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Published April 19, 2024

Q&A: Alan Sparhawk of Low on new band Derecho

Sparhawk is playing at the Icehouse in Minneapolis on Thursday with his funk band, Derecho.
The four members of Derecho. Photo courtesy of Alan Sparhawk.
The four members of Derecho. Photo courtesy of Alan Sparhawk.

Alan Sparhawk, singer and guitarist of the legendary Duluth rock band Low, is performing danceable funk sets of original material and cover songs under the name Derecho.

Other band members include percussionist Izzy Cruz, drummer Al Church and Sparhawk’s son Cyrus on bass.

Sparhawk’s wife and Low bandmate Mimi Parker died of ovarian cancer at age 55 in November. Parker’s passing came after the group canceled a series of North American and European tour dates due to her cancer treatment.

So far this year, Sparhawk has done several shows with Derecho, including an appearance at Jack White’s Third Man Records in Nashville in February. The band has played at Icehouse in Minneapolis semi-regularly since 2021 and will return for a performance there on Thursday.

The Minnesota Daily spoke with Sparhawk ahead of Derecho’s Minneapolis performance.

How long has Derecho been around?

“It’s been about a year and some change. It started with my son kind of coming to me about two years ago and asking how to play the bass part on a song. It was actually a Beck song. And then the next thing was a Curtis Mayfield song, and I was like, ‘ooh, what’s going on here?’ And then he was bringing Funkadelic and Roy Ayers, a lot of ‘70s funk.

So I was quickly doing my homework at night, learning these songs on guitar so I could play along with him. And by the time we were on our second or third song, he was hearing it and picking it up faster than I could hear it. He has a really good ear and you know, I try not to be too ‘proud-fatherly’ cliche but I do feel like he has a really good ear and he’s really talented.”

How did you guys come up with the name of the band?

“My wife, Mim, came up with it. We had hit that phase where we played a couple times and had a potential show and had to decide on a name. Mim was looking up different weather phenomena, you know, obscure words from weather phenomena and she had a bunch of names, but the one she thought was best was Derecho, which is a ‘large wind storm.’”

You play at the Icehouse a lot, you must have a close relationship with them. What appeals to you and the band about the Icehouse?

“Actually, Al Church was the one who kind of made that connection. He plays there semi-often and maybe just had the ear for whoever was booking there, asked about us filling a night. So we’ve done that a couple of times now and it’s pretty fun. It was definitely kind of the next step for a band that played a couple times up here in Duluth.”

You do a lot of funk covers, I saw a great video of a Childish Gambino cover you did last December. What other covers have been making their way into the setlist recently?

“Roy Ayers is definitely a more obscure artist that, at least, I hadn’t heard of until my son was bringing me his tunes. So we do a couple of those, a couple Curtis Mayfield songs, Funkadelic, Gambino.

There’s an Isley Brothers tune that we did, which was kind of funny because I think it came about because somebody my kids were more familiar with, it was either Ice Cube or Biggie, used a sample from this song called “Footsteps” by The Isley Brothers. My kids knew the song because of the rap tune, and then they went back and listened to the original and they were like ‘oh, we’ve got to learn this song,’ so that’s a pretty great reference there. I remember that was a challenging song to learn, it was interesting to see that even at my old age, trying to learn something that’s still hard. But it works. It works. It was a big lesson.

In the past, I think I would have been discouraged more quickly. I think the motivation to keep up with Cyrus kind of pushed me through and sort of taught me that you can teach yourself things, and it’s hard, and sometimes you’ll work on it all day, but the next day you’ll come back and suddenly it’s there.”

We’ve talked about covers you do, do you do any original material as Derecho?

“I’d say almost two-thirds of the stuff we do is original. Stuff that Cyrus and I have written.”

Are there any plans to record that in the studio at all?

“Yeah, we’ve been working on that. It takes a while, it seems like every two or three shows we’re finding new versions and new twists and new parts to add to songs. We’ll try and record and then a month later, we’ll have realized we’ve moved forward on a song. Sometimes you just need to set a deadline and just do it. But yeah, we’re working on recording.”

You mentioned setting a deadline for yourself when it comes to recording. Have you set a deadline for yourself yet, or are you just taking it step by step?

“I’m pretty determined to — by the end of April — have a pretty solid pile of things to stack up for something to release. We may do little bits, maybe put two or three songs out at a time online. Small bites.

Sometimes when you give someone a whole record they go ‘ok, well I’ll put this in the files and get to it later’ or something like that. Whereas, if you give them a couple of things, they’re like ‘alright, I’m gonna listen to this while I’m taking this drive’ or whatever.

So right now, I want to turn out some music. It’d be nice to have something people could hold on to. I think by summer we’ll have something we’re either finishing or mixing or already sending out to folks.”

You guys have been doing a bunch of shows lately. I heard you guys recently played at the Blue Room at Third Man Records in Nashville. How did that show come about?

“That was some friends of mine from Austin, a band called Lord Friday the 13th, got onto a bill and asked if I would play with them. So, yeah, that worked out great. We play up in Duluth, it seems like the last few months, every other week. We’ve been getting down to the Icehouse. Just trying to keep it on our tabletop and every week it changes and every show is different. It’s a good experience.”

Did you bump into Jack White while you were there?

“No, I think Jack was, did he not play ‘Saturday Night Live?’

He sent a note to the bands that were playing and said that he was sorry he couldn’t be there but he was going to be in New York. So that was nice, but yeah everyone that works there is really nice. I run into institutions like that from time to time, you know, bigger acts, and you can really tell the people they have around them, the people that run the stuff they love is definitely a reflection of the artist and how they care about other people and what they’re doing. It was nice, really nice people there, took care of us, and made us feel like special guests.”

One thing that has appealed to me a lot about the later Low material is how forward-thinking it was. I don’t know if you had any ideas about that with Derecho, like being innovative, or is it just drawing on those funk inspirations and just doing what you know?

“In Low, we were given this rare luxury and opportunity to develop and grow as we want, do what we wanted on stage and in the studio.

It seemed like on stage we kind of gravitated toward a very raw and tactile way of performing. Keeping it real and in the moment was important to that part of what we did. Then in the studio, we were always given leeway and there was never any obligation to go one way or the other. Each record we could push as far as we wanted or hold on as much as we wanted, we could work on what we already had been developing, we could shoot for something unknown, we could bring in things we didn’t necessarily know how to use and what we were gonna do with it and we were able to work through that and come up with things that would always surprise us. I’m open to all things.

Our approach so far with the studio is finding a variety of ways we capture it and not being precious about the sound and whether it sounds like something real or not. I’m excited about the recording process because to me those two things have always been wildly open. I like the idea of pushing the aesthetic, we push the aesthetic live. Here’s guitar, bass and drums, but how slow can this be, how minimal can it be, how delicate can this be and yet still deep and heavy. It’s always how do we find it, how do we do what seems impossible and how do we create something that maybe hasn’t been created with these tools.”

What does the rest of 2023 look like for you? Any other projects or anything else going on that you’d like to talk about?

“I’m still left in a difficult situation here with what I can do creatively. It’s probably gonna be awhile before I can feel like I can be on stage and be like ‘well, here’s what I have to say next.’ I want to, and I know that there will be a time when I’m ready. I feel pretty lucky that I’m making music that challenges me in a different way. I did actually get a call from, I don’t know when they’re gonna announce it, somebody from [Minneapolis jazz band] The Bad Plus just contacted me about doing something solo with them. So that’s a good goal, we’ll see how I feel after that.”

What would you say people can expect from Derecho at the Icehouse on Thursday?

“Well it all depends on if they dance. We try to make it a comfortable place for either chatting with your friends, dancing if you’re feeling it — obviously nothing helps a band like people dancing. Something entertaining for people who want to sit back and watch musicians figure out what they kind of do.”

 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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