Flesh and blood

Last year, The Low Anthem finished their third album and toured the world. During a freewheeling interview back home, they tell us all about it
By CHRIS CONTI  |  February 17, 2011

TLA_saddles_list
RIDING HIGH Miller, Davidson, Prystowsky, and Adams.

“How about right now?”

The Low Anthem’s Jeff Prystowsky has just hit me via text on a blustery Tuesday evening about the interview I have been trying to coordinate with TLA manager (and longtime friend from Brown Uni-versity) Kate Landau for the past three weeks. “The band is booked through Thursday with interviews and photo shoots, so please try to schedule something later in the week,” she had written days before. But, like kids sneaking around behind mom’s back, multi-instrumentalists/vocalists Ben Knox-Miller, Jocie Adams, Mat Davidson, and Prystowsky are ready to chat up their new album, Smart Flesh (Nonesuch, available February 22), over dinner and drinks — right now.

Davidson has returned from Brooklyn and Adams is back after a few days with her folks in Westport, Massachusetts (co-founders Prystowsky and Knox-Miller still share an apartment in the Smith Hill area), as the acclaimed folk/Americana quartet resume the whirlwind promo stretch leading up to their third full-length release, following 2008’s critically-lauded breakthrough Oh My God, Charlie Darwin and their ’07 debut, What the Crow Brings. We meet at a small taqueira just outside Olneyville, and it’s obvious the band is a bit overtired but feeling good (and giggly), clearly ready to unwind as we raise snifters of high-grade, 100-percent agave tequila.


THE SURREAL LIFE

The quartet enjoyed a “tumultuous, exasperating, amazing and lovely year” in 2010, as Prystowsky described it. Their nonstop touring began in Europe with support from locals Brown Bird; they shared bills with the Swell Season, the National, Mumford and Sons, and Fanfarlo. In November they did 10 shows with Emmylou Harris, who sang with the band nightly on “To Ohio” from Charlie Darwin.

“Emmylou is a perfectionist, and you learn by watching someone like Emmylou Harris,” Knox-Miller says while sipping a Pacifico. “When you see her onstage it’s all very natural, but it’s not accidental.”

Prystowsky adds: “She would ask us, ‘Does this part go up or down on the tone?’ and we were like, ‘However you feel.’ But she didn’t want to hear that. She’s a pro.”

And what about Jeff rubbing elbows with Jimmy Page, Richard Thompson, Jarvis Cocker, and other icons when the band was named the 2010 Breakthrough Act on the Mojo Honours List by the taste-making British music magazine?

“I had never walked down a red carpet for anything before, and me and the guys from [Texas rock band] Midlake come around the corner and suddenly there’s a million flash bulbs going off, and people screaming your name, ‘Jeff! Jeff! Look this way! Jeff!’

“It was totally insane,” he says, shaking his head in disbelief.

UK music fans are enamored with the Low Anthem (two shows scheduled for April sold out months ago), including one Robert Plant, who dished props on BBC Radio and to The A.V. Club (The Onion’s pop culture site) while talking about the Americana genre: “[The Low Anthem] should be playing in Nashville at the Ryman [Auditorium, original home of the Grand Ole Opry]. I mean, fantastic music. It should go way beyond banjos and fiddles, you know. It should be everything that is beautiful that’s not shooting for . . . the post-Aerosmith generation of rock.”

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