LouFest Interviews: The Low Anthem's Jeff Prystowsky On Collecting Sounds

Aug 24, 2011 at 9:50 am
LouFest Interviews: The Low Anthem's Jeff Prystowsky On Collecting Sounds
Courtesy of the Low Anthem

For the past five or six years, east coast folk group the Low Anthem has made a reputation as a folk connoisseur and developed and nourished a soft spot for quirky instruments. Multi-instrumentalist Jeff Prystowsky talked to us about the band's organic musical and sound approach and what they'll be working on next.

The Low Anthem plays at 4 p.m. on Sunday on LouFest's Blue Stage.

Dani Kinnison: You guys seem to have a very self-made and organic approach when it comes to making music and recording music. Why is this so important to you?

Jeff Prystowsky: When we first started playing, I was playing mostly upright bass and Ben was mostly playing upright acoustic guitar, so those were the instruments that we love to play and that we were playing at the time. Then we were thinking what type of organ could match this, could sound good with what we're playing? And we tried all these synth keyboards and we just found that they sounded out of place -- and then we came across the pump organ, and the pump organ seemed to fit and we thought it was beautiful. So that was early on, about five years ago.

So, now I would say that in that same manner, we have continued to play, starting from that upright bass/pump organ/acoustic guitar and building up from there, so those instruments are acoustic instruments and wood instruments and ones that we still love and play to this day and so I think that even if we extend that and start playing more electric guitar, drums and keyboards, our roots are in those acoustic instruments.

What are some of the other instruments you've acquired and you play in the band?

We have some strange instruments. We have a zither, a hammer dulcimer, we play the singing saw, the pump organ I've mentioned, a whole array of percussion and we have an amplifier that was just built for us, which is handmade by a friend of ours. We have the jaw harp...pretty interesting. We have just a whole sound that we've been collecting over the years that we play live. And the cell phone. Just over the years we're always looking for new sounds and things that make us think in new ways about what we hear.

What's the deal with the cell phone?

What we actually do is the cell phones call each other and then we put them ear to mouth, mouth to ear, and the signal goes up to the satellites and down to the next phone and creates a feedback loop and then it keeps the phones close together and pulls them apart to change the width of the feedback and then whistles melodies, so it creates a really cool sound, especially when it goes through the PA system, and we do that as part of the song, "This Goddamn House," so that's a little strange, but we'll probably play it at LouFest, so that's what we'll be doing. So if you see us whipping out our cell phones, we're not making a call to our folks back home or anything like that.

What will you guys be working on next when you are done touring the U.S. this fall?

We're thinking of making two albums next to each other, one that's more specific and one that's more general in its scope, but it's so early on we're still brewing the ideas around and that is one of the ideas. But anything can happen. We're not going to be recording for another few months, so there's plenty of time to rework the ideas. Nothing's too set in stone right now -- but we are definitely thinking hard on what that next record should be and what that next step should be.

You recorded your last two albums in two very contrasting spaces, with Oh My God, Charlie Darwin in a pretty confined space and Smart Flesh in an old factory. Are there any recording locations in mind for your next release?

That's part of the fun for us when we're recording another record -- we've got these new songs, and it's just like the movies, you know? We go on set locations -- we go drive and try to see where we want to make it and what makes sense narratively and with the setting for what dates we're going to be able to get into the studio. And what feels right and what price is right and what fits the songs. So you can definitely expect another interesting recording environment because it's just something that we enjoy and it keeps your ears fresh to constantly be playing music in different kinds of spaces. When we book our tours we do the same thing--we try to not always play just rock clubs or theatres or just art spaces, we try to mix it up. We have a whole array of venues that we'll play at on any given tour. I think we're on the same path and we'll be trying to find the perfect location for that new studio for the next record."

You've toured and played many festivals. If you had the choice, who would be your ultimate three headliners?

Bob Dylan, The Dirty Three and, let's see...Captain Beefheart, if it was a couple of years ago.