American Anthem

High-Low: Rhode Island folksters The Low Anthem will be at Bottletree on December 5. Photo by Ryan Mastro.

I have heard soft and beautiful folk songs. I have felt the heartache from a passionate lyric etch traces of longing over a wistful melody. In fact, in recent years, as the record labels realized they could sell folk again and began homogenizing the term “indie”, I have heard an awful lot of albums chock full of quiet, beautiful misery. So much so that it all begins to get a bit hard to recall. At first blush,  The Low Anthem, a group of Americana-minded multi-instrumentalists, may appear to be another of these “indie” bands, harmless and aimless. But don’t be fooled, they are just as capable of pulling off a drunken swaggering rocker or some psychedelic noise as they are a haunting hymn-like folk-tune, and they do it with purpose and style.

I recently had a chance to talk to a fraction of The Low Anthem, in the form of clarinetist, classical composer and former NASA technician Jocie Adams, and she recalled the first time she played with the other two original members of The Low Anthem, Ben Knox Miller and Jeff Prystowsky.

“They asked me to come over and play on the last track of What The Crow Brings and sing,” says Adams. “I was too shy, and I also had never sung in public before, or for anyone besides myself. They just told me, ‘Hey wanna come over and jam or something?’ When I came over, they had six shots of bourbon set out. We all took two shots and then we went into the music room, and there were all these mics set up, and they were expecting me to sing and play clarinet! But the kicker is that they wanted me to sing on this thing. I was pretty sure that they had made a mistake, but I think it came out pretty well. Like, naive, and beautiful for that.”

That willingness to take a risky plunge seems at the heart of The Low Anthem. They manufactured What The Crow Brings entirely by themselves, even dumpster-diving for empty cereal boxes to use in constructing the album sleeves and painting and adding serial numbers to the 600 pressings by hand. Their new album, Smart Flesh, which will arrive on February 22, 2011, will be slightly less hands-on, though The Low Anthem are returning to self-production after their only studio release, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin.

“Honestly,” says Adams, “I think—between the four of us there was enough different ideas and disagreement about what we should do, and we try songs so many ways as it is, that I think that having another head in there doing the same thing really wouldn’t be positive. I think in the future we’ll definitely want to work with a producer, [but] it’s like asking a new person to join your band or something, it’s just another creative force that you’re working with and pulling ideas through. I think at this point there’s just so much that we want to do already.”

One of the things they wanted to do was record their new album in an abandoned pasta factory, which was made available by a friend who couldn’t do anything with it because of the failing economy. “It was just this big beautiful space with wood floors and the space was just so huge that when you made a sound and got reverb from the room, there’s not even any room noise. It’s just reverb, and it’s pretty incredible.”

Considering that Oh My God, Charlie Darwin has 27 instruments on it, The Low Anthem are sure to have filled that reverberating factory floor with an orchestra-sized compliment of instruments. All of the members of The Low Anthem, including the newest member Mat Davidson, play many instruments, though Adams downplays her abilities.

“I play a lot of things…badly,” she says. “I play guitar and bass and a little bit of drums… and I sing. All of these things. An organ, and I just started playing the hammer dulcimer, which I have totally fallen in love with. A lot of our instruments have come from people giving them to us, and that’s how we have them. But some of them, we wanted a certain sound, and had to figure out what made that sound. So we’d buy some new instrument because we wanted to make a new sound, mostly for recording purposes, and then sometimes the new instrument wouldn’t make the cut, and it’ll come on to the traveling circus.”

If you’d like to catch a glimpse of that traveling circus, come out to Bottletree on Sunday, December 5 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $14, $12 in advance. Local Skybucket Records artist Delicate Cutters, who have a new album on the way as well, will be opening.

For more information on The Low Anthem, visit For more info on Delicate Cutters, visit For tickets visit

Sam George is the managing editor of Birmingham Weekly. Please send your comments to

Orig­i­nally printed in Birm­ing­ham Weekly on December 2, 2010.

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