with Alan Sparhawk of Low
May 12, 2007
Name: Alan Sparhawk
Bands: Low, Retribution Gospel Choir
QRD – How old were you when you first realized you wanted to be a professional musician?
Alan – I’m not sure if the concept of “professional” came up, but I suppose the moment I wanted to try to learn something on the guitar was the moment that dream was born, so to speak. That was probably age 14. By then, my dad was making a living, sort of, as a farmer & as a drummer in a country band on weekends; so the concept of music being something real people do to exist was already there.
QRD – What are a few highlights of your musical career?
Alan – Our first show, hearing ourselves on the radio the first time (right after the DJ came on to announce the death of Kurt Cobain, which only made the moment that much more bizarre...); touring with Radiohead, Swans, & Ida; meeting Kenny Rogers backstage at a festival in Ireland; the people we’ve gotten to know in different places over years of touring; sitting in a shitty Paris airport hotel watching TV trying to figure out who they were saying had won - Bush or Gore.…
QRD – At what age did you decide you wanted to become a father?
Alan – I guess I always figured I would be, but from age 20 to 31 I became increasingly convinced it may never happen.
QRD – What are some positive & negative impacts your family has had on your career?
Alan – I can only attribute it to God & the gift of becoming a parent, but when we first found out Mimi was pregnant, we were still barely paying the bills with this rock & roll thing (we were still doing part time jobs, etc.). But by the time Hollis was born, John Peel was championing our Christmas record in England for the second year in a row & The Gap used our version of “The Little Drummer Boy” for a TV ad. Despite taking time off, the year Hollis was born was in many ways one of the band’s “best.” I guess what I’m saying is that becoming parents has been a great blessing to our career. The old fear of parenthood becoming the death of one’s dreams is greatly overrated.
QRD – What are some positive & negative impacts your career has had on your family?
Alan – We’re very lucky in that we have a life in which we are around our kids all day. I guess the whole goal is to be able to be there always & still be able to afford it. Unfortunately, we have to leave them home sometimes when we tour, especially to Europe. All in all, we are away from them way less than the average parents in America; but those times away are painful, so I guess that’s a negative. Hollis grew up traveling & I think seeing new faces & places every day has made her pretty socially confident, but who knows how that will play out later in life.
QRD – Have your children effected the music you make &/or listen to?
Alan – Yes. Parenthood, & the process of becoming a parent, definitely influenced the music I was writing at those times. In turn, I’ve noticed a child’s tendency to want to listen to the same CD over & over again has rubbed off on me. I had sort of lost that. They don’t know that there’s thousands of CDs released every week, they just want to hear Waylon Jennings!!!... & King Tubby.
QRD – Have you had problems with the lack of steady money from a musical career providing the security you feel necessary in your household?
Alan – (see above) We have been very lucky. Since Hollis was born, we’ve always had enough to last six months. I know most people never taste that. Meanwhile, being middle-aged & without any skills or job experience is not going to look good when this music business crap finally falls in, so check with me in a couple years.…
QRD – Given the limitations having a family has on being a touring musician, would you have toured more earlier in life if you’d known?
Alan – Yes. Maybe. I know if we had children when we started the band, we would not have toured, & touring is essentially what made Low. Again, we were lucky enough that we could afford to bring Hollis on tour with us once she came along; but before that, touring was synonymous with being homeless & sort of mobile.
QRD – Do you think being a father or a musician has a greater impact on your community?
Alan – there are a few examples of music doing good to the community, but fatherhood certainly is the most important (and accessible) responsibility a man can have. If you raise good children you are raising a good community.
QRD – Would you rather see your child eventually become a musician or parent?
Alan – One or the other? Parent.
QRD – Both family & music seem like things that will take up as much of your time as you’re willing to put in. How do you end up dividing your time?
Alan – Let them coexist in the timeline. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Sometimes having limited time can make you more organized.…
QRD – Do you have a split/secret life between being a parent & being a musician?
Alan – My brain sort of sorts certain aspects of the two into separate compartments. As much as the band & family are sort of meshed together, being able to turn your concentration to one & take a break from the other can be helpful. I think I’m more of a jerk when I’m being a “musician”, so maybe it’s a Jeckyl & Hyde thing.
QRD – What do your children think of your music?
Alan – They hear us play at home & at soundchecks. I guess they put up with it. While we’re writing songs, I’ll sometimes bounce them off the kids to see if anything sticks. I think kids have a great ear for pop. They like it, but it’s always been around. Cyrus likes the process & sounds; Hollis likes making up words & songs & dancing.
QRD – Do you think you could ever do a musical project with your children?
Alan – Yes, & I have.
QRD – Any words of advice to young people?
Alan – Go out & see the world. Make yourself scared & live through situations where you feel very small. Work hard & remember to be grateful. Somewhere in there, if you have children, you’ll be glad & they’ll be glad.
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