The Low Anthem began with childhood friends Jeff Prystowsky and Ben Knox Miller banding together after the huge success of their 2007 debut album, What The Crow Brings. They quickly found themselves signed to Nonesuch and Bella Union for their even more successful follow-up Oh My God, Charlie Darwin. They toured the world and were reluctantly lumped in with the so-called "folk revival". However, night-after-night of performing their early material was not ultimately where they wanted to land. “The moment was losing its mystery. We were scared of becoming robots,” the band said after six years of reflection.
They returned to their hometown of Providence, Rhode Island in 2012 and instead poured their energy into their local community by restoring a vaudeville-era theatre and building their own recording studio within. The band were still enamored with music itself and holed down here for years experimenting and learning to record and produce what would become Eyeland, but they were no longer the group that they had once been. “It’s like eating stale bread,” Prystowsky says. “Fresh bread is better. You want to cook with fresh ingredients and eat it while it’s still warm. If you wait too long, the moment is gone. So you reheat it but with each reheating, a little bit is lost…until it can’t be reheated anymore.”
The pair are involved with the running of The Columbus Theatre, they help book and promote shows and are in attendance for every new production, burrowing themselves at a grassroots level into their community. It has become an important place for them in terms of an inspirational creative space. “It’s a magical place with a long history,” Prystowsky says. “I like to call it a palace of music. You’re walking into a theatre from almost a hundred years ago, still intact, built for the acoustics of music, pre-the invention of the PA. It’s so unlike anything in the 21st century that it ignites your creative muscles to work. You immediately lose your frame of reference, in a good way.”
Five years on since moving back to Providence, building a recording studio then recording a deeply experimental, stylistic u-turn of a record in Eyeland before having to ditch the whole thing after a near miss accident, the band are now finally into a groove of their own, under their own terms. They are settled and have found themselves again both in terms of a sense of place as well as musically.
Knox Miller wrote the song cycle whilst Prystowsky was recovering from a concussion and it became a part of him in the process. A project to immerse himself into completely, mirroring the tale of the salt doll but also filling the void left by the absence of his usual creative partner (who soon returned to good health to help finish the record.) “I ate it, I slept it” Ben says of the process.
It finds The Low Anthem of 2017 a vastly different band from the one that emerged 10 years ago with their debut. One that has experienced more ups and downs that many would manage in an entire career but also one that now feels settled in their skin and only interested in venturing toward the horizon instead of re-treading old ground.
Photos by: James Joiner
The Salt Doll Went To Measure The Depth Of The Sea
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