Interview: The Low Anthem on the Columbus Theater

The Low Anthem are a wonderful folk rock band who tour the globe but call Providence home.  This Saturday they reopen the Columbus Theater on Broadway for the first of what I hope will be many, many shows and communitarian happenings.  (I’m pretty sure the last formal-ish show I saw in there was by Lightning Bolt, perhaps in early 2006.)  It’s wonderful to have the venue back in business. Proceeds from the event go to the ongoing rehabilitation of the theater, and the Providence-based charity Atraves, which fosters economic development, education, and health care in Nicaragua.

David: Why did you guys leave the former pasta sauce factory in Central Falls — where you recorded your last album, Smart Flesh — and take to the Columbus?

Low Anthem: The Pasta Sauce Factory was always going to be short term. I mean, we had to sign a death waiver to get into the place. So when we left there, we started looking for a new studio in town. How it came to be the Columbus is a whirlwind. I wondered one day what was going on in there, as many people probably did, looking at the ominous, unchanging ‘opening soon’ marquee, and my curiosity led me to seek out the theater’s owner, Jon Berberian, who agreed to meet up for a walk-through. That was all it took. Our minds were blown. The Columbus is pure magic.

David: How did this grand re-opening show — finally legitimizing that damned sign — come to pass?
Low Anthem: Tom Weyman, Brown Bird’s manager, reached out about playing a benefit concert with them for Atraves, a local non-profit organization that helps communities in Nicaragua. The timing was perfect. We started planning for a one-off show at the Steelyard, and then it started to look like the theater could pass the fire code. So we asked Jon if it made sense to have it be the grand opening, and he said yes!
David: What are your hopes for the future of the building, and your relationship with it?
Low Anthem: We love and admire Jon Berberian, the theater’s owner, without whom the place would probably be a parking lot. I hope he gets to see a new era for the theater he spent his life protecting. We formed a volunteer group, the Columbus Cooperative, to help Jon see that goal through. It’s amazing, how much the community has embraced the reopening! It feels good to be a part of something as special as this.
David: Are the renovations are essentially complete, or is there more work to be done?

Low Anthem: There’s a lot more work, and it’s ongoing. Jon is taking it step by step. But the building is safe to reopen. Up to an extremely rigid fire code. It was hard to get it to pass the state’s new standards.
David: Tell us more about the charity that’s benefiting from much of the proceeds?
Low Anthem: Atraves is a Providence based non-profit working towards health, education, and development in Nicaragua. You can learn more about it at Atraves.org. There will be a string of volunteers on the case educating people about their cause at the show. They will have Ask Me About Atraves buttons. They will be cool, and informative.
David: What’s that moth machine you guys reference actually all about?

Low Anthem:The moth machine was the dream of Ben Knox Miller, built into physical reality by Ben with our friends Luke Randall, of Saunderstown, RI, and Teke, of Newport. It is a stroboscopic zootrope which, when spun by its quiet motor attached to a big bicycle wheel, makes a ghostly apparition of luna moths take flight, opening up portals to other inspiring dimensions. It’s mesmerizing, beautiful, and a part of our next album.

David: And what’s the band’s plan for the next year or so?
Low Anthem: We’ll be at the Columbus, recording.  After that, we’ll hit the road,  Then, who knows?  Following rainbows.
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