Low Praise lives for the music. Since they got together three years ago, the Oakland-based trio—Chris Stevens, vocals, guitar; Warren Woodward, vocals, baritone guitar; Andrew Marcogliese, drums—has toured and recorded at a frantic pace. They've released two EPs, 2018's Expectation(s) and 2019's Tanning Beds, both released on their own Low Plays logo. Just before the pandemic hit, they finished two singles, "Angela" and "Supermind."
"Supermind" could be a presentient exploration of the confused feelings generated by the long lockdown. The mid-tempo tune opens with a wave of power chords and a thumping, syncopated rhythm, generated by Woodward's baritone guitar and Marcogliese's drumming. The impressionistic lyrics are delivered slightly before or behind the beat, and are slightly distorted, adding to the tune's disturbing ambience.
"Chris and I both sing," Woodward says. "We're pretty much 'first thought best thought,' when it comes to vocals. We sing whatever feels comfortable and fun. Some of my favorite vocalists, like Mark E. Smith, of The Fall, play pretty fast and loose with the concept of what it means to be a singer. Whoever wants to sing can sing. Sometimes it's one of us, sometimes both of us—whoever's feeling it. We both sing through this pedal called the Echo Master, a tape-delay system."
After the lockdown took hold, the band decided to donate any profits they made from "Supermind" to People's Breakfast of Oakland.
"They're a Black-led, grassroots organization that helps serve the homeless community in Oakland," Stevens says. "I became aware of them when the pandemic really started to hit. I had friends suggesting we check out the work they're doing to help a marginalized community that is especially vulnerable right now."
"Angela" is another dystopian vision, driven by an inexorable backbeat, accented by icey cymbal splashes from Marcogliese and the brittle interplay between Woodward's baritone guitar and Stevens' chiming chords. The lyric seems to be scolding a teenager who is discontented with her role as a "nice girl."
"This song was inspired by Greta Thunberg's efforts to draw attention to climate change," Woodward says. "It was disturbing to see how she was disregarded by the media and the older generation. Angela is surrounded by people constantly telling her to lighten up, smile and go play with her friends. She has trouble finding joy because she's aware of the current state of things. She's clear-headed about the world she's inheriting, but no one takes her seriously. It also speaks a bit to the general difficulty people may be feeling in finding much to be optimistic about in 2020."
The band usually tours to promote their releases, but with everything on hold, they're looking for new ways to approach the creative process.
"Since this is a new situation, we're kinda feeling things out," Stevens says. "We're using Ableton Live to write and record right now. We send files back and forth to work out ideas. The first few months were really tough. I didn't feel inspired or creatively motivated. It's a learning experience, so we're writing and trying to stay productive. We'll see where it goes, but we hope to keep making music together, whatever way is available."
"One of the few upsides of the pandemic is the gift of free time," Woodward says. "Even though it's bad not being able to see the other dudes to play and write in our traditional way, it's been good to have time to teach ourselves more about recording. We're forced to approach the creative process in a new way.
"It's making us write music in ways I don't think we ever would have. Andrew's making drum loops, then we all send files back and forth, adding ideas and playing off each other. I'm actually pretty stoked to eventually release the music we've started working on during lockdown. We're not even sure if it's Low Praise music. Up until now, I think we've intentionally had a bit of a predefined box we've worked in sonically. The new stuff is a little more out there."
If you Google "Low Praise," a lot of Christain bands pop up, but in the indie rock world, the band's name seemed more like an ironic reference to the current state of the music biz. The guys say they didn't have either meaning in mind when they came up with their name.
"Andrew came up with it," Stevens says. "We liked its cynical, self-deprecating tone. It is pretty funny to see all of the Christian-related content that comes up when you search the band name."
"We didn't think about the possible inferences of the name," he says. "When we started this band, we had extremely low expectations of getting much attention. Low praise was about as high as we were aspiring for."