When Alan Sparhawk and Steve Garrington play with Mimi Parker as Low, they create slow, minimal songs with vocal harmonies that give you goosebumps. When they play with drummer Eric Pollard, they're Retribution Gospel Choir, a project that's louder, faster and more likely to inspire air guitar.
Last week Isthmus spoke with Sparhawk about the differences between the two groups, dub music and what it's like to be mistaken for a real gospel choir.
What's the story behind the name of the band, especially the "retribution" part of it?
It's a phrase that just kind of fell out a few years ago. "Retribution" is this great word with a lot of meanings, like to pay back or repent or change. For us, it's about three guys not apologizing for their imperfections as much as offering to pay back what we've taken [from life].
I like the name because it sounds kind of grand, but sometimes it backfires. A few times people have come to the show and, from the way they were looking around, we could tell they were expecting to hear a real gospel choir, not, well, us.
What inspired you to create a group with a harder-rocking sound than Low?
I've realized over the last few years that I'm much more of a chameleon than I'd like to admit: I reflect a lot off the other people I'm playing with. Low will always be the way I play with Mimi. It's just the way we sing and play and the atmosphere that naturally happens when we're together. It's also about trying to get as much tone and depth as possible out of small sounds. With Retribution Gospel Choir, it's aiming for the ceiling, and it's more like trying to control something that's on the edge of exploding - like trying to control a herd of buffalo.
What's something RGC considers an influence that fans might not expect?
The first thing would be that all we listen to on tour is reggae - all kinds of it, mostly dub, but also the Heptones and the Congos. There's this CD called Heart of the Congos that is seriously one of the most righteous records ever. If people played it all the time it would heal the world - really. It's that good. So I guess we wish we were a really slick reggae band instead of three dudes with guitars. [Laughs.]