Q&A: The Low Anthem's Jeff Prystowsky Talks Darwin, Fleet Foxes and Red Sox. (Also: Another Giveaway!)

Categories: Interviews
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The Low Anthem

Hailing from Providence, Rhode Island, the three members of The Low Anthem are all Ivy League-educated, classically trained musicians whose band is receiving a healthy critical and commercial buzz. The band's sophomore release, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, has drawn praise for its highbrow take on folk and blues. And for good reason: Ben Miller, Jeff Prystowsky and Jocie Adams are all multi-instrumentalists who have managed to adapt their impressive skills to the relatively simple structures of folk music. Darwin, quite simply, is a remarkably beautiful record, an album deserving of all the critical kudos.

Which is why we're excited that the folks at the Granada Theater have passed along five pairs of tickets to the band's performance there tomorrow night with Blind Pilot. The first five people to email Pete with the word "Darwinism" in the subject line will each get two free passes to tomorrow night's show.


Update: Contest is over. Congrats to our winners.

But back to The Low Anthem: Speaking from his car on his way home from giving a music lesson, bassist Jeff Prystowsky took some time to pontificate on The Low Anthem's recent success, and also to share what tomorrow night's stop in Dallas might reveal about the band and its audience.

Are there pros and cons to everyone in the band graduating from Ivy League schools? Is there a chance of being criticized as intellectual elitists?

We don't hear that much criticism anymore. Being from an Ivy League school doesn't really represent us. We met in college, but lots of bands meet in college. There is an intellectual bent towards our material, but I'd much rather have people talking about our songs or our lyrics rather than a school like Brown, which was a great school. There is a worry about being considered elitists. We are not trying to fool anyone. We're not trying to pretend that we are playing the authentic, folk music of the people. Nothing that we do is really folk music. People should just listen to the music and not worry about where we were educated.

Many critics, when writing about The Low Anthem, go out of their way to use haughty descriptions like "hymnal purity." Do you think the reviewers themselves foster this aura of intellectualism?

That particular writer was a Brit, so what do you expect? Everyone over there compares us to Fleet Foxes, so that's why you read language like that. We are not doing the same thing as those guys. We like them and they are a great bunch of guys and it's nice to be compared to a band that is successful, but we are on to something else.

How did the band come up with the idea of using Charles Darwin as the focal point of the new record?

We had a set of songs and, at first, it wasn't the focal point. We realized that there was a theme emerging, not that it's a concept record, but there's a theme to the song writing and what we were thinking about. The three of us all live together and Darwin had a profound impact on how we thought about things in general, especially in things like having a deeper understanding about life. The title came to us first. We were just walking around at the zoo and we thought that would be a good album title. Then we started writing songs about it. Darwin is a hero to us, for his ideas, for his explorations as a scientist and a thinker. Darwin circumnavigated the globe in search of an idea and that's a beautiful thing to us, regardless of what you may think about his ideas.

Seeing that you're coming to Texas, you might have to be careful with such opinions.

Ha! Well, we've already played Texas several times, so I think we are safe. And we don't really take a stand in the actual music itself. There is nothing that is pro or con Darwin. We're just kind of torn between an individualist and a communalist approach to life. We feel very connected to gospel music, the sing-a-long style of gospel music. People can listen to religious music and still have questions. We don't want to be seen as taking a side on the evolution issue or trying to be political. We certainly don't mind making music that makes people think. Of course, we were hoping that we could get banned in certain southern states, just for the publicity, but so far, we haven't had any luck.

The band uses a wide assortment of instruments, some of them very obscure. Is it hard deciding what to bring along on tour?

We have four pump organs in our possession and those can be a problem. We have one from 1865, lots of old instruments, all kinds of clarinets, all kinds of toys that we pack up tight and haul along. A lot of the instruments are classical in nature and kind of unusual for the folk scene, but I think they add a lot to our sound.

Has the critical acclaim the record has received surprised you?

We knew it was a good record because we're musicians and listen to music all of the time. We knew that the press enjoyed it, but we didn't know that people would take to it the way they have. That you can never really know. You create this piece of art. You know that you like it, but commercial success is something else. You never know. You just put out your best work and hopefully people come out. Suddenly we were getting booked at all these festivals. We were given the chance to have some commercial success and also to tour internationally. That has really surprised us. We are slowly getting used to the attention. We have to blink our eyes twice to see if it's real.

I understand that you are something of a baseball scholar. Being from Rhode Island, are you a depressed Red Sox fan?

I live in Red Sox country, but I am more of a baseball fan in general. I wish they had put up more of a fight. My family are Yankee fans, so I tend to keep on eye on them.

The Low Anthem and Blind Pilot perform Wednesday, October 28, at the Granada Theater.
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