Mimi Parker is comfortable with spaces. Pauses, in everyday life and her band's music, actually make her feel at home. After 10 years of exploring the vacant spaces between the beats as the drummer for the trio Low, it's no wonder she finds solace digging the power of nothingness.
"When we play it, it makes me want to cry," she says of a new Low song, tentatively titled "California." "There are definitely some [songs] that are more personal, that I have stronger feelings about. That one really touched me."
Here she pauses, long, letting the sentiment sink in and settle. She's not uncomfortable; she just doesn't feel like spaces are there to be filled.
She's not the only one. For a decade, Low has moved people by meeting them where they are most alone--in silence.
"I hope that [our songs] evoke a strong feeling of something good, or bad," Parker said by phone from her home in Duluth, Minn., which she shares with husband and bandmate Alan Sparhawk. "It doesn't always have to be good."
Just as long as they feel, which, undeniably, they will. Low can remove you from wherever you are and remind you why being away means so much.
Since their formation in Duluth in 1993, Low has built a devoted following, arousing fans with an emotionally exhausting sound built on lingering tempos, eerie tensions, ambient textures and--of course--beautifully empty spaces in between.
Low will test a new set of songs when it tours the West Coast this month, Portland being the second stop. For more than a year Sparhawk, Low's singer-songwriter and guitarist, has been working on new songs for an upcoming seventh album, expected out in the fall. "He never stops," Parker says of Sparhawk's prolific songwriting. "Even as we're recording he's writing new songs. It happens continually."
Sparhawk, Parker and bassist Zak Sally are eager to get to know the new songs by taking them on the road. "I really like playing new songs--it's the excitement of the unknown, and it's nice that you can still get that," says Parker. "You can compare it to a relationship--you'll never really experience new love, those feelings of being so in love again. But it's different with performing; you can relive the newness of it. It makes it exciting."
Low brought a slow, quiet edge to the urgent, ferocious sounds that dominated the early '90s. Subsequently, the trio became known for inadvertently pioneering the "slowcore" genre, whose name Sparhawk coined as a joke while contrasting Low's sound to hardcore. The term, though, would soon be taken seriously and spawn a scene colored by thoughtful, minimal and very slow sounds that included bands like Galaxie 500, Ida and Codeine.
Debuting with 1994's I Could Live in Hope, Low first ignited a subtle buzz when Shimmy Disc producer Kramer invited the group to record at his Noise New Jersey studio, which in turn landed them a deal with Vernon Yard Records, a subsidiary of Virgin. Low has since released six albums, including 2001's critically acclaimed, Steve Albini-produced Things We Lost in the Fire and 2002's Trust, both on the experimental/indie imprint Kranky Records.
Low has experimented and grown over the years--most recently by toying with the louder pop/rocklike structures found on Trust--but has stayed vehemently loyal to what is distinct to the band. "We have definitely evolved to something different, I don't know how I would describe it but it's been a natural thing," explains Parker, whose drum set often consists of just a high-hat and snare alone. "It wasn't anything that we planned or forced; it just happened."
Self-dubbed "religious-slash-spiritual" types, Sparhawk and Park have no qualms about declaring their Mormon religion. Yet you won't find any pushy, turn-off preaching, just an underlying force of spiritual questioning within Low's dark, melancholy arrangements and powerfully poignant lyricism.
Low's stark, somber music comes from a place where the mind is put at ease and the heart is freed to do all the thinking. Low understands great art cannot become too self-conscious, that it comes in epiphanic moments where the reasoning stops and feeling begins. "We've learned that we can never force anything," says Parker. "We've learned that if it doesn't feel right and it doesn't feel natural, we can't do it. Whenever we've tried to force anything, it's always gone terribly."
Of course--with their talent for stringing together delicate emotions and hushed, naked instrumentation--nothing really has ever gone too terribly wrong for Low.
Low play with the Grails Friday, Feb. 6, at Dante's, 1 SW 3rd Ave., 226-6630. 9 pm. $13+ advance (TicketsWest). 21+.