Bringing it all back home

In the studio — a former pasta sauce factory in Central Falls — with the Low Anthem
By CHRIS CONTI  |  February 24, 2010

PIZZA-POWERED Davidson, Miller, Prystowsky, and Adams.

"Pull around back, head up the fire escape and knock twice, someone will let you in."

It's a sunny Saturday afternoon in January and the Low Anthem's Jeff Prystowsky is calling me with directions to their studio, which inhabits the top floor of an enormous former pasta sauce factory in Central Falls, where Jeff and his fellow multi-instrumentalists — Ben Knox Miller, Jocie Adams, and new member Mat Davidson — have spent the last 34 days meticulously crafting their third album, another batch of "bittersweet, euphoric ramblings," as aptly described in an update on their website.

It's two days after their appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman and two days before they board a flight at Logan to begin a tour across Europe and the UK with fellow Rhody-based folk/Americana act Brown Bird. Having never met the band before, I assumed I would be walking in on a stressed-out bunch, feeling the pressure and not exactly in the mood to entertain media guests. I could not have been more wrong.

The Low Anthem story starts at Brown University, where Ben and Jeff met in 2002 while working the overnight jazz shift at WBRU. Jocelyn, who studied Classical Composition, joined shorty after the duo went pro in 2006 and released their '07 debut, What the Crow Brings, to critical acclaim (including Album of the Year in our Best Music Poll). But the snowball officially started rolling one year later when the band lugged a ferry full of instruments to Block Island to record Oh My God, Charlie Darwin. The band's potential was on full display behind a bluesy encapsulation of the nation's westward expansion during a time when Darwin was ironing out his theories on natural selection. Attracted by the unique collage of folk, chamber music, and unfettered eclecticism, Nonesuch Records — the home of Wilco, Randy Newman, the Kronos Quartet, the Magnetic Fields, and many more — took notice and reissued OMG,CD in June. The accolades began to mount, from the Boston Music Awards to NPR to Uncut magazine, and the trio hit the festival circuit, with appearances at UK's Glastonbury Festival, plus South by Southwest, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Sasquatch, Austin City Limits, and the Newport Folk Festival. Now it's time for new music.


A rusty, sky-high fire escape leads to the makeshft TLA headquarters, where Jeff greets me with a smile and a chuckle that reminds me of the Count from Sesame Street.

"We ran out of the death waiver forms, so our guest book now doubles as a release form," Jeff says as photographer Richard McCaffrey and I sign in for a top-floor tour of the factory (the band scored a recession-friendly two-month lease at the Central Falls factory courtesy of Hope Artiste Village). A quick glance reveals a slew of vintage instruments — bows and saws and pump organs clustered atop a giant rug with pedals and cords aplenty. Across from the gear are three giant blackboard panels that serve as a blueprint loaded with notes and doodles for the works in progress; chalk is provided for visitors to tag the board, which includes many heartfelt notes thanking TLA for their hospitality.

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