The first time I ever laid eyes on The Low Anthem, they were playing on a bill with Midwestern troubadour Joe Pug at Chicago den The Hideout. They had what seemed like two dozen instruments on stage to share between the three members, each played with an equally mystic hand, hrmmming in harmony with the raspy voice of Ben Knox Miller, the angelic Jocie Adams and the background rumble of Jeff Prystowsky. They covered “Cigarettes & Whiskey” against the summer heat at the end of their set and the packed house sang, many with tears in their beers. 

A couple years have passed and a new album has dropped. “Smart Flesh,” their latest, was produced by the band and mixed by the honorable Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, M. Ward, She & Him). While they’re still playing the bars and club venues, The Low Anthem’s textured sounds are also bouncing off the walls at spots like museums and in theaters opening for Iron & Wine. They’ve added a fourth, Mat Davidson.
 
And while their folk, blues and country-tinged tracks may at times sound tiny, they went big on the atmospherics for “Smart Flesh,” recording out of cavernous rooms and next to metal walls inside an abandoned pasta sauce factory in Rhode Island over the winter of 2009-2010.
 
Tonight (March 12), they return to the same bitterly frigid factory, to cap off their current tour before they hit Eurpoe. Adams already released a solo effort in January. They all want to become better players
 
The Low Anthem’s Ben Knox Miller and Jeff Prystowsky on performing live as opposed to performing the record…
 
Ben: We’re doing some shows in churches because of wanting to replicate that feel, of because of the high vaulted ceilings. But it’s less interesting I think to play the same kind of room every night. It’s fun to have to adjust. It keeps you on your toes. It tends to go from one extreme to the other and have to play a different kind of set and have different sounds every night.
 
Jeff: We’re not trying to play a studio sound live. That’s not our philosophy playing live. So that’s something that’s different. When we’re playing a club, we try to look for the sound of that room that’s in that space. We’re not trying to bring the Factory and make it that space.
 
… their next music video…
 
Ben: We have a music video that a friend of ours is working for “End of the Road,” filmed in Dorsett in the U.K. But this one I think is being filmed with high-wire walkers like a circus company has been hired to do this project. And the guy is dressed as bird and he’s kind of like “Man on Wire.” Seen it? He’s part of [“Smart Flesh’s”] theme, I guess, of one of the characters in the album… a certain abstract personality, a certain narrative aspect.
 
… on the isolation (and weather) of recording in a remote, abandoned factory…
 
Ben: Obviously, there were personal tensions, you know? When you do anything intensely over a long period of time… It was like 3 months we were living in that place. This little place, as a family unit, whatever you want to call it. But yeah, we didn’t picture that it would be that cold. They had air blowers, they would heat the place, with but we just kind of were hit with a really cold winter and we didn’t realize how little heat the building could hold. Even when the heaters were on, it was still just above 50 [degrees].
 
But the heat was localized so there were these rooms created basically just underneath the heat So that was kind of the design of the way we set up the space. But yeah, when we were recording some of the heaters had to be turned off. And we would record in late A.M. and yeah.
 
… And did those conditions improve the record?...
 
Ben: I don’t think it necessarily improved the record, but…
 
Jeff: You said you liked it after a while, you started enjoying playing in the cold, remember that?
 
Ben: Um, yeah I felt that…
 
Jeff: Well, it keeps you awake.
 
… And on their other life as doppelganger band Snake Wagon…
 
Ben: So we recorded another record for our alter-ego band Snake Wagon. It’ll be a viral download at some point that will just begin automatically when you login to some back alley of our website. It’ll even say viral download.
 
A lot of the Low Anthem songs were labored and thought-over and probably unusable after the recording we did -- by which I mean it never came together and lost just the kind of excitement you need. We probably did 30 songs and we ended up with 11 on the record and some left and the less-labored will be Snake Wagon.
 
… on working with Mike Mogis, and label home Nonesuch…
 
Ben: We went to Omaha and mixed the record with him and he’s a genius. He’s like the man with the Midas touch… We would never get to work with Mike Mogis if we didn’t have a record label. [Nonesuch] let us make it however we wanted to and pick the guys we wanted to be involved. They let us do it in this abandoned building with our own gear that we assembled. That’s pretty…that showed a lot of confidence in us, you know? And we appreciate that. I think they were just the label that heard [previous 2009 album] “Oh My God,  Charlie Darwin” after it came out and were the most taken with it.
 
… on playing so many instruments, and desiring to master each…
 
Ben: We’ve got to get better because right now, we’re still getting by on this underdog mentality of just bringing the spirit to the instrument throughout the show. We’ve gotta get better at them, but I think that’s part of why I miss the straightforward approach -- we were just a rock band and all of us work on our one thing that we did. We have different relationship with the instruments, but we approach them more in terms of textures and more of the sound of, say, horn music even if we can’t play horns so masterfully.
 
Jeff: I’m always practicing and getting better, and I think that the better you get, the more colors that you have to play with – rather than thinking of being “more proficient.” You add another filter, rather than thinking of it as winning versus falling on your ass.
 
… so when was the last time you fell on your ass?...
Ben: It’s almost the essence of our show.

The Low Anthem made Immaculate Noise' Top 30 Songs of 2010, and was among last year's Top 10 Must-See Artists at South By Southwest (SXSW).