Low Roar: The Best of What's Next

Music Features
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Members: Ryan Karazija
Hometown: Reykjavik, Iceland
Current Release: 0
For Fans Of: Mimicking Birds, Sigur Rós

“I don’t want to try” might seem like an odd statement for a musician to make. But despite what Ryan Karazija, the man behind Iceland-based Low Roar, says, he actually is trying. Pretty hard. But by adopting a pretty low-key approach in a dizzying digital age, Karazija is sculpting music behind the scenes of the industry. The end result is discovering his efforts alone as opposed to being barraged by his latest release on your newsfeed. And that’s how he likes it.

After all, it is a little bit sweeter discovering hidden-gem artists like Karazija by accident, like the pieces were simply falling into place when you heard it. It was natural.

That’s what Karazija is trying to do: allow his story to unravel organically, to let the songs just flow.

“I just want it to happen because it happens and then if I feel good about it, then I feel good about it,” he says.

The journey leading up to Low Roar’s powerful sophomore album, 0, has been lessons in exploration, an experiment in letting inspiration come naturally and seeing what happens. At 16, Karazija intended to skate with a friend but instead spent the day becoming “obsessed” with a guitar. From there, he performed with the band Audrye Sessions in Oakland, Calif., before packing up for Reykjavik, Iceland. Karazija knew there was going to be a record made within that striking landscape. But with no concrete vision, he let the solitude of “this little tiny island out in the Atlantic” influence him.

But that was 2011’s Low Roar, Karazija’s well-received, humble debut, an intimate collection of guitar-infused pieces he completed on his own. On 0, the atmosphere has shifted with the added instrumentation of Logi Guðmundsson, Leifur Björnsson, Andrew Scheps, Mike Tuung and friends helping to forge a new depth. This second release is far from a “sophomore slump.” 0 is a grand ride, and so is seeing what the eloquent, mild-mannered musician’s next move will be.

“I think I get asked that every time we play or anybody I run into, they ask, ‘What do you do?’ I don’t know,” he says when asked to put Low Roar’s sound in his own words. “It just is what it is. I’ve made a decision since I started in with this project not to force anything, just to let things kind of be what they want to be…. I don’t think like, ‘Okay, this has to sound like this’ or ‘This has to sound like that.’ So that’s why I think I have a hard time describing it. It just, it feels really honest to me.”

0 was born from a collection of experiences that took place after Low Roar’s first album. At times it’s haunting and solemn, but then it soars, and you can hear the emptiness and the beauty all at once, reminiscent of the place he calls home. Karazija’s subtlety and sincerity are still intact, but the introduction of string arrangements and other musical elements into these melodies can feel like unexplored territory.

“Some people are going to love it, some people are going to wonder why I didn’t make the same thing over again,” he says, “Because some people, that’s all they really want. They just want the same thing again and again and that’ll make them happy. For me, I can’t do that.”

On Karazija’s adventure, there are few constants as he strives to continuously grow as an artist, but the songwriter knows he always wants his music to ring with honesty. That hasn’t varied. And his goal to add that dash of truth to his albums has resonated with listeners, resulting in a growing fanbase.

“I’m even surprised that the project is where it is now because it’s not much effort,” Karazija says. “It’s just me writing songs and then recording them and then putting them out and not having some huge backing or some people paying lots of money to push things to people’s faces. People are just stumbling upon it on their own, and then sharing it on their own.”

From sold-out shows in Poland to eager fans sporting Low Roar-inspired tattoos, Karazija is amazed by the attention. Though his name may still be relatively unknown and he’s splitting his time between making music and serving steaming drinks at a coffeehouse, it doesn’t feel that ordinary.

“As far as I’m concerned, I just made a second album for a project that I didn’t even know was going to do anything,” he says. “That’s kind of ‘making it’ for me.”

With plans to tour, acquainting new audiences with his raw, surrounding live sound, Low Roar’s presence will continue to expand. With fans constantly discovering, promoting and sharing these songs, Karazija could see more and more eager ears turning up at shows or buying Low Roar’s music to listen to on repeat. But regardless of what Ryan wants to happen, he’s not making any plans and doing away with expectations. He could end up in a new country or with a new job—who knows.

While Karazija sees more Low Roar music being made in the years to come, it’s something he still won’t force. It’s the journey, not the destination, which leaves a lot of room for the unexpected to appear, good or bad.

“It just happens and then it’s there. When it wants to be. But if you try to force it then you kind of just feel like it doesn’t come out how it should or really honestly. I’m not good at that. Some people might be really good at that. I’m not good at that.

“But you do always have that worry like thinking, ‘Shit, am I going to be able to write any more songs? Am I going to find that thing again, is it going to pop up?’ But then it always does.”