The trans-Atlantic call is costing his tour manager a pretty penny in roaming fees, but you'd never know it from the leisurely pace at which Alan Sparhawk talks about Retribution Gospel Choir's new record, 2. In fact, had it not been for the international calling code required to reach the singer-guitarist in Glasgow, Scotland, one would assume that the chatty Midwesterner was on the line from Duluth, Minnesota, enjoying a lazy day at home.
It's nice to catch Sparhawk on a high note. After close to 20 years at the helm of seminal indie rockers Low, you would imagine there are times when the seasoned musician doesn't feel up to making nice with the press. Thankfully the Seattle native seems all too happy to chat with the Straight about his latest side project. The only thing that he doesn't seem so enthusiastic about is the fact that the band, which he formed in 2007 with Low's bassist Matt Livingston and singer-drummer Eric Pollard, has been dubbed just that: a side project.
“I have my own theories about what I'm doing,” he says. “It's sort of one of those things that I don't really feel like arguing about so much.
“Besides,” he adds, “When you're playing music, there's no ”˜on the side'.”
Retribution Gospel Choir's sophomore disc is ample proof of this. Between the screeching rock saga that is “Poor Man's Daughter” (at the three-minute mark the track devolves into a staggering stoner-metal opus) and Sparhawk's impassioned vocals heard throughout the rip-roaring affair, it's clear that this isn't some inconsequential jam band for Sunday afternoons.
“After making that first record we spent a lot of time on the road and I think we got a lot more aggressive and dynamic playing live,” he remarks. “I felt like we wanted to reference that on the [second] record, but without necessarily trying to replicate the live experience.”
2 is as ferocious as intended. The album will leave timid Low fans quaking in their boots, seeing how it pays tribute to gritty rock. Sparhawk applauds producer Matt Beckley for giving the disc its intimidating punch.
“I've known him for years before I knew him as this big Hollywood producer who works with Britney Spears,” he notes. “He brought a sense a humour and also a sense of taste to the project.”
Beckley isn't the only one who knows a thing or two about taste. Whether Sparhawk is writing drowsy slowcore melodies for Low, ragged riffs for Retribution Gospel Choir, or greeting a journalist with energy he should be saving for his set later that night, there doesn't seem to be a moment when he isn't acting in good taste.
Retribution Gospel Choir plays the Media Club on Tuesday (April 6).