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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Random Rules: Alan Sparhawk

Illustration for article titled Random Rules: Alan Sparhawk

The shuffler: Alan Sparhawk, singer-guitarist for three active bands: Black-Eyed Snakes, Retribution Gospel Choir, and Low. In addition to his recent album of droning instrumentals (Solo Guitar), Sparhawk (plus his singer/drummer wife Mimi Parker and new bassist Matt Livingston) just completed work on a new Low disc, Drums And Guns, due in March 2007 on Sub Pop.

G.G. Allstars, "Love Of Jah Jah Children"

Alan Sparhawk: It's from the Trojan Dub compilation. I've listened to a lot of that in the last couple of years. That was probably the first collection of Jamaican stuff that I sat down and really spent time with. Since then, it's branched out quite a bit. I got this about the first time I started running. I think it was in the winter, running on the treadmill. I ended up liking running to that. But now I listen to it a lot.


Gorillaz, "Starshine"

AS: This record's great, actually. They're sort of slightly hinting at a dub thing, too. About a year after that record came out, they did Spacemonkeyz Vs. Gorillaz—that was pretty cool.

The A.V. Club: Does any of this seep into what you do?

AS: Thinking about that record, I think it had an influence.

AVC: Did it affect any particular song of yours?

AS: I think the new record. I don't know; I think I tried to take some of the elements and the approaches to technology that have been used mostly by dance music, finding new textures… minimalism, I guess, with the rhythm and stuff.


AVC: Are we in for a huge departure?

AS: No, I don't know. I think every record's a huge departure. I think so.

Retribution Gospel Choir, "What She Turned Into"

AS: Uh-oh. I'm afraid that this is something I'm involved with. A total shiny guitar-pop song. I think it's on our tour EP. We just did it.


AVC: What do you think you get out of doing that stuff that you don't necessarily get out of Low?

AS: I don't know. I think after a few years in the Snakes, I just gave up trying to rationalize or understand some sort of discernable system as to why what happens happens, or if there's some sort of line. I try not to overthink it. It'd be nice to get a [Retribution Gospel Choir] record done. We keep getting confused as to how to do it.


AVC: You play some of the RGC songs with Low.

AS: Yeah, there are songs that I've been playing in both. Retribution started out as, "Quick, we're going to throw together this song and play this gig." It seemed like over time, both bands kind of played the songs a little different. The dust still hasn't settled, I guess. Every time we go do a show or a little tour, it mutates a lot.


Stone Temple Pilots, "Big Bang Baby"

AS: Great song. I think there are three or four songs on that record that are underappreciated gems of the late grunge years.


AVC: So this isn't a guilty pleasure? It's an actual pleasure?

AS: I don't listen to the whole record. There's definitely some stuff that's not quite as solid, but this song is just great. They were doing some original things, and I think it's unfortunate that they'll be remembered as just another in the pool of bands that was around at that time.


AVC: That wasn't even their big record, right?

AS: No, this is kind of the nail in their coffin with their record company. I think after that, the heroin thing started getting more attention than anything they were actually making.


Silver Apples, "Confusion"

AS: A friend that I was in a band with back in the '80s gave me a tape of Silver Apples records. They were great, just this guy who built this keyboard-organ-synthesizer contraption, and then a drummer. I think one time, Mim [Mimi Parker] and I and Jessica Bailiff worked up a Silver Apples tune and played some show in Minneapolis, like a benefit for the keyboard player, who had been in some car accident. He had gotten hurt or something, and he didn't have the money to pay his bills. People all over the country were doing these benefit shows.


Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, "Track 19"

AS: I have no idea what song this is. It says track 19. This is back when you had to type in all the titles. I think I must have loaded that song when I was feeling lazy, and I decided I didn't have to write all the titles.


AVC: You probably suffered some Jon Spencer comparisons when you started the Black-Eyed Snakes.

AS: I always just told people, "No, we're much sloppier." I had one Pussy Galore record back in the '80s. It was super intense. I sort of followed him at a distance over the years, especially some of the really nastier Pussy Galore, the sweatier stuff. It was pretty exciting music for me at the time.


Low will play Christmas shows in New York (Dec. 6, Bowery Ballroom), Chicago (Dec. 8, Old Town School Of Folk Music), and Minneapolis (Dec. 9, First Avenue).

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