The Low Anthem: Music As Music
Let’s say you’re a musician from the East Coast. You play guitar, and fancy about life’s direction, it’s meaning, and the infinite spaces in which life happens. If you’re worth a lick, you’ll soon be bombarded with comparison to Bob Dylan and Tom Waits, two musicians arguably at the top of the list of male singer/song-writers who don’t have very good voices, but somehow sound amazing. The Low Anthem is one such group of artists, who after emerging from Providence, Rhode Island and releasing their LP, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, have been described as a new generation’s incarnation of the two folk/rock heroes mentioned above. The Low Anthem take the comparisons in stride as Ben Knox of the group told us,
“People can say whatever they want as long as they’ve heard the record. It’s the full of s**t critics that use sounds-like-this sounds-like-that comparisons in the place of actual listening and writing…they’re the ones responsible for the rot.”
Given Ben’s statement about writers that don’t listen to the music, it’s somewhat ironic that he remains vague and mysterious when it comes to specific questions about song lyrics, and title meanings. In response to a question about “Ticket Taker” Ben replies, “I love the question, but I can’t answer it.” Read onto see more questions, the majority of them answered by Ben Knox Miller of The Low Anthem, and see why many music writers may just be onto something in sliding the band into cultural space occupied by Dylan and Waits, whether they’re truly listening or not.
RubyHornet: The first two articles I read about The Low Anthem compared you guys to Bob Dylan. Are you guys cool with such comparisons, and do you prefer younger NYC-ish Bob Dylan or the current more Cowboy-ish Bob Dylan?
The Low Anthem: People can say whatever they want as long as they’ve heard the record. It’s the full of s**t critics that use sounds-like-this sounds-like-that comparisons in the place of actual listening and writing…they’re the ones responsible for the rot. We love Dylan, old and new. His records 2-5 are on fire, but Tell Tale Signs and Modern Times have received equal spin time lately.
RubyHornet: Your name is The Low Anthem, are you fans of Cracker’s 90′s anthem “Low”? Ever consider covering it?
The Low Anthem: Never heard of it.
RubyHornet: “Home, I’ll Never Be” appears on the new album. I know you guys also just wrapped up a tour and stop at SXSW. Where is home for you, and what do you enjoy most when you do get to spend some time there?
The Low Anthem: Home is in Providence, RI. We enjoy spending time with our friends. We enjoy playing baseball. We enjoy painting. We enjoy writing comics. We enjoy seeing local music. We enjoy finding and repairing antique instruments.
RubyHornet: “Ticket Taker” starts, “The ticket takers count the men who can afford the arc, the ticket takers will not board, the ticket takers are tied, for 5 and change an hour, they
will count the passerbys.” The character in this song is also a ticket taker, and seems somewhat complacent about it. Can you speak on what a ticket taker is?
The Low Anthem: I love the question, but I can’t answer it.
RubyHornet: The album title, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin gives off a ‘man, if Charlie Darwin could see what we’ve evolved to…” type of vibe, and sets the album up for exploring such issues. Is that what you’re trying to communicate with the title?
The Low Anthem: I still chuckle a bit snootily at the “Oh no! God, what do we do about Charlie Darwin!” vs. “God=Darwinism” bit. I like your interpretation.
RubyHornet: You just signed to a record label. Why did you decide to sign at this moment, being that you generated strong buzz at SXSW, were recently featured in Rolling Stone? It seems like your stock is rising, what is it that led you to sign rather than wait a little longer?
The Low Anthem: Nonesuch is the best record label I know of. So there wasn’t anything to wait for really. They gave us a very strong, fair offer and they have no interest in meddling with what we want to put out. They’re even letting us hand-silkscreen the next 20,000 copies! We could have played hard to get, but we don’t have much taste for the industry hustle. Hopefully we can have some normal gigs in New York now without that industry showcase vibe. Just want to focus on music.
RubyHornet: Multiple songs on the album focus on a traveling protagonist. Why is travel and space so prominent in the music? Does that go back to a theme of exploration also signified in the title and reference to Darwin?
The Low Anthem: It hadn’t occurred to me like that, but I suppose you are right. There’s really only two or three exceptions on the record.
RubyHornet: How did you three meet? Is there a quality that you all share that allows you work well together creatively? Which member of the band is best to ask for directions?
The Low Anthem: We met at the prestigious Brown University, sacred bastion of folk and Americana. We work well together because we trust each other, despite our frictions. We also share a cynicism about the deterioration of values. This cynicism, however, is counterbalanced by a healthy nihilism about values altogether. This nihilism, in turn, is held in check by our shared instinctual leaning toward community and love. Jeff and I also love baseball.
RubyHornet: Part of your ethos is “music that is music” when is music not music? How does this influence your art?
The Low Anthem: Pop music makes people stupider. I think that’s the blunt answer. You try not to eat out of a can every day if you don’t have to, right?
RubyHornet: For some of our readers, this will be their introduction to The Low Anthem. What are three things you’d like them to know about you before going and getting more music?
The Low Anthem: If you are thinking of picking up the new record, but you only have 15 bucks, I recommend purchasing Steinbeck’s East of Eden instead.