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Jun 19, 2009

With a critically acclaimed new album and growing crowds at their live shows, Providence’s new favorite sons—and daughter—are making their move to music’s big stage.

By Matthew Schaeffer

Four hours before they hit the stage for their first headlining gig at New York’s Bowery Ballroom, the three members of The Low Anthem are running on close to empty.
They haven’t had a chance to rest after a whirlwind weekend during which they played two well-received shows at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Tennessee before heading straight to Manhattan. In a couple days, they’ll be off to Europe for a series of concerts in support of their recently released—and critically acclaimed—third album, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin. Then it’s back to the U.S. for more festivals, before returning again to Europe.
“It’s going to be a bit non-stop touring until winter, basically,” explains the band’s leader, Ben Knox Miller.
That’s a good problem to have for a band on the move. Though they’re beat, the band understands that their increasingly hectic schedule means their hard work is starting to pay off.
“I’m a little tired,” Miller says. “But it’s exciting. This is the first time we’ve done a lot of these things, so it’s all still new. So that makes up for being a little worn out.”
It’s been a rapid rise for the band. After forming as a two piece in Providence, R.I. in 2006, Miller and multi-instrumentalist Jeff Prystowsky spent nine months recording and arranging What the Crow Brings.
The album generated a good deal of buzz, solid sales and a growing fan base. It also brought musician and singer Jocie Adams, who had contributed to the album and sat in during a number of performances, into The Low Anthem full time.  
On New Years Day 2008, the trio, along with a handful of musicians, friends and producer-engineer Jess Lauter, sequestered themselves on Block Island off the coast of Rhode Island for two weeks to record a new album. The desolate winter atmosphere fit in nicely with the new album’s dreamy aesthetic.
“It seemed like Block Island was exactly the right place,” explains Miller. “Most people know it as a summer vacation resort island, which it is, and it’s beautiful in the summer. But in the winter, it’s more or less abandoned. It’s just this incredible quiet constantly, and, you know, the only person we saw for 10 days was the clerk at the grocery story. The rest of it was just bare landscape, which I think befits a lot of songs on the record.”
Nonesuch released Oh My God, Charlie Darwin in early June. Rolling Stone, Spin, Paste, Q and a handful of other publications praised the album’s “gorgeous chamber folk” sound and touted the band as one to watch.
The sudden attention caught the members of The Low Anthem a little off guard.
“It was a bit surprising and exciting when these new opportunities started coming up, like to play at Bonnaroo and other festivals,” says Miller. “They had always had a certain mystique, and they weren’t tangible possibilities, even. We just knew they were huge. When those things started becoming real possibilities, we were pretty amazed.”
Now the band has a booked touring schedule, including stops at Glastonbury, Lollapalooza, the Newport Folk Festival and Austin City Limits.
But as The Low Anthem’s star rises, they are finding out that “big” is relative—something demonstrated at Bonnaroo.
“We got upstaged by Jimmy Buffett,” explains Miller. “We were doing a press show, and he went on stage right next to us.”
“We were drowned out by ‘Margaritaville’ and ‘Cheeseburger in Paradise,’” Prystowsky chimes in.
Anyway, Miller concludes, “it kind of helps keep things in perspective.”


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