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Minimalism gets a makeover

After a decade of 'slo-core,' Low livens the tempo


Low, in a decidedly sedate moment.
  • Low, in a decidedly sedate moment.

Mimi Parker is cradling her infant son in one arm, and the phone in the other. Her house, she says, is a mess. She's searching for toys, distractions, anything to appease her 5-year-old daughter until her husband, who also is the frontman for the couple's band, Low, gets home to help out.

"Sorry," she says. "I'm expecting Alan home any minute now, so he can kind of take over."

Despite the background chaos, Parker has an easy laugh and a contented aura about her, an essence discernable even hundreds of miles away, and through telephone wires, from her home in the freezing city of Duluth, Minn.

Perhaps that's because Parker is no ordinary house-mom. Sure, she does laundry, reads books to her 18-month-old son and frets about sending her first-born off to first grade. But she also sings and plays drums for one of the most unique bands to emerge from the 1990s indie-rock circuit.

Parker and Alan Sparhawk formed Low in 1993, at the crest of the grunge wave. Far away from Seattle, both sonically and geographically, the band was determinedly quiet, excruciatingly deliberate. They were the Hemingway of pop music; it was the space between the notes that sustained and rewarded the listener. "Minimalist," "spare" and "austere" were labels that grasping music journalists often affixed to the band, and Low unwittingly was positioned at the forefront of a mini-movement dubbed "slo-core."

Parker and Sparhawk often vocalized together, welding their molasses harmonies around minimal instrumentation; Parker's drum kit, if it can be deemed as such, consisted of one snare, one floor tom and one cymbal.

"We've always felt that we've kind of just been writing the songs the whole time, and they happen to be a certain tempo," Parker says. "We've never really bought into the label."

With the release of their latest album, The Great Destroyer, Low is shrugging off any remnants of that branding. The metronome has ticked up, and Parker has added to her kit: She now claims two cymbals.

But the tempo alteration and the significant positive press Low has garnered because of it isn't the only change Parker and Sparhawk have faced this year. Bassist Zak Sally, who'd been with the band for 12 years, quit in October. And Sparhawk has wrestled publicly with ongoing mental health issues, spurred by a nervous breakdown that forced him to cancel a U.S. tour last summer.

However, with the addition of new bassist Matt Livingston, a new album in the works, and the decision to embark on a four-month spring tour, Low seems like they might be rebounding from the challenges of 2005.

As always, Parker and Sparhawk plan to tote their bambinos with them on the road. Five-year-old Hollis Mae who cameos on The Great Destroyer, lending her vocals to "Step" was potty-trained in a passenger van while crisscrossing the U.S., and the same lavatorial fate likely awaits baby George Cyrus.

As if on cue, an elfin howl erupts in the background. Parker excuses herself for a moment.

Muffled: "Kiddo, don't do that. Potential choking hazard."

Returning to the phone, Parker says, "Thanks for putting up with these interruptions."


Low with Trampled by Turtles

The Black Sheep, 2106 E. Platte Ave.

Friday, Feb. 24, 8 p.m.

Tickets: $10-$12, all ages; visit

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