<p>The Low Anthem</p>

The Low Anthem

Credit: Nonesuch

HitFix Interview: The Low Anthem return 'Smart Flesh' to factory of origins

Four-piece Americana/folk act discusses recording in the cold, Mike Mogis, falling

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).


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<p>Joan As Police Woman</p>

Joan As Police Woman

HitFix 2011 SXSW Music Podcast No. 2: Joan As Police Woman, Liturgy

The Mars Volta's Omar Rodriguez Lopez, Diamond Center, surfgaze and noise

As we trudge closer to the opening of the SXSW Music Conference in Austin, we unveil Podcast No. 2 in our 2011 series.

Included on this Friday is one selection unintended for the faint of heart, Brooklyn's experimental metal outfit Liturgy. It's buttressed by sloooow surfgaze (yeah, that's a word) troupe The Diamond Center.

The shoulder-dancing contingency may be sated with sultry Joan As Police Woman and painfully hip We Are Enfant Terrible. The esteemed Omar Rodriguez Lopez -- frontman for At The Drive-In and The Mars Volta -- and Southwesternly broken-hearted David Wax Museum round out the list.

Thursday's mix included tracks from Class Actress and The Dears.

I will continue to post mixes now until the start of the fest, on March 16, with hopes to showcase some of what to expect from the eclectic event.

Here is the tracklist for Podcast No. 2:

Joan As Police Woman, "Magic"
David Wax Museum, "Born with a Broken Heart"
Omar Rodriguez Lopez, "Locomocion Capillar"
We Are Enfant Terrible, "Filthy Love"
The Diamond Center, "Caraway"
Liturgy, "Ecstatic Race"

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<p>Foo Fighters</p>

Foo Fighters

Foo Fighters cover Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd for 'Medium Rare' album

New takes on Prince, The Ramones, Husker Du, Thin Lizzy for Record Store Day

Vinyl and Foo Fighters lovers rejoice: The rock act is releasing an entire set of covers in honor of Record Store Day this year.

"Medium Rare" boasts 13 tracks, from "Band on the Run" by Paul McCartney & Wings to "Darling Nikki" by Prince, and drops exclusively on vinyl LP on April 16. Foos have a long history of covers, having released some as B-sides, others as live set staples and bootlegs, the ilk. This is the first collection of this kind for them, and is the bow of two previously unreleased takes on Thin Lizzy's "Bad Reputation" and The Zombies' "This Will Be Our Year."

I'm particularly tickled to hear Hüsker Dü's "Never Talking to You Again"; I am mildly disappointed there isn't one single female musician in the list.

The announcement comes within the same day Dave Grohl & Co.'s new music video to "Rope" dropped. Check out what HitFix's Melinda Newman has to say about it here.

Foo Fighters' new Butch Vig-produced set "Wasting Light" arrives only a few days before "Medium Rare," on April 12. A documentary on the band, cleverly named "Foo Fighters," makes its bow during the South By Southwest (SXSW) Film festival in Austin this coming week.

I've been pleasantly surprised, so far, with the Foos' promotional campaign for "Wasting Light," with "Medium Rare" being one helluva pleasant surprise. As Britney Spears' snippet and full-song leaks continue, and Lady Gaga's slow world takeover rages on, the band has packed their spring with a lot to be proud of. While I have yet to hear the new studio effort, "White Limo" raged pretty hard (if at least with its Lemmy-starring video) and I'm intrigued about the inclusion of Krist Novoselic in the tracklist. The band proved again it could have fun as a crew with "Rope." Their take on the rock doc -- which may overshadow their more boring album contributions (*cough* "Echoes" and "One by One" *cough*) -- could be a great snapshot of a rock band in its testy middle age.

Here is the tracklist for "Medium Rare":

1. "Band on the Run" (Paul McCartney & Wings)
2. "I Feel Free" (Cream)
3. "Life of Illusion" (Joe Walsh)
4. "Young Man Blues" (Mose Allison)
5. "Bad Reputation" (Thin Lizzy)
6. "Darling Nikki" (Prince)
7. "Down in the Park" (Gary Numan)
8. "Baker Street" (Gerry Rafferty)
9. "Danny Says" (The Ramones)
10. "Have A Cigar" (Pink Floyd)
11. "Never Talking to You Again" (Hüsker Dü)
12. "Gas Chamber" (Angry Samoans)
13. "This Will Be Our Year" (The Zombies)

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<p>Class Actress' Elizabeth Harper</p>

Class Actress' Elizabeth Harper

HitFix 2011 SXSW Music Podcast No. 1: O'Death, Class Actress, The Dears

Six tracks including Ice Black Birds, Kokayi, Tristen in advance of Austin fest

While there's somewhere between 700 and 1,000 acts showing up in Austin for official South By Southwest showcases, a number excess of that is far more accurate. It's overwhelming, on purpose.

HitFix is heading down to the Texas capitol again this year, and it's my pleasure to help parse some of the clutter.

Each day leading up to March 16, SXSW Music's kick-off, I'll be posting a podcast featuring a handful of acts I'd recommend checking out.

Today (March 10) includes tracks from rockers Ice Black Birds, Nashville newcomer Tristen, dream-pop troupe Class Actress, Canadian imports The Dears, killer live act O'Death and Grammy-nominated hip-hop artist Kokayi.

SXSW runs March 16-20.

Here is the tracklist for HitFix 2011 SXSW Music Podcast No. 1:

Ice Black Birds, "22.22"
Tristen, "Eager for Your Love"
Class Actress, "Careful What You Say"
The Dears, "Blood"
O'Death, "Bugs"
Kokayi, "Nicotine"

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Song Of The Day: Watch Yuck's 'Get Away' video, plus Spiritualized news

Song Of The Day: Watch Yuck's 'Get Away' video, plus Spiritualized news

Fat Possum signees joined by some seriously sweet housemates

With nine Austin shows already on the board for South By Southwest, young'uns Yuck are already primed to be one of the belles at that ball.

Right in time, these rockers have released the music video to "Get Away." And they're doing nothing to shun their influences.

The road montage clip will have you rubbing your eyes and looking for J. Mascis or perhaps a peroxided Superchunk in the background. Their self-titled album -- released last month -- while green, was full of perfectly imperfect electric riffs, a cohesive tip of the trucker hat to '90s post-rockers. Frontman Daniel Blumberg, at the very least, has a serious case of the Malkmus.

Otherwise, the video is a very good excuse to cover an ivory-skinned beauty in veggie oil and to nonchalantly mutter the lyrics in your own detached manner.

Yuck are among the VERY good signings that Fat Possum has nabbed lately, with the most recent including legendary U.K. act Spiritualized. It was announced this week that the Jason Pierce-fronted crew will be releasing a new effort this fall, and that they're headed to London's storied Royal Albert Hall on Oct. 11.

Spiritualized last released "Songs in A&E" in 2008. They spent part of last year performing their breakthrough "Ladies and Gentlemen... We Are Floating In Space" in full during live shows.

Check out Yuck's "Get Away" video below, and stream their album in full below that.

[More after the jump...]

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<p>John Slattery in The National's &quot;Conversation 16&quot;</p>

John Slattery in The National's "Conversation 16"

Watch: John Slattery, Kristen Schaal in The National's 'Conversation 16'

Rock act headlining MusicNow fest in Ohio

We're used to seeing John Slattery as a sad lovesick fool, but this time his powerful muse if one of presidential proportions.

The National have released the music video to "Conversation 16," culled from their 2010 album "High Violet"; the group even has a place in the clip, but much of the focus is on "President of the U.S." Kristen Schaal, Slattery on security detail and "Russian" leader James Urbaniak.

What surfaces are misty water-colored memories of Ms. President and Slattery's love affair, a executive branch thong, love letters with wax and staples and a nearly missed pardon for a Thanksgiving turkey. The "Mad Men" actor has a moment where he's forced to play dress-up, similar to a situation his TV character had at Cooper and Price involving a Santa Suit.

The clip was directed by Scott Jacobson, and the concept arose from an alcohol fueled chat with the comedienne.

[More after the jump...]

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<p>Okkervil River</p>

Okkervil River

Listen: Okkervil River debuts 'Wake and Be Fine' from incoming new album

'I Am Very Far' due in May

Okkervil River are returning with their sixth full-length "I Am Very Far" for longtime home Jagjaguwar, and, at least with the case of newly unleashed "Wake and Be Fine," the thing's starting with a bang.

Will Sheff's sounding unhinged (in the good way) on the track, available now for download via the rock band's website for the price of your black heart your email address. It reminds me of Cursive frontman's Tim Kasher's fleshy and well-arranged solo projects, and even a little bit of the daunting growl that Conor Oberst used to nurture in his earlier years.

I don't know why such a Saddle Creek blaze was set in my head about it, but maybe it has to do with the start and stop manner in which "I Am Very Far" was recorded: Sheff "opted for a series of short, high-intensity sessions with a larger band in various studios. Sessions would, at times, find over a dozen musicians performing live in a single room." He apparently had a little fun throwing file cabinets around and recording that, too.

So pay attention to the percussion on "Wake and Be Fine, blaring in tandem with aux instruments like piano and a full horns section. This is a lush set, but it plays at 11 almost the whole time. Very freeing.

"I Am Very Far" is due May 10, with tracklist below.

The band has also announced extensive and some surprisingly big stops on tour, with killer openers like Titus Andronicus and Julianna Barwick.

[Check out the tracklist and tour dates after the jump...]

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<p>Mumford &amp; Sons</p>

Mumford & Sons

Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe announce most adorable tour ever

Old Crow Medicine Show all aboard for vintage train tour through the South and Southwest

The current No. 2 Billboard 200 champs Mumford & Sons have hooked up with what I think is a perfect one-two combo of touring partners -- Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros and Old Crow Medicine Show -- for the world's most adorable little tour ever (of today.)

The three acts are all aboard for the Railroad Revival Tour, which has them traveling through the South and Southwest on a 1,500-foot train in vintage railcars. Granted, they won't be performing their (public) shows on there, but will be stopping off at "unique outdoor locations" like parks, train stations and the Arizona Railway Museum.

Each are promised equal billing and performance time, and you can bet your silver dollar there will be collaborations galore. Meanwhile, as the group lives on the train for a week, a documentary will be shot on the experience.

Tickets go up for the six stops tomorrow (March 9) at 12 p.m. EST exclusively through the Railroad Revival Tour website. Buyers will get a special-lookin' ticket and access to live recordings from the tour.

The saddest part of the world's most adorable mobile show is that its in so few stop-offs. But say what you will about Mumford or about Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros' frontman's solo effort, this run will have more energy than FIFA.

[Dates after the jump...]

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Song Of The Day: Watch Atmosphere's new video for 'Just For Show'

Rapper suggests: Hug your dog today

What I appreciate about Atmosphere is that he continues to be a rapper who can laugh at himself.

Take for instance his new single, and the accompanying clip, which reimagines this emo breakup track as a plight of a dog unloved. Is in, a Golden Retriever.

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Watch: Willow Smith builds something from nothing in '21st Century Girl'

Watch: Willow Smith builds something from nothing in '21st Century Girl'

Getting all Rihanna on the desert genre

Hey, do you wanna feel old today? Yeah, because Willow Smith was born in the year 2000. That's right. Put that cigarette down, stop drinking coffee.

And her year of birth may have a little to do with why her new single "21st Century girl" came into existence, and there's some video to prove it.

The Def Jam signee and Will Smith's prodigy endeavors into the desert genre of music video-making with the track. She rises from the ground after a bit of witchcraft transforms her into a fashion abomination and rocks the f out. You can tell she's rocking because she "plays" a guitar for about two seconds. Her little friends come out to play and build a city in the abyss of sand and then they dance on top of cars and stuff.

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