One album starts with a sip and a perilous story of a plane nosediving from 30,000 feet toward the ocean. The other, released four years later, begins on a broken vessel with no land in sight. And both breakout albums make use of one simple lament: “Oh my God.”
The first, Bright Eyes’ I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, has little else in common with the second, The Low Anthem’s Oh My God, Charlie Darwin. But in their next and perhaps most anticipated LP, the latter, Providence, R.I. band hopes to emulate the former’s “little rawness and directness.”
“It knocked my socks off,” Low Anthem frontman Ben Knox Miller says of the Bright Eyes record.
In fact, as Knox Miller tells Paste, the band’s third, still-untitled album is now due for a September 2010 release primarily because the producer of I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning?Bright Eyes’ and Monsters of Folk’s Mike Mogis?is now mixing it. “We’re driving through Omaha in a couple days, so we’re going to stop in, see his studio and hear what he’s been mixing on his speakers,” Knox Miller says. “It should be exciting, but right now it’s just been exchanging MP3s and a lot of detailed notes and ideas.”
By the time the album is released, The Low Anthem will have spent two years touring with 2009’s Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, a 12-song, neo-folk criticism of 19th-century evolutionary theory that presented a few arguments to listeners, though one greater lesson to its writers. “There’s nothing like playing songs for two years that really helps you understand what it is that you like about certain songs that you like, and what allows songs to last and not grow old to you,” Knox Miller says.
Back in December, all four members of the band (Knox Miller, Jeff Prystowsky, Jocie Adams and newcomer Mat Davidson) decamped less than ten miles from their hometown to record. Their studio, as we told you before, was an abandoned pasta sauce factory inside a district that once manufactured greeting cards and Easter baskets. The 100,000-square foot space, littered with nutrition fact labels, helped the band enliven some of the 30 tracks Knox Miller and Prystowsky had written over the past two to three years.
With Mogis on board, the band is now more confident that the record will capture the space’s every imperfection. “What we made in the pasta sauce factory has a really natural sound to it and a really live sound. It’s not sterilized at all. It’s not cleaned up, not trimmed or cut or over-edited. It’s about the vibe and about the moment that was happening there,” Knox Miller says. “So you don’t want to send something like that to some kind of super-producer who knows how to make it sound like a pop record. You have to send it to somebody who has a great sensibility and a sense of the fragility and importance of protecting the actual moment that happened.”
The Low Anthem has yet to determine how those moments fit into the greater scheme of the album or even what that scheme may be. With even more instruments than Oh My God, Charlie Darwin’s 27, the band may thread together songs based on arrangement, like a set they recorded with just a piano and a few microphones.
But then again, they may not. On a chalkboard kept inside the factory, The Low Anthem had also tried organizing songs into themes such as “Loss,” “Dreams” and “Humor.” Ironically, the vast space helped flesh out songs a bit more intimate than Oh My God, Charlie Darwin’s songs of natural selection, plus the untamed disposition of I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning.
“There are certain moments on the record that really feel like vulnerable moments to me, which is something I’m not used to putting in songwriting,” Knox Miller says. “There’s a strange directness that crept out somehow.”