TWO YEARS INTO their lifespan, Retribution Gospel Choir still seems unexpected. "For many years I was trying to sound as large and spacious with as little volume as possible," says singer/guitarist Alan Sparhawk. "A lot of the way I'm playing now is steeped in that approach to the guitar but with the lid open." Sparhawk is referring to his more widely known position as the leader of slowcore elder statesmen Low, where he, his wife Mimi Parker, and bassist Steve Garrington have made a career of yearning whispers and drones over brushed snare. Even at their most distorted Low embodies "less is more," using silence like another instrument.
Yet Retribution Gospel Choir's 2008 self-titled debut is something very different. Sparhawk, Garrington, and drummer Eric Pollard unleash the macho, classic rock tropes they have been seemingly avoiding all these years. If Low's music is a clenched-jaw prayer at 3 am, the Retribution Gospel Choir is a cathartic scream to wake the neighbors. "It's the 'music will make luuhhve to you' kind of thing," Sparhawk explains, laughing. "It creates a sort of attitude that is undeniable, three guys with volume."
But Retribution doesn't exist merely as a noisy counterpoint to its members' other band. With the release of their latest album (simply titled 2), this side project really digs its heels in. Sparhawk is more comfortable than ever, belting out high-third harmonies on songs like "Working Hard" and invoking Led Zeppelin along the way. "When you go back to the source of where the clichés come from in rock, they really do come from a great place. Someone did that thing first... and it probably blew people away when they saw it." It's not about elevating chest-thumping rock and roll, Sparhawk explains, but removing the self-awareness from it.
"We're trying to surrender to the tools and make sure we're saying something that's still honest and I think if you do that then some of the clichés and the pitfalls dissipate on their own."