with Christian Musician Alan Sparhawk of Low
Bands: Low, Black-Eyed Snakes, Retribution Gospel Choir
Listen to “how the weather comes over the central hillside”
QRD – Do you try to keep your faith life & musical life separate?
Alan – No. If there is a line between the two, I’d have a hard time seeing it.
QRD – When creating music do you feel closer to God?
Alan – Yes. Everything should make you feel closer to God, but music tends to be a particularly good conduit.
QRD – How has your music helped you grow as a Christian?
Alan – Music in general has been the fiber of my faith from the beginning. Everything I know about God was taught to me in songs & the spiritual milestones of my life have almost always been musical experiences. I think the process of writing songs has helped me learn to listen to the spirit, which then testifies of Christ & His Father.
QRD – How has your music effected your faith?
Alan – Music & art give us license to say, “What if everything you thought was true was actually a lie?!!” It let’s you dream. You can’t have faith if you think you know what’s true.
QRD – How are your faith & aesthetic ideas linked together?
Alan – Pretty hand-in-hand, I think. I try to make things that respect where they really came from. I try to speak honestly with whoever may be listening. Music is a sacred language - as long as I remember that, I know when things are right.
QRD – What has been your experience being a Christian in an underground “artistic” community? Have you experienced any negativity towards yourself regarding your beliefs?
Alan – It’s been pretty smooth. Sure beats being thrown to the lions or kicked out of your house in Missouri because you have a funny new Bible & vote anti-slavery. The world of music, especially rock ‘n’ roll, is filled with religious people - the best kind - the ones who just do good things & don’t fly a flag. Anyone who thinks we’re uncool because of our religion must be cowards because they’ve never said anything to me.
QRD – How do you reconcile the idea of making “dark” music against the perception that Christians making music “should” be creating music of praise or trying to “save” people?
Alan – I’ve pondered that question from time to time & I guess I’ve come to trust the spirit in each situation. I think a person can address/express their deepest darkest fears in a way that brings light & redemption. It’s part of telling the truth. Sometimes a prayer is ugly, but God still wants to hear it.
QRD – How do you feel about performing with & for people who have a completely different set of beliefs than you do?
Alan – I can’t tell if I ever have.
QRD – What’s your take on bands that refer to themselves as Satanic or Pagan?
Alan – About the same way I feel about bands who refer to themselves as Christian.
QRD – What do you think of Contemporary Christian Music?
Alan – I don’t know if I’ve heard any.
QRD – How did you become a Christian? Can you share your experience?
Alan – My parents were/are Mormon, so I grew up with it. At around 18 or so, I sort of went off & lived outside the standards, questioned it all a bit. I was mostly being lazy. After a few weird drug experiences, things I had learned before started making a lot more sense & once I turned my head to look where it came from, I was filled with a peaceful, familiar presence that I’ll never forget. That then got me back to reading the scriptures & participating in church. I’ve had many other faith-building experiences since then, some of them very ugly & dangerous, but it’s always that same source of truth that wins.
QRD – Name a scripture that has personal significance to you & why?
Alan – I think Revelations is hilarious. I love the language of the first bit of John. Isaiah is my favorite. His vision of the throne of God, the seraphim with 6 wings, & his concern for his unclean lips. He named his son Maher-shalal-hash-baz which basically means “god is coming in his wrath!!!” The Book of Mormon has some great stuff, too, as you would imagine. There’s a spot where God is speaking to the people after a great earthquake, introducing his son, Jesus. The voice is described as still & soft, but piercing to the very soul. I’ve always kept that in my mind when I think about music.
QRD – How have traditional music & hymns influenced your music?
Alan – The Mormon hymnal is mostly devised of a few Church of England standards, a lot of songs with lyrics written to old Irish & Scottish folk songs, & left-field 19th century American amateur compositions. Some of it even sounds like American shape-note singing. The melodies are mostly simple with long held out phrases & a few show-offs in the congregation singing harmony. The children’s songs are really simple & great, too. I’m sure this all must have been a big influence on me.
QRD – Would you like to be more involved with playing praise music?
Alan – I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds good.
QRD – Would you like to try your hand at writing traditional praise music or hymns?
Alan – I sometimes think about writing hymns. It would be interesting to try. It would be hard to write words.
QRD – Do you ever intentionally or unintentionally have Christian references in your songs?
Alan – I’m not an intentional writer. Ideas come usually in fragments & I’m left to fit them together, sometimes having to consciously fill in empty parts. I’ve learned to trust what comes to you. My spirituality & religion define my perception & language, so it’s always coming out in the lyrics. Some is obvious; some are references that only I know. Forcing it doesn’t feel right to me, but I know it’s there.
QRD – How do fans & peers respond to first finding out you are a Christian?
Alan – Not sure. I know the British press were right away quite fascinated with our religion, but most people don’t give a shit or it never comes up.
QRD – How do you respond to people making statements like, “I thought you were too smart to be a Christian?”
Alan – Never heard that, but if they asked me I’d tell them they thought wrong.
QRD – How do you keep up your spiritual life while on tour?
Alan – I think “keeping up spiritual life” is really about the daily things. Reading scriptures & praying are vital & I have to say that touring has always made that hard, but that probably has more to do with my own weakness, not touring itself. It’s nice to go to church on the road, but it’s quite rarely possible. Traveling in a band is not any more spiritually treacherous than most any other lifestyle.
QRD – How has Christianity helped you with dealing with the stresses of working in the music industry?
Alan – Anyone who believes in being honest & kind to others has nothing to fear from the music industry, or anything else.
QRD – Has your faith ever hindered your career in anyway?
Alan – I think religious artists are less marketable. They even put me off. Our culture still equates religion with parents, so the spirit of rebellion (& therefore rock ‘n’ roll) tends to throw it out with the bathwater. Plus religion, especially Christianity, has a horrible history. Having said that, if it has hindered us, so be it. Again, it beats being thrown to the lions, etc.
QRD – Anything else?
Alan – Man is as God once was. God is as man can be.
Other QRD interviews with Alan Sparhawk: