Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Low draws ’90s indie out of dive bars

Mild Minnesotans’ self-defeatist attitude, while unwarranted, drives band to indie forefront
Marissa Haegele

In the dimly lit bars and dives of the ’90s, a modest, three-piece rock band continually found themselves ignored as most drunk bar crawlers tuned out. To express their disdain, they turned down the volume; why be a try-hard? It was then that the band Low found its niche.

Low, consisting of Alan Sparhawk and his wife, Mimi Parker, has played to its namesake with serious, heavy and quiet sounds for 22 years, never relocating from Duluth, Minnesota.

Low’s self-defeatist, yet charismatic attitude toward music and the world to which it contributes has allowed the duo to enter the depths of human emotion, accessing the darkest corners of the psyche.


Depression and loss are recurring themes in their music. They have not abandoned their Minnesotan roots to restart their career in Los Angeles or New York. It’s this humble yet resilient attitude that elevates the band to a level not many achieve.

Low, which Sparhawk said emphasizes relationships, frustration and melancholy, started by playing in bars and coffee shops. They looked for music emulating “heart and soul,” the meat and potatoes of solid American rock. By default, finding its voice through struggle,this band does not tailor itself to the mainstream.

Despite the love for their native Minnesota, the local culture can sometimes pose a challenge to their creativity. Sparhawk said creating music in a place not blessed with high visibility or open-mindedness has influenced how they experiment.

“The Midwest has an outsider feel if you’re trying to do something new,” Sparhawk said. “This really shapes the output of our music.”

Regardless of their limited reach or how their sound has evolved, Low has acquired an eclectic audience that continues to show its support.

Low has the distinctive quality of showcasing vocal harmonies between Sparhawk and Parker on many tracks; Sparhawk said it’s something the couple has always shared, and the one thing people “latch onto.”

“When we first started, a lot of our stuff was based on repetition and experimentation,” Sparhawk said. “Some songs were extreme as we started out, but on our third and fourth albums we recorded more interplay with vocal harmonies, as well as more textures and different instruments.”

Low has forged a path by harnessing its own creative energy not as a result of practice, but from an ephemeral jolt of inspiration that guides an entire album from start to finish.

Though they’ve seen success, it hasn’t always been easy for Low. But, there are moments that click, in which every struggle and every ounce of labor is worth it.

“Songs drive us,” Sparhawk said. “For me personally, you get inspired and you want to keep going. But sometimes it comes to the point of sitting late at night with your guitar, and asking yourself, are you gonna do this again or not?”

Despite coming of age during volatile times for alternative rock, Low has managed to achieve notoriety outside of their native Minnesota.

Low headlined the inaugural Eaux Claires music festival this summer. They saw one of their songs featured in an episode of the HBO comedy “Eastbound & Down” two years ago, and performed as the opening act for Radiohead at Madison Square Garden in 2003, a moment Sparhawk said is one of the band’s most memorable.

Eaux Claires 2015: Explore the inaugural festival’s most memorable acts

Low will go on tour following the release of their twelfth album “Ones and Sixes, Sept. 11, playing shows in the U.S, as well as some European venues. They’ll hit up High Noon Saloon September 18.

But despite their achievements in the indie scene, Sparhawk said he doesn’t consider the path to success easy.

“It’s always daunting,” he said. “We never really know what we’re gonna do next. We’re always up for different, interesting things.”

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Badger Herald

Your donation will support the student journalists of University of Wisconsin-Madison. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Badger Herald

Comments (0)

All The Badger Herald Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *