In between stints with Low, Alan Sparhawk started jamming with a couple of guys from his hometown of Duluth, Minnesota. Perhaps in retaliation against Low's hushed minimalism, the three found themselves playing loud, distorted rock 'n' roll in the lumbering style of Neil Young and Crazy Horse.
"We ended up doing a tour out west with Mark Kozelek," says Sparhawk, "where the original idea was that Mark and I wanted to do some shows together, but we didn't want to play acoustic shows. I was like, well these guys I've been playing with a little bit are a pretty good band.... By the time we got on that tour, we found our feet. I guess I used that tour as license to take it seriously."
That was back in 2005, and Sparhawk has since been plenty busy with Low, solo projects, and touring, but this year finally saw Retribution Gospel Choir's first full-length. Retribution Gospel Choir includes a version of "Breaker," which appeared on Low's last album, but the song actually has its origins on a tour-release EP from Retribution Gospel Choir. It's a perfect example of how Sparhawk's songwriting stretches to fit the format he is currently working in; Retribution Gospel Choir's version is all snarling guitars and screeching threats of feedback. The rest of the album finds room for some pop melodies ("What She Turned Into"), but the overlying theme is one of powerful, metallic, guitar-driven stoner rock.
"A friend of mine told me years ago," says Sparhawk, "'Man, you should just lighten up, because you can do whatever you want.' Not so much that I am some great thing, but from the way we've done Low all these years, that certain realization sort of popped out that we can do exactly we want. And I guess the last few years I've been feeling that a little bit."