The Low Anthem take time to talk to Imelda Hehir about their DIY ethos and recording in a haunted pasta sauce factor
It’s been nearly three years since The Low Anthem made their mark on the music world with their second album Oh My God, Charlie Darwin. Such a pronounced gap between records would usually be debilitating for any young band, but The Low Anthem have been caught up in a manic touring schedule and finalising their latest album, Smart Flesh.
To mark its release, they have performed on Later… with Jools Holland as well as on Late Night with David Letterman, but while the group acknowledges these are “great opportunities,” they also want to assure that popularity and promotion is not their focus. “We were making records long before anyone gave a shit and those days could return; we’d still be making records. It’s not a pop band. We’re more interested in craft than theatre.”
Such a philosophy only fuels the remarkably close bond between the band and their fans, by eschewing the mass media and embracing a do-it-yourself approach, they believe they are keeping themselves grounded in a righteous musical culture. “We’re not a pop band. We don’t try to maintain that ugly distance. Our music was birthed in a true DIY scene and we just try to keep things straight forward.”
And while the group say they are not interested in “theatre”, it seems to be movies that hold their attention at the moment. They’ve even performed at the Sundance Film Festival, and when asked about the possibilities of getting involved in film work in the future, little can be said: “There is a short film in my future, but I’m not at liberty to discuss.
“I’m not really interested in scoring unless there is a whole vision to the thing, you know? So it feels more like an album. Film music tends to be boring out of the context of film. I’m not sure what I’d be getting into.”
The background of Smart Flesh certainly could not be described as orthodox or boring. “We found this lovely haunted factory [Pasta Sauce in Rhode Island] where our friends were squatting as security guards. The owner lent us the key for five months and we lived and worked there over that time.”
Naturally, an abandoned factory didn’t have the best acoustics, but it added a unique flavour to the record that couldn’t be replicated in a normal studio. “It was very difficult to control the sounds, but we gathered some and gathered plenty of the unwanted as well: the bleed, the murk, the sauce. Much of the intimacy of the takes was re-blasted into the open space creating this strange quality of hushed hugeness.”
From the location to the actual product, Smart Flesh is a distinctive record, and has an eclectic blend of instrumentation, but as they explain, the album’s transition from their minds onto tape was a meticulous one. “The many instruments are a matter of our obsessive process. We need to hear certain textures and frequencies so we track down the right horn to get the sound, or the stylophone or the right building – two were used on this recording. Whatever it takes to find the sound, nothing is off limits.”
As completely anal as their creative process may sound, the band protest that it is working towards a more organic sound. “It’s not about the chance at a unique sound. The music grows and emanates naturally.”
The band is known to perform a cover of our very own Irish anthem, ‘The Auld Triangle’, so O-two asks if Irish trad is an influence on them. “Shane MacGowan’s songwriting is near the pinnacle. Van Morrison. We’ve never spent time with Irish trad, though the melodies are heart searing and ingrained in everyone.”
Alongside the unique recording locations the group have an ever-changing musical taste, when asked about the eclectic sound they provide, and how it influences the music made, the group state that their “tastes change so quickly, it’s impossible to keep up. If we went into the studio today we would probably release an Ivor Cutler-esque murder mystery saga set in the suburbs on the night of the great air-hockey fire.”
While we can’t complain, O-two can only wonder whether it is a tragedy or a blessing that they think, “by the time we get back into the studio, those impulses may have passed”.
Either way, here’s to the future of The Low Anthem and the creativity, which will ideally flow as fast and free as their imaginations. Hopefully we won’t be waiting too long for a follow up. Even the group themselves admit with the lead-up to the record’s release, they had “grown restless. Having it out is a relief.” Hadn’t we all.
The Low Anthem play Vicar Street on April 10th. Tickets are €21. Smart Flesh is out now.