Riding High: The Low Anthem Takes a Break | December 2011
photography by Sam Balling
They stand on stage, hunched, crowded over their various instruments, heads dipped or gazes off to the shadows. It may not seem like the four players in The Low Anthem would be contagiously good-natured, especially listening to their generally somber music. However, Jocie Adams offers up a smile. “I don’t know where Ben is,” she says. “He usually does the interviews. When we’re all together we get…” and then she turns her shoulder. “Awkward.”
She laughs and walks into the room where Mike Irwin and Jeff Prystowsky are lounging. Jeff might be the most quickly recognizable member of the group, with his thick black mustache, long hair, and a faded, torn cap. The band has played Bonnarroo and the Newport Folk Festival. They’ve released three full-length albums, and have been touring nonstop for half a decade.
Still, they’re about as nice any musician on the road for that long can be. They dish out hugs to fans, sign vinyl copies of their albums, and they are kind to everyone working at the venue. Relaxed and ready to hear the opener, Joe Pug, Ben Knox Miller arrives. No one was able to find him until then. He simply appeared when he wanted to, offering a wide smile, instantly welcoming- a warm smile. He’s the one responsible for lines like, “I heard her voice come through the pines in Ohio.” The Low Anthem makes folk music, slow music, low music, pretty music.
Recently, fans were shocked to read they were taking an indefinite amount of time off, but Ben assures it’s not like they’re breaking up. “We’re taking a break from playing live.” he says. “I have written about 42 songs that fit into two different groups, which are two albums.”
The first idea is a kidnapping mystery story, told in a children’s book fashion. “It’s very fantastical. It has to do with dream absurdism.” The second is a political album. Ben can’t help but laugh at how different the two are. “I’m really into this mystery story, but it’s political season and I’m starting to get pretty angry.” He chuckles.
While we’re talking, Mike, Jocie, and Jeff aren’t far away. Jeff’s started eating dinner across from Graham, also a shaggy-haired man in a hat. He’s Ben’s childhood friend and tours with them. I ask what the first song Ben ever wrote was, and he turns to Graham. “We wrote it on the bus together.”