Interview: Low And Retribution Gospel Choir’s Alan Sparhawk

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Retribution Gospel Choir, one of two bands helmed by Alan Sparhawk (the other is Low) has a new album coming out on Sub Pop on January 26, called simply 2 (this is their second album in case you didn’t pick up on that. Their first single is “Hide It Away” and it’s catchy and wonderful. The rest of the album is a bit heavier than what you would expect from Low, but if you’re in the mood to rock out a bit, then you will love it as much as I did. RGC will be at Mercury Lounge  on February 1 and Union Hall on February 2. Tickets are on sale now.

Interview  Low and Retribution Gospel Choir s Alan Sparhawk 6082 590x590 jpg

Image: Cameron Wittig, Sub Pop Records

I got a chance to talk to Alan about his two bands, Hillary Duff, singing on key, and Duluth, Minnesota. Check it out:

Big Apple Music Scene: Retribution Gospel Choir is obviously a big departure from your other band, Low. Do you find that each band serves a certain purpose? When you are writing songs, what makes one an RGC song and another a Low song?

Alan Sparhawk: I feel like it all comes from the same place for me–I don’t write specifically for a group.  I write, and usually a song will make it’s place known.  The different sound of each group has way more to do with the other people in the band–I’m probably more of a chameleon than I want to admit.

BAMS: How has RGC evolved since it was first formed in 2007?

AS: We played a lot of shows. The first record was done when we barely had a few songs, and Mark Kozelek sort of helped it come together.  This time, we had played the new songs live and had tracked them at different studios here and there, trying to figure out what we wanted.

BAMS:  Your press material claims “Retribution Gospel Choir plays loud and sings in key.” Is singing off key a pet peeve of yours?

AS: Yes. I’ve always tried to sing as well as I can.  Mimi [Sparhawk’s wife and partner in Low] is a natural, but I have to work very hard at it. I think anyone can and should sing in key. You don’t have to be Stevie Wonder, you just have to give a shit enough to try.

BAMS: Your new album features the catchy song “Hide It Away.” Did you know Hilary Duff has a song called “Hide Away”? Hers is a mushy pop song and yours is a rocking anthem. Hers is about a hidden love. What’s your about?

AS: If hillary’s song is about hidden love, then ours is about hidden love, too.  I love Hillary Duff–she’s totally under the radar. And beautiful.

BAMS: You’re about to embark on tour of North America and Europe.  Any cities you are particularly looking forward to playing in?

AS: We just came from Spain and that was completely off the map, so it’s going to take a lot to beat that. It’s hard to pick favorites–new and odd experiences are the ones I look forward to–Canada is always fun, my last trip to NYC was my favorite, so I’m up for that, we’re doing a bunch of shows in Scandinavia, the West Coast, etc…

BAMS: Does being from the cold Midwest influence your sound at all? Is the ice on the cover of the album a photograph taken in Duluth?

AS: The cold makes you stay indoors a bit more, so you end up hunched over a guitar or something.  Growing up on a farm may have had similar influence. Isolation. Lake Superior is like a gentle ocean. It freezes over in the winter and heaves up shattered ice as it melts and shifts with the sping currents. The photo was taken just a few miles up the beach from Duluth.