Friday, January 22, 2010

CB Q/A #30: Alan Sparhawk (Low, The Retribution Gospel Choir)

There aren't a lot of senior statesmen in indie rock these days, especially ones that will participate in a Q&A with a city-specific, non-monetized blog, so if you need one more reason to go see Alan Sparhawk play with his side project band, The Retribution Gospel Choir, tonight at the Grog Shop, how about this one: he keeps it real.

Of course, you shouldn't really need any more reasons other than the fact that Sparhawk is a legendary rocker. The frontman of the inimitable Minnesota-based indie band Low, which also features his wife, Mimi Parker, and bass player Steve Garrington, who is also a member of The Retribution Gospel Choir, Sparhawk is renowned for his cold country lilt and his patient, near pondering, approach to the sound.

And now, for me anyway, he's known for being the kind of guy who takes the time to reply to an interview solicitation, even when younger and far less established musicians (I'm looking at you, Dutchess & the Duke, and you, Annie Clark) can't be bothered to do the same. Check out our conversation below, which touches on the roots of the band's name, Sparhawk's recent musical inspirations, and what makes rock meaningful for the man from Duluth.

1) Obviously Retribution Gospel Choir allows you to wear a different musical hat than you do with Low. What are the upsides and downsides to this "wardrobe" expansion?
The upsides are endless, the downside is having to answer to it.

2) What are you listening to these days? How is the music that influenced you on the new RGC album different from what you were listening to when you made the debut album?

I've listened to a lot of reggae music in more recent years. I highly recommend any effort to immerse yourself in music from jamaica. There are priceless jewels to be found from a music that is so spiritual and human. Also, i'm a fan of Ali Farka Toure and there have been a lot of great recordings out recently by him and others from West Africa. I don't know that what we have been listening to has changed in a way that would effect the new record differently, but I know doing a lot of shows since the first record has really helped...

3) What was the inspiration for the name of the band (Retribution Gospel Choir)?

The name is sort of from the travelling gospel choirs you see on the road in America. They always have the name painted on the side of their van. Retribution is about paying back or re-tributing yourself to what you know you should be, despite your failings. I think we're trying to let something spiritual happen when we play for people - that's what a gospel choir does, too. The name may be cause for some people to pause, but that's their own fault.

4) What do you have planned for 2010?

Play shows. See if people want more. Make a new record with mim. Prty with our kids.

5) What song(s) are you guys having the best experience playing out right now?

"Poor man's daughter" is usually the core of the apple for us, but "Hide it Away" feels so great to get right, that it's worth every other time I don't quite make it.

6) Any memorable Cleveland experiences you can share?

We played the grog show early on in the band. Swampy (the unforgettable house sound-man) came up after the show and in his own way, gave me a very honest thumbs up on the gig. Sounds sappy, but that's the shit that makes life pure.

To meet Alan and the rest of The Retribution Gospel Choir, be sure to hit the Grog Shop TONIGHT. Tickets are only $8, doors open at 9, and opening acts Teenage Grandpa and Marathon do their thing shortly thereafter.

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