Alt-Nation: The Low Anthem’s eyeland and Allysen Callery

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In 2011 when The Low Anthem started work on their fourth album, the band was on a roll having garnered international acclaim while touring the world. Little did they know that the process would take five years and cost them their record contract, manager and four band members amid rumors that they broke up. Now The Low Anthem are back with a new record, eyeland, which they recorded in their own recording studio housed in the theater they run as a live music venue. This strange odyssey of the past few years for The Low Anthem started with Jeff Prystowsky having a slice of pizza on Broadway Street in Providence across from the then closed for years Columbus Theatre with its marquee lit “Opening Soon” even though there was no plan in place to do so, and a dream. Five years later, now running Eyeland Studio at the Columbus Theatre and co-running the theater as a live venue, The Low Anthem are ready to emerge with their latest.

The songs as eyeland range from futuristic folk to off kilter garage rock to almost free jazz. “Her Little Cosmos” has the beat of a rock song but with a spacey sounding synthesizer. The male and female vocal harmonies provide a sense of joy. The wistful ballad “The Pepsi Moon” gives the feeling of looking up and pondering the possibilities of the night. The Low Anthem can come across at times as arty, but who else has a song about wanting to be doing back flips like “Ozzie?” That’s not a typo misspelling the Black Sabbath singer’s name because this rock song is about wanting to be former St. Louis Cardinals and Baseball Hall of Famer, Ozzie Smith. The Low Anthem get spacey in terms of pushing sonic barriers on tracks like “Waved the Neon Seaweed,” “Wzgddrmtnwrdz,” and my favorite of the bunch “Am I the Dream or am I the Dreamer.” The latter takes on a Sun Ra Arkestra improv jazz feel the way the mood twists and turns while remaining engaging.  “Wzgddrmtnwrdz” starts with whistling the melody from the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” and mixes in a sonic collage that includes birds and other effects. “In the Air Hockey Fire” was recorded, mixed and mastered in 24 hours. It comes off as a futuristic singer-songwriter gem. On eyeland, The Low Anthem succeeds in not only rebuilding their band, but creating their most adventurous record to-date.

I sat down with founding members Ben Knox Miller and Jeff Prystowsky to find out more about the five year journey that saw the creation of eyeland and the rebirth of the Columbus Theatre as both a recording studio and live music venue.

Marc Clarkin: Sonically there are all kinds of things happening on eyeland. How would you describe it to people not familiar with The Low Anthem?

Ben Knox Miller: A lot of the narrative came from a short story I wrote where much of the narrative is in shadow and implied. You are kind of left to piece it together. We started with that story with about 25 songs. Now the narrative can be pieced together with this constellation of moments. This fire happened here. This scene in the woods happened here. The Pepsi Moon comes out on this night of the month whole; the rest of it is abstract and remains in the dark. It almost became an instrumental record with lyrics. The instrumentation is more prevalent. These songs became just skeletons for us to experiment on. I see an image in my head and it’s not so much about telling a narrative as it is about capturing that visual and emotional image. I think all the songs called for that.

MC: How did the recording studio come about?

BKM: When we first got signed we put most of the advance into buying gear because we wanted to be self-sustaining. We didn’t know if they were going to pick up the option so we figured get the gear and then you can make music and figure it out from there. So we had all this gear, squatter style, like this 16 channel board that we put in a room off the theater. We already had the songs and the theater was closed at the time. We started just exploring in that building. It is so vast from the concrete stairwells to the main auditorium stage. There are dressing rooms under the stage in the basement that are just a maze of concrete boxes with no furniture because it floods. The sound down there is chaotic, reverberant, trashy and loud. We were just stumbling onto one experiment after the next. Some people have the stomach for that experiment and some people didn’t. That’s why Jocie (Adams) left because she wanted to go back on the road and be a working musician again with her solo project. We were happy to not rush something out and let the music happen organically.

MC: How much did having your own studio shape eyeland?

Jeff Prystowsky: We were having fun. We were like our manager is gone. Our label is gone. Half the band is gone, it was just me and Ben having fun and experimenting. We mixed this record, which isn’t very uncommon. When you are mixing you blend sounds. When you are recording you get attached to a guitar track, but when you are mixing you can’t worry about things like naturalism.

MC: How did the re-opening of the Columbus happen?

BKM: After we had been in there recording a year and a half, the owner John Berberian started to come around again because it was less depressing with people in there. He invested a lot of money into a sprinkler system. When we finally got our license from the fire marshal we decided to book a show and see what happened. The show sold out and people came from all over. That was how the Columbus Cooperative was formed to run the theater.

The Low Anthem celebrate the release of eyeland with a release show in the main theater room at the Columbus Theatre with Food Court and Hott Boyz on June 18. Jacob Wolf will also be playing the silent movie organ between bands. Advance tickets can be purchased here:  ticketfly.com/purchase/mobile/index/1188853

Allysen Callery – The Song The Songbird Sings

For some reason I’m writing about folk music and it isn’t even the April Fool’s issue. Allysen Callery’s new biscuit, The Song The Songbird Sings, is an intimate batch of inviting tunes. Callery’s stuff is commonly referred to as ghost folk, but there are traces of ’70s British folk sprinkled in for seasoning. “Shoot Me” is my favorite of the new jams as it has a sparse quality that keeps it emotionally raw. It has the haunted feel of folk with the spirit of the blues. Callery adds her own touch to a cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sundown.” Her tunes have always had this kind of mystical ethereal quality to them, and that shines through here on tunes like “Bluest Bird” and “Snow Fox.”  The album is being self-released on CD in June, but will be available in on vinyl through Callery’s German label, Jellyfant Records, on September 1.

Allysen Callery will celebrate the release of the album The Song Songbird Sings with a CD release show at the Sandywoods Center For The Arts in Tiverton with Vudu Sister and Ava Callery on June 18.

Email music news to mclarkin33@gmail.com

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