For the past decade or so of its 25-year career — an anniversary that leaves the band members awe-struck — Low has followed a seesaw pattern from record to record. A noisier and more experimental album will drop, followed by a quieter and more conventional effort.
The Duluth trio’s latest record, though, violently breaks that seesaw in two.
Titled “Double Negative,” the new collection is the most subversive, exploratory and wildest of Low’s dozen albums. Which is really saying something for a band whose earliest LPs were so minimalist and haunting that people didn’t know what to call them besides the overused “slowcore” tag, which the group outgrew long ago.
Issued once again on celebrated Seattle indie-rock label Sub Pop, the record builds on the staticky, pulsating, coldly electronic sounds first heard on Low’s prior release, 2015’s “Ones and Sixes” — which also seemed rather unorthodox upon its release.
“That record left us wanting to make one that goes even further,” singer/guitarist Alan Sparhawk said.
Talking ahead of Low’s latest Twin Cities gig Friday at the Fitzgerald Theater, Sparhawk and his bandmate/wife Mimi Parker admitted that the making of “Double Negative” was a lengthier-than-usual process. There were many moments they feared they had gone a little too far into the unknown.
“Just the fact that it took longer left us more time to second-guess,” Parker said. “There were times when Alan was like, ‘What are we doing? What is this?’ ”
The album once again paired the trio with new Minneapolis transplant BJ Burton, producer of “Ones and Sixes” as well as a studio ace on releases by Bon Iver and Lizzo. With Burton’s technical know-how, the band — including bassist/keyboardist Steve Garrington — experimented with sound loops, electronic devices, distortion, synthesizers and lots more, often not knowing what would come of it.
The end results are nothing short of startling. More than a few people have checked to see if something was wrong with their stereos or headphones when they first played “Double Negative.” Upon repeat listens, the traditional sound hooks in tracks such as the breathless (and guitarless) album closer “Disarray” or the Parker-beautified “Fly” start to grab you. But the element of surprise never really goes away.
Sparhawk described the album’s gestation as “a lot of swimming around in the dark.”
“There were some songs we already had written and played them a certain way, and mostly stuck to that,” he said. “But a lot of songs, we would go into the studio and say, ‘Let’s figure out a different way to play it, different instruments to use on it.’
“And then there were songs where we were generating sounds and textures and improvising, kind of trying things in the studio, and then taking that home and listening to it for a month or two and imagining the possibilities.”
The element of surprise even got to Parker at one point. She recalled how one of the more frayed and ghostly tracks, “Dancing and Blood,” grew unexpectedly from a series of sporadic “organ concerts” the trio played over the past year in holy houses everywhere from Europe to Austin’s South by Southwest Festival to Duluth’s Sacred Heart.
“I didn’t really think of it as a song, just something to go with the organ piece,” she said. “These guys went to the studio a day or two before I did, and when I got there they were like, ‘OK, here it is. It’s a song now. You just need to put your vocals on it.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?!’ ”
For his part, the band’s studio partner, Burton, said his “faith never wavered” in what Low was attempting.
“I never really sent songs back to the band unless I was confident of the direction,” the producer said. “Most of the time that would take several months after one of our three-day sessions together. I knew this could feel somewhat arduous for the band, but I knew what we were making — whether it was on tape yet or not.”
Once it was all on record, though, came a whole other challenge: The band had to figure out how to perform the songs off “Double Negative” before their European tour in September and October.
Sparhawk was a little more nonplused about that feat, crediting their longtime sound engineer Tom Herbers for becoming “even more of an integral part” of the live shows as the three band members stick to what they do best on stage.
“We use a few extra things, like a drum machine for a couple songs, but we’re not necessarily setting out to duplicate the record,” he said. “At best, we’re only trying to duplicate the approach, using the instruments that we have at hand.
“It’s still just the three of us up there, a pretty simple band by design.”
Here’s more of what Sparhawk and Parker had to say in our interview.
On the band’s continued commitment to touring, with more European dates over the winter:
Sparhawk: “We had a couple good breaks in England, both from [legendary BBC radio jockey] John Peel and our Christmas record [1999’s “Christmas”]. It’s nice to be able to go over there and basically make the bulk of our touring income there.
“In the U.S., we’re playing a lot of the same places we’ve always played, but we make it work. I really feel bad for the new bands; it’s getting harder and harder for them to get out and get their feet wet nowadays. Clubs are under more pressure, and they’re not taking chances on any new band coming to town anymore because they know not enough people will show up. When we started out, there were many years where we played to 10 or 20 people in a lot of towns, learning how to do what we do and finding our audience.”
On their two teenage kids, who used to tour with the band but are now in school:
Parker: “We have a friend come and stay at the house while we’re away. The 14-year-old boy [Cyrus] thinks he’d be OK being here as a bachelor, but no, not yet. And then we’re able to still take them with us in the summers. The last few years, they’ve gotten to take some pretty great summer trips with us.”
On bassist Garrington, who has been with the band for more than a decade:
Sparhawk: “He’s been vital. He’s a very talented musician, and very driven. He’d rehearse for hours and hours every day if he could. He has a high standard of quality, not in a perfectionist kind of way, he just wants to maintain a level of quality. Mim and I are a little more slack, more OK with things sounding a little loose or raggedy. Steve is usually the one who says, ‘If we can figure out a better way, let’s do it.’ ”
On the occasion of Low’s 25th anniversary this year:
Parker: “It’s surprising and reassuring at the same time. It all went by really, really fast.”
Sparhawk: “It’s been a good thing we never had one big record that was a huge payoff financially, or any one big song that sort of inflated our expectations. We’ve always had to be on our toes, both creatively and professionally. We always had to keep writing songs so we’d have another record come out in a year and a half, if only to get an income off it. We’ve always had to work hard.
“The work part of being in this band has been vital to keeping us creative, I think, and hopefully led us to keep making interesting records. The [anniversary] comes with the recognition that we still have to work our butts off to keep this band going, and that’s probably not a bad thing.”
- With: In/Via
- When: 8 p.m. Sat.
- Where: Fitzgerald Theater, 10 E. Exchange St., St. Paul.
- Tickets: $31.38, eTix.com.
- Live webcast: via thecurrent.org.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658