Posts Tagged ‘Ben Knox Miller’

Rhode Island-based folk band The Low Anthem have just released their newest LP, The Salt Doll Went To Measure The Depth Of The Sea, via Joyful Noise Recordings. Per the band’s announcement earlier this year, the concept album tells a story inspired by one found inside the Kay Larsen-written biography of John Cage, Where the Heart Beats: A salt doll goes into the depths of the sea to find herself but loses her body in the process. The beautiful story comes to a pivotal point during the third song on the LP, “Give My Body Back.” The Low Anthem now share the music video for this song .

The music video is hauntingly beautiful. Created by Dann Dodd and The Low Anthem co-founder Ben Knox Miller, it follows the narrative of a cube-shaped salt doll as she enters the waters of the ocean to discover who she really is. Knox Miller shares what brought about the salt doll’s unique shape:

In its lyrics, “Give My Body Back” describes the underwater landscape in which the salt doll now finds herself. Still unclear about who she is, the salt doll observes herself in relation to her new world and realizes she is dissolving: “Under the wilder cyclones / Tearing at my skin / I see the edges soften / As I shed some part back in.”

The themes of self-discovery found on The Salt Doll Went To Measure The Depth Of The Sea come at the end of a period of reflection and profound evolution for the band and its respective members, after having survived a car accident that ended their 2016 tour. The band now find purpose at a grass-roots level, giving back to their community by running a vaudeville-era theater in Providence, R.I., managed by band co-founders Knox Miller and Jeff Prystowsky. “I like to call it a palace of music,” says Prystowsky. “You’re walking into a theatre from almost a hundred years ago, still intact, built for the acoustics of music, pre-the invention of the PA. It’s so unlike anything in the 21st century that it ignites your creative muscles to work. You immediately lose your frame of reference, in a good way.”

I can’t think of another album that sounds quite like The Salt Doll Went To Measure The Depth Of The SeaNot in title, not in sound. there are the familiar song structures and vocal harmonies.  We first heard this ensemble from nearby Providence Rhode Island  signed to Nonesuch Records with a brilliant album about environmental decay called Oh My God, Charlie Darwin. That record was followed by Smart Flesh, after which they huddled back home to build a recording studio inside an old vaudevillian theater, birthing both an iconic art space and the album Eyeland.

In late June 2016, while on the road to play a show in Washington D.C., founding member Ben Knox Miller remembers the moment when everything changed for The Low Anthem. After a horrific auto crash “I remember looking at the burning van wrapped around a steel pole and knowing it was the end of Eyeland,” he wrote in an email. “I wasn’t hurt so I rented a box truck and packed up all our broken instruments and drove them from D.C. to Providence. That night I was reading Kay Larsen’s biography of John Cage, Where the Heart Beats, and came across the Salt Doll fable. I have found several versions of the Salt Doll story, but all basically tell the story of a doll that wants to know the ocean. The ocean says ‘come in.’ It puts its toe in, and knows something, but loses its toe. Puts its foot in, knows more, but loses its foot… and so on. I began to imagine its journey, and 16 days later the first version of [our new] album was written and recorded. (I had to wait for Jeff [Prystowsky] to recover, and together we rendered the final version.)”

 

The Salt Doll Went To Measure The Depth Of The Sea is a stark journey, made even starker by the odd percussion that haunted me during my initial listens. The spare percussion wasn’t drums, but it felt oddly familiar, like something I heard a lot as kid and as a teen. Ben Knox Miller solved the mystery for me.

“I don’t know what kind of headspace I was in for those 16 days,” he wrote. “I was alone. All of my regular instruments were destroyed (along with my bandmates). I had a parlor acoustic [guitar], a 64-key piano and a ’90s era DA-88 digital 8-track tape machine in my bedroom. I had been using it to record abstract instrumental tracks, produced by processing beats physically cut into the center loops of vinyl records. My turntable was running 24 hours a day and I set up a signal chain with crossovers and guitars pedals and electronic and physical filters, and the room was filled with continuous hypnotic sound.”

That was it: the sound of the inner grooves of a record going round and round and round as percussion. It’s quite brilliant given what feels to me like the circular nature of the tale told. Ben Knox Miller confirmed my suspicion.

“I think of the music as made of circles,” he wrote. “There is a safe sense of time (a constant feeling of return), but some of the space that is opened up is so bare as to be nearly uncomfortable. Amongst ourselves we call the sound ‘subtle energy circularism.’ A lot of the sounds on Salt Doll comes from tiny sources, like a chopstick scraping the rim of a brown paper bag or a record needle bouncing in a divot.”

Like I said. This is truly an album like no other.

The Low Anthem performs “In The Pepsi Moon” for The Crypt Sessions.

The Salt Doll Went To Measure The Depth Of The Sea comes out February. 23rd via Joyful Noise Recordings.

THE LOW ANTHEM
EYELAND

The Low Anthem return from an extraordinary five-year journey with “EYELAND”, a collection of multi-dimensional future folk crafted with uncommon vision and emotional depth. The Providence, RI-based band’s fifth full-length recording, “EYELAND” began as a “vague and rather abstract” short story by co-founder/singer/guitarist Ben Knox Miller, based around the “sonic mythology of a moth’s dreams.”The tall tale became real life as Low Anthem immersed themselves in the creation of their own Eyeland Studios, developing Providence’s once obsolete Columbus Theatre into an innovative and in-demand recording space and live concert venue. EYELAND proves a prism of the album’s inner themes, refracting Miller and co-founding drummer/multi-instrumentalist Jeff Prystowsky’s . Low Anthem’s lofty aspirations and creative capriciousness resonate throughout songs like “The Pepsi Moon” and “Behind The Airport Mirror,” their elegiac arrangements and lyrical frankness marked by shimmering ambience and a hauntingly defiant tension. Psychedelic in the truest sense of that overused word, “EYELAND” is a perspective-shifting musical experience at once elliptical and intangible yet still precise and powerfully personal.

The Low Anthem has always avoided “the predictive approach,” says Prystowsky, “following some textbook idea.” Miller and Prystowsky began making their idiosyncratic bedroom folk in 2007, best friends constructing something altogether new from old musical traditions. Troth was pledged to the spirit of DIY as the duo dumpster dove for cereal boxes which were then converted into art for that same year’s self-made first album, sold out of a suitcase while the nascent band mercilessly toured the Northeast.

The Low Anthem’s artistic range and ardent passion for exploration exploded as they grew into a full-fledged combo, coming to the fore with 2008’s breakthrough third album, OH MY GOD, CHARLIE DARWIN (reissued a year later to worldwide acclaim by the estimable Nonesuch label). SMART FLESH followed in 2011, earning further applause for Low Anthem’s ongoing adventurousness as both artists and producers. The band recorded the album in a derelict pasta sauce factory outside of Providence, setting up shop in a space where the environment was sure to affect the entirety of the project. Low Anthem supported SMART FLESH with nearly non-stop touring, including an epic 26-city support tour that saw them playing 1,000 capacity theatres across Canada.

The Low Anthem