Mimi Parker obituary | Down – .

Mimi Parker obituary | Down – .
Mimi Parker obituary | Down – .

Mimi Parker, of the American alternative rock group Low, who died of ovarian cancer at the age of 55, had a voice renowned for its calm and disturbing intensity. Often blended into stunning harmonies with her bandmate and husband Alan Sparhawk, and enhanced by her delicate brushwork on drums, her voice impacted the listener that was sometimes frightening, sometimes heavenly, always spellbinding.

On tracks like In Metal, where the pair harmonized to a “degree of claustrophobic perfection”, according to a Guardian review of the 2001 album Things We Lost in the Fire, and Monkey, from The Great Destroyer (2005 ), later taken up by Robert Plant, it was often as if they shared the same breath, rounding consonants with equal control and meter.

Although naturally shy and introverted, Parker began to emerge from behind the more outgoing figure of Sparhawk during Low’s 30-year recording history and take on lead vocals more. She did it while playing her simple snare, cymbal and floor tom drums, standing, all brown curls and loose sweater, in the middle of the stage.

A few of her lead tracks showed just how powerful she could be as a solo singer. In Holy Ghost from The Invisible Way (2013), a song later covered by Mavis Staples, a gentle vibrato enhances her rich and beautiful delivery as she sings of the strange pull of faith in a fragile world. On the same album, his voice is full of rhythm and energy on Just Make It Stop. Her voice had the soft but urgent rhythm of a country singer, full of both conviction and comfort.

Although Low never had mainstream success, they had a huge following, including in the UK, and many celebrity fans. First hearing the band whisper on the radio while living in the United States, Plant loved “the way Mimi Parker hooked into every vocal line after she finished – it was so sexy and so dark”. In 2017, when asked which 18 of his recordings summed up his career, including his stint in Led Zeppelin, Plant chose two Low songs he had covered: Monkey and Silver Rider.

Parker, left, and her husband, Alan Sparhawk, right, with Low bassist Matt Livingston in the couple’s basement in Duluth in 2007. Photo: Jim Mone/AP

Parker herself heard her band, which also included bassist, originally John Nichols (five more would follow), on local radio for the first time under dramatic circumstances. The song, the lead track from their 1994 debut album I Could Live in Hope, was Words, about a weary man meeting someone who wanted to burn his soul. It was played right after Kurt Cobain’s death was announced.

In the wake of the grunge movement, Low – who was later signed to Sub Pop, the same label as Cobain’s band Nirvana, which was synonymous with grunge – became one of many American alternative bands that brought the genre on a different path, exploring atmospheric textures in their music. Parker and Sparhawk themselves enjoyed listening to bands with a more minimal approach to music, such as the Velvet Underground and Joy Division. (They covered the latter on their 1996 EP, Transmission.)

Low’s 1995 LP, Long Division, included the single Shame, on which Parker first sang. Covered by MTV’s reality show The Real World: San Francisco, it set the story of a gay man living with HIV to music. Parker told the Guardian in 2018 that he “became kind of gay… I won’t sing an anthem. But a lot of homosexuals come to see me and tell me about this song. They say it really spoke to them.

Their fan base grew further with their 1999 EP Christmas, which was covered a year later by Gap – the brand used the slowed-down, hymn cover of Little Drummer Boy on a festive commercial. The catchy, Just Like Christmas, directed by Parker, tells us how we try to find Christmas in the wrong place, on a joyful rhythm accompanied by bells. His character finds him in Oslo, after the snow melts: “The beds were small, but we felt so young/It was like Christmas.” She also covered Elvis’ Blue Christmas in breathtaking fashion, “looking like a heartbroken Carly Simon”, according to Betty Clarke in the Guardian.

Numerous music festivals and international tours followed, including a European support slot in 2003 with Radiohead. Performances in the early 2000s were often performed with the couple’s children, a daughter, Hollis, and son, Cyrus, in tow.

After The Great Destroyer (2005), adapted for radio, Low became more experimental, playing with the distortion and abstraction of sound and disproving the idea that age brings complacency. They have released 13 albums in total, their most recent, Double Negative (2018) and Hey What (2021), the first to break into the UK Top 30.

Born in rural Bemidji, Minnesota to Joy (née Berg), a chef, and Robert Parker, a carpenter and mechanic, Mimi grew up on a farm with her two older sisters, Cindy and Wanda. As a child, she enjoyed riding her snowmobile through the fields and began learning the drums at age 11, joining her undergraduate band at her school in Clearbrook, Minnesota, where she later became school council president.

She met Sparhawk when they were both in fourth grade. “I just remember this little kid with red hair and freckles walking into class,” she said. “He was cute.” They started dating when they were 15 and married when Parker was 22, in 1990, after graduating from the University of Duluth, Minnesota. The couple never left Duluth, buying a house near the harbor in 1997, and were often seen singing in their local church. Both Parker and Sparhawk were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

His family were also musicians. Joy, accordionist, was a budding country singer. Sparhawk would play with the family, and he began encouraging Parker to form a band with him and Nichols in his mid-twenties, bringing home a drum and cymbal that was left at Duluth Arena, where he worked as a runner.

“We knew from the start that [our band] was going to be a little weird,” Parker said in an interview on the American podcast Sheroes in January 2022, in which she also revealed that she had been diagnosed with cancer. “Alan knew that if we were going to be in a band together I should like it, and I was more introverted, a bit quiet, looking for nice melodic stuff.”

Sparhawk said of his wife: “Hers was the voice of someone who just sings, not trying to convince you of anything. She wasn’t singing for you. She didn’t sing to get noticed. Sometimes she didn’t even want to be seen. She just wanted to be.

Parker continued to play with Low until the middle of that year.

Alan, Hollis and Cyrus survive him, as do his mother and sisters.

Mimi Parker, musician, born September 15, 1967; passed away on November 5, 2022

. Mimi Parker obituary