There’s a beautiful line in Low Duo’s song Of All the Girls about a mother’s ‘fading yellow wedding gown’. Like the band themselves it’s an evocative, cut-to-the quick flashback with a supreme eye for detail. But singer Leigh Greenwood’s delivery is pulled into focus by the sepia tinge of Adam Greenwood’s guitar part. It’s a great example of the brother’s understanding of one another’s space and the breathless push and pull between voice and guitar that make up Low Duo.
Dressed in thin suits and careful shirts with just the slightest fraying at the edges they fit right into the focussed but fun atmosphere of Sheffield’s G2 Studios, where they’re recording their first LP as well as our exclusive three track live session for Exposed. Gathering in a nocturnal recording room, we spoke about their music, playing two guitars at once and mirroring drums in a low chat broken only by singer Leigh’s creaking ankles for this special unedited chat…
So we normally do interviews after the session so there’s a shared bond to make the chat more convivial. This time we’re chatting before the recording, so this might be an icy encounter riven by distrust and fear. Shall we get things rolling with a look at the tracks you’re gonna play for us?
LEIGH – Well first of all we’re gonna be playing a couple of songs off our new ep. We’ve done three ep’s and the third is coming out early next year.
Have you got a title yet?
L – Not 100%! We nearly had one then changed our mind.
Well if you’d like to ask our readers then feel free to give us a shout…
L – We’d very much welcome their ideas! Anyway, there’s two tracks from EP3; ‘Ambulance’, which is gonna be the lead single and a song called ‘Waltz with Her’ – a really soft, gentle pretty tune which should work really nicely in G2 Studios. For our cover we’re going to do a song called ‘The Rat’ by The Walkmen.
ADAM – We try and cover a lot of ground in our live sets with some picky songs and some that are a bit more aggressive and The Rat is somewhere in between I think. It’s got some beautiful layers but it works well as a more lo-fi arrangement as well.
L –Being guitar and vocals there’s this idea that you must be a folk band or you must be soft and pretty but as Adam says we’ve got some songs that are really quite aggressive, really quite punk in some sense, but without the drums. And we really wanted to showcase that.
Do people talk about Low Duo in terms of specific sides to your music?
L – We try to make the EP’s quite varied cos it’s important to us that we don’t stay the same. On the new EP we’ve got a song we’ve been working on earlier tonight at G2, where we’re recording the new album, which is just bass guitar and vocals. Not sure I’ve really heard anyone else do that. So we try to experiment a little bit within the confines of ‘One vocal, one guitar’.
You’ve previously described Low Duo as being about stripping things down. But those restrictions can be quite liberating can’t they? It means you’ve got a clear set of things you can work from…
L – We’ve both been in bands before Low Duo and I think if you’re in a four or five piece band then this person plays guitar, that person plays keyboard, that person plays drums… And inevitably your songs can tend to have a bit of a similar style. It can become a bit more difficult to think out the box.
It’s almost like a recipe. Changing an ingredient is a tricky thing…
A – I think one of the things we’ve found most fun about writing the EPs is finding things we’ve not done before. And each EP I think we’ve done something a bit different – whether it’s a more percussive guitar sound or effects or stripping it back into plucking. And that’s as much to keep it interesting for ourselves as much for other people. We don’t wanna be thought of as a novelty band cos we’re brothers and just guitar and voice.
L – I hope people don’t think of us as a novelty band!
I can confirm Low Duo are not wearing any novelty style outfits. I’d actually describe your look as ‘Nineteenth Century Dandy Highwayman’…
L – The way we sell our EPs is we’ve got a blue suitcase. We don’t sell our EPs for a set price. We put them at the front in a bale of hay, CDs there, piggybank in the middle and we just say ‘Put in whatever you think they’re worth (or whatever you can afford)…’
So you’re suggesting your image is based around how you display your merch stall?
L – It’s a 1970’s blue case. And when I walk down the street, wearing this suit, holding that case, people must think I’m from another time!
I wanted to talk about how you use your restrictions, fashion or otherwise. Low Duo are a guitar and a voice and although that’s a short list you seem to use these in interesting ways. Leigh – you seem to use your voice as an instrument in some way – and Adam – you seem to use your guitar as if it was a voice.
A – ‘Waltz with Her’, which we’re going to play, has got a bit where I pick out the top string of the guitar a bit like a bass to fill out part of the sound. Its capo’ed on the ninth fret.
L – It sometimes sounds like Adam’s playing two guitars. He’ll play a bass part with his thumb while he’s plucking with his fingers.
Have you found more out about each other as brothers since you started Low Duo?
L – We’d do live sessions in our old band in small studios sometimes, so we’d have to do acoustic versions. And as part of that we learnt to mirror the drums using the guitar for instance.
A – We’ve written songs for a long time together as demos and sometimes when those songs are transformed through a full band you gain some things but lose others. Nuances get changed and adapted and you don’t think any more of it when you’re in a band but now if we like a sound [from a demo] we’ll see if we can put it in. I think there’s a level of extra fine detail we’re trying to bring out with Low Duo.
L – What’s good is Low Duo is completely our vision…
A – Which is liberating but there’s also a lot of pressure.
The way you describe your guitar makes it sound like it’s this Thing, soaking up characteristics and impersonating other instruments. Leigh – there’s points where you’re singing something other than words or the words turn into something else…
L – It’s emotive music and emotive subjects. If you write a song that you really feel then when you perform it you put so much into it sometimes you lose yourself in the song. And sometimes words don’t come out as they normally would, or don’t become words. I think that’s down to the style of song we write. You’re forced to put a bit more spirit into the performance to do the songs justice.
A – Sometimes we’ll just do something that works automatically without even thinking. It’s instinctive in that way cos we’ve been writing songs together for a long time. The joins naturally fit because we’re not overthinking things. We’re on the same page.
L – We write quite a lot. We did our first ep in October last year and we’re on our third now.
Do you like the EP format? We had Cats:for:Peru In Session last month and they were saying how it feels like a great fit right now.
L – We want people to be able to get into what we do. You can get into a band from just one song but that’s not always enough to immerse yourself in. So for our first release we decided on a five track EP cos that’s a decent body of material. That’s enough to win me over if I like a band. So that felt like a natural format. Adam always says it’s a good way to challenge yourself because we could say ‘Ah we’ll just do a three track EP this time and make it a bit easier on ourselves’ but setting yourself that kind of a target is quite good. I read an interview with Jonny Marr once. There was a question on what advice he’d give to an unsigned band and he just said ‘Songs are the currency’.
Well we started this interview talking about the tracklisting for the session. Three songs you’ve considered. But once songs start to live together I’d imagine it can be quite difficult to bring a newcomer in. What’s next?
L – Beyond getting a pizza? We’ve got the EP coming out early next year – Jan/Feb. We’re gonna do a launch gig in Sheffield, then probably a couple of London dates.