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Catching up with Alan Sparkhawk

The Duluth-based musician talks about his exciting year with Retribution Gospel Choir and Low’s near future
Sparhawk, center, with the brazen boys of Retribution Gospel Choir
Image by Photo Courtesy Sub Pop Records
Sparhawk, center, with the brazen boys of Retribution Gospel Choir

What: Retribution Gospel Choir

When: November 12th

Where: Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church (511 Groveland Avenue)


For MinnesotaâÄôs hometown rock hero Alan Sparkhawk, playing shows within state lines should be a psychological breeze. With a well-established career heading up the Duluth-based rock acts Low and Retribution Gospel Choir, both of which have netted an international audience, he should be able to saunter onto any Minneapolis stage with the confidence of Bruce Springsteen at an Obama rally in Ashbury Park.

But regardless of street cred, Sparhawk still found himself caught up in a small bout of anxiousness prior to Retribution Gospel ChoirâÄôs set during this summerâÄôs Rock The Garden.

âÄúIâÄôm glad we were first,âÄù Sparhawk said. âÄúItâÄôs sort of daunting to be in front of all these Minneapolis musicians.âÄù

All in all, itâÄôs a commendable attribute. Sparhawk is part of one of MinnesotaâÄôs biggest rock acts, and he remains ever humbled by his lesser-known peers.

HeâÄôs also hellishly busy. Retribution Gospel Choir had a big year. Starting it with the release of their second LP, Sparhawk and company spent a bit of time touring with The Meat Puppets. He also mentioned a lovely stint of dates taking them through the food heaven that is Spain.

âÄúThose people are serious,âÄù Sparhawk said in a voice full of reverence, âÄúEvery little village has some road stop restaurant where you go in, start eating, look out the window and realize that everything youâÄôre eating was grown three hundred yards [away].âÄù

ItâÄôs also interesting to witness such similar success from a band that differs so greatly from the output of Low. Retribution Gospel Choir is a loud, brazen and percussively complex contrast to the slow-churning expressionism of SparkhawkâÄôs main project.

âÄúWith Retribution Gospel Choir itâÄôs a very different dynamic,âÄù he said. âÄúEric [Pollard,] the drummer, he has his own approach, and a lot of the initial thrust of the band had to do with the way he and I interacted.âÄù

ItâÄôs an interaction that is equally interesting to examine live offering an opportunity for a more reckless and sweaty set for those involved.

âÄúWith Low, thereâÄôs something about maintaining a certain shred of control,âÄù Sparhawk said. âÄúItâÄôs a very different sort of interaction. ItâÄôs about sort of riding the edge of the knife and just sometimes never settling on one side or the other.âÄù

However, Retribution Gospel Choir will witness a bit of a creative lull after their last collection of dates. Low, who have just wrapped up recording their newest record, will be building up their simmering monuments of dissonance overseas the following week for a string of dates in the United Kingdom. Moreover, theyâÄôll continue to do so in their oft-occupied churches âÄî a point of interest for the spiritually involved Sparhawk.

âÄúYou get into details of denomination,âÄù he said, âÄúbut really it has to do with that space, and that space is where people come at their most broken sometimes and their most humble. I think that energy stays.âÄù

While SparhawkâÄôs projects are ultimately ones of modest success when all is considered, he still can sit comfortably with a relatively laudable measure of fame. However, itâÄôs his ability to never appear stagnant or lazy and always working towards a new experiment that makes him such a welcomed figure of MinnesotaâÄôs music royalty.

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