Interview: Low Anthem makes pizza-and-beer Americana
Rhode Island’s The Low Anthem is a smart talking bunch of Ivy-Leaguers whose angelic harmonies make even hard-nosed critics wobbly in the knees. Despite the fancy degrees and classical training, these multi-instrumentalists play like they were raised in the Appalachian hills. Their Americana noir quakes with authenticity and includes everything from a good stomp and holler to hushed hymns. As founding bassist Jeff Prystowsky tells it, everything from recording to instrument collecting is done organically, and sometimes also soaked in booze.
The Hook: How do you feel about vinyl releases?
Jeff Prystowsky: At our apartment in Providence, we listen exclusively to vinyl. It’s cool that you have to get up after a half hour to flip the record. Vinyl forces you to engage.
The Hook: Recently, vinyl copies of Nirvana’s Nevermind ended up inside sleeves for your album Smart Flesh and were sold at your shows. Is that a huge collector’s item now?
Jeff Prystowsky: (Laughs) We’ve practically been giving them away every time we find one, so you probably don’t have to pay much to get it. I mean, it’s not even a situation where our record is just mislabeled. You open up your Smart Flesh package and there’s a Nirvana record.
The Hook: Speaking of this most recent album, pictures on your website suggest it might have been inspired by copious amounts of Jim Beam.
Jeff Prystowsky: We do drink quite a bit, but it was more beer and pizza inspired. We basically had local business sponsors while recording. We’d just call up at the end of the week and ask if we could get two more pizzas and a few cases of beer. They’d be right over with them. It kept us fueled while we recorded in a cold building.
The Hook: That building was an old pasta sauce factory, right?
Jeff Prystowsky: Yeah, it was like a big airplane hanger with windows on all sides. Lots of creaks and bats. A strange, desolate place to be. At the same time, it was very inspiring. The sound of a factory is all over this record. Particularly, the sound of its reverb. We never had to use a reverb plug-ins, amps, or pedals..
The Hook: Aside from the frigid temperatures, were there other challenges recording in a place like that?
Jeff Prystowsky: The expansiveness. Sometimes we’d have to play something all week just to get a sound we were happy with and others worked in an hour. That room was a decider.
The Hook: Why did you decide to produce the record yourselves?
Jeff Prystowsky: If we were going to go to a studio, we’d use a producer because they know all the tricks and the sounds of their studio. But just going into an abandoned factory, we thought we could capture the sound ourselves.
The Hook: Where do you get your more unusual instruments?
Jeff Prystowsky: If we have time, we seek out the local instrument shop in cities and try to find vintage gear. Sometimes it’s through friends. We were just given a hammer dulcimer and a steel drum, which we’re learning to play. I was also given a jaw harp by Will Lee of the Late Show band. We’re always open to new sounds and textures. We’re kind of instrument hoarders.
The Hook: How have things changed over the years?
Jeff Prystowsky: The dangerous thing about playing every night is that your fingers start to know what to do. You want to get back to the place where sometimes you don’t know. That’s where the fun is.
The Low Anthem performs at the Southern on Tuesday 6/14. Dehlia Low opens. $12-$15, 8pm.