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QRD #36 - Valentine's Special - February 2008
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xo #3 - first time
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Valentine's Interviews with:
All in the Golden Afternoon
The Backsliders
Book of Shadows
California Oranges
Grappling Hook
Here Comes Everybody
List of Likes
My Glass Beside Yours
Northern Valentine
Paris Luna
Something About Vampires&Sluts
Shiny Around the Edges
Silk Stocking
The Wades
Windy & Carl
The Winter Sounds
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Valentine's Interview with Low
February 2008

Low is a minimalist pop band.  They are probably one of the best known romatic couple bands in indie rock.

QRD – How do you turn music mode on & off in your relationship with each other?  Or do you find yourself pretty constantly collaborating on music even if it’s songs about cooking? 

Alan – I’m not really aware of any point where we consciously switch it on & off.  It’s sort of always there, but so is everything else we have in common. 

Mimi – We differ quite a bit with that - when I’m not on tour or recording, I’m not thinking “music” 24/7.  The kids take a lot of my time, so I can turn it off.  Alan finds other outlets.

QRD – How has your music changed by having someone you’re romantically involved with working with you?

Alan – A vast majority of my musical experience has been in collaboration with Mim, so I don’t have much to compare with, but I know that being that close to the person you collaborate with sort of makes it a little easier to let the music be intimate & personal.

Mimi – This is the only band that I’ve been in.  So the romance is all I know.  Ha-ha.

QRD – How do you keep things professional rather than getting personal in the band?  Like not letting being upset that someone’s not doing their house chores spill into band practice? 

Alan – You try, but ultimately it’s impossible.  There is no way to separate the band from life.  In fact, I would say the tension of trying to make the two work & coexist probably contributes more to the band than I could admit.  It’s a challenge worth taking.

Mimi – It can be tricky.  The relationships (bandmates/spouses) don’t just start & stop when practice or breakfast is over.  Sometimes it is like a dance.  Moving here & there trying not to step on toes; you just do the best you can & give each other the benefit of the doubt that they are trying as hard as you are.

QRD – Do you think working musically together increases the strength of your relationship?

Alan – I think so.  Working together has been the answer to our prayers - we are around each other a lot, we struggle together with a common creative endeavor, & we’ve been able to raise kids with it.  I think any time two people do something together, it strengthens their relationship.  Even the tough times add depth.

Mimi – This band was, as silly as it sounds, the answer to our prayers.  We had always wanted to work together & we consider ourselves blessed to be able to do this together.  Working so close puts a different kind of strain on a relationship.  We each play many roles - spouse, parent, bandmate, bestfriend, editor, etc. the list goes on & on.  We have been forced to make all these roles mesh.  & it has made us stronger & more creative I think.

QRD – Do you think the music ever suffers because of your relationship? 

Alan – It feels like it sometimes.  When something is stressful in the band, it’s hard not to think there is something personal going on.  I think the pluses far outweigh the minuses.  Relationships don’t kill people, people do.

Mimi – Maybe, but who can say what might have been.  Mostly I think the music is because of the relationship.  So maybe not.

QRD – Being in a romantic couple, do you try to curb lyrical content to or away from things in your relationship?

Alan – I don’t remember ever feeling like I needed to edit anything that was too personal.  I’ve written a few songs over the years that are about Mim & our relationship, but it’s pretty cryptic.  Mim & I are one in many ways, so it’s rare that I’m “outside” enough to write about it.

Mimi – That has never been an issue.  Our lyrics usually are vague.  So who knows what the hell we are talking about.  In the song “When I Go Deaf” one line says, “ We will make love.”  Still to this day I feel silly singing that.  So I guess as a general rule, romantic content is at a minimum.  But lyrics about fighting & conflict are fair game.

QRD – A lot of families kind of look down on musicians as immature, do you find that going out with another musician has eased relationships with your parents or in-laws? 

Alan – Our families did kind of look at us sideways when we first started the band.  I had already proved my slackness by being in bands before, so it looked even worse to be dragging my otherwise reasonable wife into it.  I think going to Europe to tour was what finally legitimized our choice, in their eyes.  The fact that we’re both in it kind of makes it look more legit.

Mimi – At first our parents must have questioned our decision to become professional musicians, but we did it together & our consensus helped.  I’m pretty sensible & if I decided to go along with it, it must not have been too crazy.  At least I think so.

QRD – Which came first the musical collaboration or the relationship & do you feel that at this point that you could have one without the other? 

Alan – Mim & I have known each other well since age 9 & we started going out together in high school.  We loved music & sort of bonded on punk rock, so the musical connection came early.  We started the band when we were 24 years old.  I don’t think Low would exist without our relationship.  I probably would not have tried to write songs & sing - just play guitar in some dude band.  Also, I think Low would have broken up long ago if it was just 3 people.  The relationship sort of makes it bigger & more worth the work.

Mimi – We have been a “couple” since high school.  So, the band came after obviously.  We were a couple before the band & I’d like to think that we would be a couple if the band wasn’t here.

QRD – How do things work with band members besides the two of you to get the same level of connectivity while playing your music? 

Alan – I’m sure it’s difficult to be the 3rd guy in Low.  We’ve worn out a couple.  People probably have visions of Mim & I getting our way all the time because it’s 2 to 1, but more often than not, in those situations, I am the one voted off the island.  Over the years, I come to rely a lot on the bass player for musical interaction - editing & working out arrangements, etc.  We’ve been very lucky to have worked with creative people who could take it.

Mimi – You can’t expect others to have the same connection with music that they haven’t written.  We hope for the best, but at this point our record with others in the band is in question.

QRD – Do you find music related gifts to be romantic or more like giving someone an appliance? 

Alan – Every once in awhile I’ll bring home a CD that Mim will end up really liking, but that’s about it.  Mim is probably the least interested in gear musician I’ve ever met.  However, Mim has bought me a guitar or two as presents over the years, & you can’t argue about that.…

Mimi – Well.  I know that if I were to give Alan a piece of musical equipment, say a guitar, he would not be disappointed.  I, on the other hand, would prefer appliances.

QRD – The musician life style has an inherent lack of financial security & healthcare.  Do you find yourself thinking, “How can we start a family & continue our musical careers?” 

Alan – Yes, all the time.  Every parent has that fear I suppose.  We’ve been very lucky, but we have no safety net & no real work experience to build on once this all folds.

Mimi – Yes, all the time.  But then if you let yourself be ruled by those fears, you would never get anywhere.

QRD – Do you ever switch off instruments to give each other ideas? 

Alan – No.  Mim on a rare occasion will show me a melody she’s working on, & I sometimes try stuff on the drums, but we mostly stay in our respective corners.

Mimi – Not so much, but we talk about it.

QRD – A lot of people say they feel most spiritually connected to another person is when they’re on stage & the set is working.  Is this what you find & how does this energy flow into your romantic relationship? 

Alan – I agree.  That connection can happen between anyone playing, but when you feel it, & then look across the stage & realize it’s the person you make babies with, it’s just that much more surreal.  It certainly enhances the relationship.  Even a bad show is an opportunity to argue & learn.

Mimi – Sometimes troubles seem to disappear on stage during a good night.  & we sometimes tend to forget our fight with each other.  This is a blessing & should not be looked at lightly.

QRD – Some couples start to get seen as a unit with one member as dominant.  Do you ever want to get one of you more recognition? 

Alan – I guess there’s some things about our musical interaction that make me appear more dominant, but I’ve been reminded many times of how vital the two together is.  I have to work so much harder to live up to the standard whereas much of what Mim does is very effortless & natural.  I don’t have to look far to be put back in place.

Mimi – I guess neither one of us is too precious about that type of thing.  At the end of the day you are your only true critic.

QRD – Do you feel a need to have separate projects where you just work on your own? 

Alan – Yes.  There are some things I’m interested in about music that Mim doesn’t want to be part of.  It’s a good break from me & she has other things she’s interested in.  I think I would drive her crazy if I forced her to entertain every idea that fell out.

Mimi – Alan does just because he has a need to stay busy.  I’m fine with other non-musical projects.

QRD – Musicians often run into fans with crushes, is there a secret to recognizing when something is getting inappropriate instead of being band promoting? 

Alan – Fans with crushes are the best & are usually a lot more harmless than you think.  In many ways, the fact that we’re married makes those kind of things simpler.  The person loves you, but already knows the situation, so it’s just someone expressing their love & you thanking them.  The few times anyone has been inappropriate have been obvious & easy to deal with.

Mimi – It has never been a problem for me.  If someone had a crush on me, I would be the last one to know.

QRD – Any advice for other musician couples?

Alan – Don’t fool yourself - it’s hard. 

Mimi – Enter at your own risk.

Official Low Website

Other QRD interviews with Low:
Low (from Whirlpool 1995)
Low interview (October 1998)
Low interview (September 2000)
Alan Sparhawk interview (July 2006)
Low Interview (October 2007)
Father's Day Interview with Alan Sparhawk of Low (May 2007)
Guitarist Interview Series with Alan Sparhawk of Low & Retribution Gospel Choir (December 2010)
Christian Musician interview with Alan Sparhawk of Low (March 2011)
Alan Sparhawk of Low interview (June 2013)