seen the band from Providence, take in over two dozen shows (including a Vicar St. show in Dublin) with many more booked as well as plans to enter the studio to record album number two. Ben took the time out recently to grant The G-Man World Blog an interview.
Q. 2009 saw the release of Oh My God, Charlie Darwin to critical acclaim, a whirlwind number of shows across the globe, as well as appearances on many popular t.v. shows (e.g. Letterman) and radio stations. How happy are you with how your debut album year has gone? What lessons have you learned from the past year and what have you learned about yourselves to your own surprise?
It has been an amazing year but for all of the fast developments, one of the most important things we learned is to stay patient, and focused on music only. You can't trust the theater that surrounds it all. There's a lot of distraction. The only thing you can listen to for direction is the music. Sometimes it feels like an act of faith, because it might set you on fire one moment, and the next day, you might have to try another tact to find it. The mojo that is. Magic.
Q. Of course the past is the past and the present is everything. 2010 will not actually see any reduction in the pace The Low Anthem is travelling with approximately 40 shows alone in the US between the 23rd Feb and the 23rd April. This excludes the fact that ye already have a European tour under your belts!!! Is it a case of strike while the iron is hot? How is the band coping with the touring? Any particular stand-out "on the road" stories from 2009?
You know, as long as we're in the headspace where we can go out and deliver real shows (not self-immitation) we'll do as much touring as we can. And to come back each time to find larger and larger crowds is incredible. It tells us people are connecting, and that's what it's about.
Q. I have always been fascinated with the friendship and respect that grows between bands/artists when on tour. I also love the idea of this bond continuing once a tour ends with band members stepping in for sessions with other bands, recording side projects together etc. I suppose it is the "Music is a family" mentality that sums up what music should be in my mind. A group that springs to mind is Dave Rawlings, Gillian Welch, Old Crow Medicine Show, Whispertown 2000 etc. When I see these bands play together and/or speak of each other in interviews it is always with a warmth that must be so very good for the soul. (Before I get a bit too emotional) do you have any comments on this "family" atmosphere and is there a "family" that you would consider The Low Anthem a part of?
Yea, I dig what your saying. Any band has a certain family aspect to it. People's personalities lean on one another and find the space. Chemistry is a delicate thing. There's a lot of ways it can work and ways it can go wrong. The best bands in my opinion have a lot of tension in their personal dynamics. But it's a chicken and egg situation when you ask if that tension breeds magic. Maybe. And you mention some groups that show the opposite. Everyone has to have their space in a proper band. That's certain.
Q. Speaking of the constant touring I was lucky enough to catch your set at a festival in England last Summer. I had been a big fan of the album for a few months before that so was extremely interested in what you would sound like in a live setting. I am glad to say I was not disappointed and you were the highlight of the festival for me on a really nice 3pm slot in the sun. A lot has been made about how many instruments you play and how you are constantly running about the stage.
So you must be talking about End Of The Road which is our favorite festival in the UK. Beautiful gardens, cozy size, great bookings. We'll be there again this September. I have really good memories from that show. It was a bit of landmark along the road.
I caught you in Vicar Street in Dublin recently and what impressed me most was, in such a short space of time between the last gig and the February show, the live performance had gone up at least a level or two and, going back to the multi-instrumentalist point, you seem to be changing instruments far more comfortably with a fluency and grace that added much more to the show. Have you noticed this yourself? You yourself also seem far more laid back in the frontman role which surely is one reason for this. How have you felt you have grown as a frontman/lead-singer?
Well, I really can't say. I feel like every night is a new fight. I'm not some polished singer you know. I fall more in the hard-tryer camp. Every night I feel like I start from scratch trying to figure out the shape of my throat and where the sound comes from. It's the same with the songs. Every day you walk into a house and your jarred because somebody's always rearranging the furniture. Wait, where'd I leave that? It's a matter of rediscovery and it hasn't gotten any easier. I don't feel more comfortable. If anything, the challenge only gets greater.
Q. Mat Davidson, who has toured with the band for quite a while now, has recently become an official member of the band upgrading The Low Anthem from a trio to a quartet. Was this just a natural progression? How much has Matt been able to add to the new album and is it easier for him now that it is a fact that he is part of the band?
Mat can do everything. He sings a gorgeous lonesome tenor, plays guitar, clarinet, organ, harmonium, saw, accordian, really anything at all. More importantly though, he came into the band with a great respect and has been patient and careful. I expect though that as time goes on, he'll be able to take a more intrusive role. Shake things up a bit, and keep the sound evolving.
Q. Whenever I venture into a new city/country I tend to always have to visit the zoo. Another friend of mine tends to take a photograph of odd looking telephone booths. I know it is very different on tour (pulling into town for one day, soundchecking, playing and then moving on) but is there anything that you like/have to do when you go away?
We came up with the title for "Oh My God, Charlie Darwin" outside the giraffe pen at our Rhode Island zoo. I like to see paintings, find local whiskey and see whatever bands are in the other clubs. We like to see music on our nights off.
Q. I was happily surprised to hear some new songs in Vicar Street. Have you a release date for the new album? How did you approach the writing/recording to the Oh My God, Charlie Darwin follow-up? Was it more a case of perfecting what you set out to do on the first record or did you want to push in another, slightly different direction?
It bears some resemblance, but it's really got it's own identity. I can't be too specific yet, but as with all our stuff, the album is a complete piece with all parts interrelated. It features more instruments, new arrangements, different sorts of songs. In some cases the songwriting is less abstract and more colloquial, though there are also some real abstract/cerebral bits. It is an album about art, love, and self as opposed to apocalypse and God.
Q. I really enjoyed the version of the Emmy-Lou song Evangeline that you performed with the impressive Brown Bird, especially the effect of gathering everyone around the one microphone. Is it just that song that you like or are you big fans? I am guessing Tom Waits is another influence from the louder tracks on the album? What other bands/artists currently occupy The Low Anthem's stereo?
You can hear all our favorite music on our weekly radio show. It's called the Trala-Lala Radio Hour and it airs Sundays on WOXY.com 10am US Eastern Time.
Lately I can't get enough of
Sonny Boy Williamson, Pearls Before Swine, Karen Dalton, and This Leo Sunrise.
Q. A friend of mine recently said to me that she noticed that I more-or-less hibernate in December/January and then explode back to life in the Spring. Is there a particular season where you find yourself at your most creative? What do you think it is about that time of the year that appeals to your nature more?
It's hard to feel much in the summer.
*I ask everyone this question..... (For 'A', The Icelandic band Seabear gave me Asian Golden Cat!!)
Q. Ever played the animal game before? (Basically you begin with one letter, eg. 'A', and everyone has to name an animal beginning with this letter. The person who cannot name an animal beginning with 'A' loses one life).
The easy animals such as 'Bear' are always taken quite early so can ye give me a rare animal beginning with 'B' that I can use as back up for the next time I play the game myself? A description of the animal would also be helpful as people tend to try and make up names as well as using mythological beasts!
How about the Bluefooted Boobie? Taken?
Check out The Low Anthem below.....
Official Website : http://www.lowanthem.com/
Offical Myspace : http://www.myspace.com/lowanthem