ACL Music Fest Friday Interviews
Rhode Island folkies take on Darwin
The Low Anthem12:20pm, Austin Ventures stage
At the Newport Folk Festival 50 in August, no one was more surprised to find the Low Anthem onstage alongside Pete Seeger than the band itself. It was an event that the Providence, R.I., trio had attended for years.
"We were on the recycling crew the year before!" laughs bassist Jeff Prystowsky. "[This year] no one knew who we were. We were just a local band. It was amazing for us, but we were a little out of place. A lot of those other acts knew each other, but we were the rookies."
The Low Anthem's quick indie folk ascent is much deserved behind the trio's sophomore album, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, reissued this year by Nonesuch. The album evolves in a complex tapestry of delicate falsetto and bruising backwoods stomps, weaving tunes of an Americana vision through the trembling subtlety and stark distress of Darwin's theories.
"It's just this theory that can really dominate your thinking, and once you start thinking that way, there emerges two sides," offers Prystowsky. "One is the beauty of how everything is related and interacting, but then there's that horror side, because we're all competing to survive with limited resources.
"What really started to interest us in our writing and our arrangements of the songs was developing a sound and story and lyrics that wasn't in reaction to Darwin, and a way that could represent those two tensions that we were feeling. Darwin was a great way to place these thoughts and conflicting emotions and make art that would have multiple resonances.
"Hopefully it's honest, because that's where we're coming from – that tension between the beauty and the horror of it all."