For Ben Knox-Miller, the recording of The Low Anthem’s atmospheric new album in two weird Rhode Island houses helped make him as a songwriter. They had to contend with bats, electrocutions, and scary toilet breaks, and became experts in fungal growth, he
BEN Knox-Miller knew things were turning weird for The Low Anthem when they first started touring in Europe. Their charming 2008 album Oh My God, Charlie Darwin had certainly opened a lot of doors for the Rhode Island band at home, but this was Europe. They didn’t know anyone in Europe.
“I was so sceptical when we started doing those first European shows,” remembers the band’s chief vocalist and songwriter. “Why would someone come to see us in Ireland or England when people wouldn’t come to see us in Providence unless they knew us personally? We had been working around Rhode Island for a few years, doing pubs and sports bars and house concerts. If we got three gigs a week that was great, because we could cover our rent.
“But we were instantly playing rooms in Europe with 500-1,000 people at the show. We had no idea how that hype culture works, and I still don’t know why it worked.”
Whatever The Low Anthem were doing, people were responding. “I think it didn’t happen any quicker because of the music,” says Knox-Miller. “I’m sure our manager and record labels wanted to drum up the hype like with any band, but the music isn’t something people will be able to bop their head to. From my perspective, it does still seem to have happened very fast.”
Knox-Miller is at home in Rhode Island preparing for another heavyweight bout of touring to support new album Smart Flesh. The album, recorded in an abandoned pasta sauce factory and a garage once occupied by a reptile breeder, is another bewitching set of low-key, atmospheric songs from KnoxMiller, Jeff Prystowsky, Jocie Adams and Mat Davidson. As before, the vivid lyrics, spooky airs and glorious folky soul will drag you closer to the speakers.
For Knox-Miller as songwriter, it was another step in his apprenticeship. “I’m still relatively new to songwriting, and have only really done this record and Oh My God, Charlie Darwin in a serious way. Before those two, there was no real craft to what I was doing and I didn’t have much in the way of ideas about what I was doing.
“But with these two records, I’ve written