"Every New Thing That We Did Was A Surprise To Us"

1 April 2016 | 10:42 am | Anthony Carew

"We knew we were doing music that was never going to appeal to the masses..."

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"It's very minimal music," says Mimi Parker of her band Low. This isn't exactly breaking news. Across 23 years and 11 albums — from 1994's I Could Live In Hope to 2015's Ones And Sixes — the Minnesota trio have been making slow, quiet, beautiful music built around the harmonies of Parker and her husband, Alan Sparhawk. "Some of the songs are very, very sparse. I look at those bands that have eight, nine, ten people onstage, and they have such safety in numbers. Being surrounded by a lot of people making a lot of noise, it's a real security blanket. But, for us, we've always been very naked up there, and felt very self-conscious about it."

When Low began in the early-'90s, their music was a reaction against the loud, distorted, macho posturing of grunge and it often confused or annoyed listeners. "When we first started touring," Parker recounts, "we'd roll into towns and play like a new band night, where we were on the bill with numerous other acts. People didn't know what they were in for. There was a lot of talking, and sometimes some outright hostility, but we got used to that."

"Being surrounded by a lot of people making a lot of noise, it's a real security blanket."

Parker grew up in "the middle of nowhere" in rural Minnesota, singing country and gospel songs with her mother and sister, playing drums in the school marching band and seeking out 'alternative' LPs from the few record stores within a couple of hours' drive. "I was listening to whatever 'weird stuff' I could get my hands on. Like Camper Van Beethoven, the Violent Femmes and early REM, or Hüsker Dü and The Replacements, who were both Minnesota bands. I had friends who knew I liked 'weird' music, so they'd give me records."

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Both singing with her family and listening to more DIY-type bands inspired Parker to hope to make music. "I was always pretty shy, but it was something I could dream of, imagine doing. Of course, what I do now is pretty different to anything I ever could've imagined," she says. Even when Low began, neither she nor Sparhawk ever had grand ambitions, or long-term dreams.

"Honestly, from the beginning we were never really confident about what we do," Parker admits. "We thought 'Let's start this band and let's play a show.' So we did that. And then we did a another show. Then we made a demo. Then we made our first album. Every new thing that we did was a surprise to us. We never, ever took it for granted that it could be a career. That seemed crazy to us. We knew we were doing music that was never going to appeal to the masses, that was never going to be commercially huge and successful. We really would just take it one step at a time, one day at a time.

"After our first record came out, I remember setting out starting to write songs for the next one. It just felt so strange. I was worried that we wouldn't be able to write anything new or interesting. Even to this day, you still never know; the music industry is so unpredictable. I'm hopeful that we'll be able to do this for a while longer, but we'll see. We're acting as if it will continue, that's about all we can do."