The band revved up for ’11 with a New Year’s Eve eve set opening for hometown heroes the Avett Brothers in Asheville, North Carolina, followed by a sold-out show with Iron & Wine in Los Angeles (they’ll team up for seven more dates in April) and a pair of performances at the Sundance Film Festival in January.
“If you like spotting celebs and free swag, then yeah, Sundance is the place for you,” Knox-Miller notes.
“ ‘Hello, sir, may I interest you in some more free acai-flavored vodka?’ ” Davidson says.
The most memorable Sundance highlight came courtesy of Susan Sarandon. “We’re in the middle of a really quiet, eyes-closed, in the zone [song], and she walks in and the whole room just turns their heads, staring at her. It was a comical moment for sure.”
After Sundance, Ben returned home to find his car completely buried in snow — and both license plates stolen.
“They had to work for it. I mean, the car was buried, like four storms’ worth of buried,” he says.
IN HARMONY TLA at the Newport Folk Festival.
GHOSTS IN THE MACHINE AND THAT OUT-OF-CONTROL SOUND
The day I met them, the Low Anthem had spent most of the afternoon with a reporter from the New York Times, who requested access to the now-empty Porino’s pasta sauce factory in Central Falls where the band (and engineer Jesse Lauter) recorded Smart Flesh in late ’09 and early ’10.
“It was pretty emotional going back in there,” Ben says as the table quickly goes quiet. “We spent a lot of long nights in there, a lot of intense moments captured there.”
The band maintains that the abandon-ed warehouse was haunted (“The ghost has helped Mat’s violin playing,” Ben cracked when I visited them at the factory last year), and indeed the subject matter on the new disc revolves around life’s inevitable end, delivered with such poise and poignancy that it’s easily the band’s most impressive album. But I wondered where they could go next.
“It’ll be hard to go back to a ‘normal’-sized recording space the next time around — having to go back and use the artificial reverbs and all that,” says Knox-Miller.
“Even just the reverb chambers for vocals, you’ll hear it differently, sing it differently, and react differently in a smaller space,” Adams notes. “It just wouldn’t be the same.”
But, Ben says, the wide-open spaces also lent helpful limitations. “The space killed a lot of our songs and the different directions they could’ve taken. The more specific and articulate the arrangements were, the more they got lost in that sound. There’s a certain speed or pitch or note that resonates in that room, so it [became] more of a natural selection.”
The band lugged about three dozen instruments into the factory and I joke about where they’ll draw the line on the number used for the next album. But they agree that while the space itself was the defining “instrument” on Smart Flesh, listeners should never expect more of the same.