Musicheads Essential Artist: Low

Low perform at the Fitzgerald Theater
Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker of Low perform at the Fitzgerald Theater, 2018. (Nate Ryan/MPR)
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April is Minnesota Music Month. To celebrate, each weekday this month we'll be spotlighting a different artist with special coverage on air and online. For Friday, April 10, we're shining a light on Low.

The Duluth group Low, anchored by the husband and wife duo of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, helped define an entire subgenre of rock and have reached an international audience with their evocative, slow-burning music.

Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker met in the fourth grade in a small town in northwestern Minnesota, where Alan had just moved from Utah. Their musical partnership didn't really get going until they both moved to Duluth for college in the early '90s — and they've remained there throughout their career, shaping Duluth's creative scene while absorbing the city and the sprawling abyss of Lake Superior into their songs.

"Some of the bands we were inspired by," says Sparhawk, include "Spacemen 3, Joy Division, the Cure, Velvet Underground. They all had a little bit of a minimalist end to their spectrum, maybe some quieter songs that we thought, 'What if everything was like that?'"

In addition to Alan and Mimi, Low have included a revolving cast of bass players; it was with their longtime early-career bassist Zak Sally that they released their earliest albums on Virgin Records' Vernon Yard imprint and became college radio and critical darlings. As their popularity grew, the trio would sign with the Chicago experimental label Kranky, collaborate with the high-profile producer Steve Albini, and tour Europe with Radiohead.

In the mid-2000s, Low signed with the influential Seattle label Sub Pop and released their landmark albums The Great Destroyer and Drums and Guns, which introduced a more muscular, electric guitar-driven element into their simmering sound. They also had a fleeting brush with mainstream attention when a song from their Christmas EP, a version of "Little Drummer Boy," was featured in a Gap ad.

Now decades into their career, Low's achievements continue to pile up: their songs "Silver Rider" and "Monkey" have been covered by none other than Robert Plant; they are now elder statesmen of the music scene in Duluth, which they still call home; and they performed one of the most-talked-about Rock the Garden sets ever.

Through it all, Low have continued to write prolifically and constantly reinvent their sound. As their heavily distorted, experimental, and critically adored 2018 album Double Negative showed, Low have never stopped finding new ways to push the envelope.


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