Retribution Gospel Choir's Alan Sparhawk: We perversely replicated playing live

Is there a certain art to writing songs of that length?

To me it feels so primal and almost driven by something very juvenile and childlike; I never felt any moment where I could intellectualize it. Every once in a while your mind wants to make sense of what's going on and wants to put structure into it, but there's something about when a song that simple forces you to be more visceral--no room to really over-think it. I really cherish that abandon, that disconnect from being too conscious of the decisions you're making from moment to moment.

Do you think you've been encouraged to be more "audacious" or "visceral" because of how Low and Retribution have developed into such distinct outlets?

Whatever I've been doing on the side [over the years] has always been pretty influential on Low. Maybe I give myself more license to take chances with other bands. [Pauses, thinking] It's because Mim's in the band, and I want to make sure I'm doing it right! [laughs] I take different sorts of risks in Low; that's maybe the best way to explain it.

You talked around the time that C'mon was released about how you've become more open as a lyricist. Do you think there's a parallel here with expressing something a more non-verbal side?

If you look at the two records I have coming out now, the Retribution one is probably the more challenging and out-there and non-commercial sort of record, whereas the Low record is very controlled and very meticulously pared down and specific. Like, every song's specific about where we go, how we begin, how we end... It's possible I wouldn't have been able to make that kind of record if I wasn't also doing this Retribution record. I think I need both -- the abandon and control.

It does seem like, between the two bands, you keep a pretty busy schedule these days. Do you write any more than you used to? Are you the type to always be working on something new?

I'll bet it's about the same as I've always done. [But] it's never enough. When the time comes to make a record I'm always against the wall, scrambling to finish ideas that aren't really there... Usually after I'm done with a record the subconscious settles down and goes, "Okay. Good." I always get a little lazy and take like six months off from writing. It's just to take the pressure off, to give yourself a break. Otherwise you'll be on the horse all the time, which can drag you down. Writing can sometimes be a detrimental endeavor.

Yeah, tell me about it.

It's like, "What other way can you, by yourself, turn yourself into a complete piece of shit?" [laughs]

RETRIBUTION GOSPEL CHOIR release 3 this Friday, February 1 at the Turf Club with Pony Trash and Southwire. $12. 9 PM. 21+. 1601 University Ave., St. Paul; 651.647.8486.

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