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The Low Anthem Tried Using a Drone on Stage and It Didn't Go Well

Interviews

By Jen Brown

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Jeff Bezos isn’t the only non-military person who can make drone headlines. Providence, Rhode Island’s The Low Anthem recently hosted a benefit concert for its hometown theater where they filmed the show with the help of a drone video camera. The concert was called Revival! (it revived the theater, duh) and hosted names like The Felice Brothers, Happiness (a new Deer Trick side project), Anais Mitchell, Roz and the Rice Cakes, and over ten other acts, including The Low Anthem themselves.

The drone camera zoomed through the high ceilings of the opera house, catching views no human eye could attain. During one song, the drone swooped down below the stage’s curtains and violently crashed behind band member Jeff Prystowsky. Luckily of course, it was all on camera, so we will be able to admire the drone crash again and again on repeat once the footage surfaces. For now, we have this GIF:


Drone attack.

We spoke with Ben Knox Miller, lead singer of The Low Anthem, and asked him about the drone camera, the fear-inducing crash, and the band’s interest in all-things drones.

Noisey: So, please tell me: What prompted you all to use a drone camera at the Columbus Theatre Revival concert?
Ben Knox Miller: Remote planes are supposed to be for kids and astronauts. We can't let the military and surveillance state have all the fun. This particular concert was about the reviving Providence's Columbus Theatre so we thought it would be fun to shoot arial footage to capture the space and the moment. We've always been interested in drones though. The album cover for Smart Flesh is an early military drone, and in the new music we are recording now there is a recurring theme of helicopter field recordings. Live, the whine of the mini chopper did the trick.

Had you ever seen a drone camera in action before?
The technician lives across the street and had used the Columbus Theatre to film a dance piece. It gets sweeping shots that would otherwise require expensive cranes. We saw that shoot and thought it was beautiful and creepy.

Has The Low Anthem experimented with technology during concerts in the past?
In the past we've used more conventional tools. Saws, power drills, megaphones, the occasional cell phone. We're definitely trying to keep up with the times in our way.

Was the drone operator experienced? How did he rehearse for the concert?
Big ups to Keith Heyward, drone technician. We did background checks and breathalyzers and hung a winding maze of parking cones from the ceiling. He practiced and practiced. Despite the ultimate crash, he is a wiz and a great camera man.

How do you feel about real-life drones?
I love the Mars Rover so much. The eyeless Predator drone not so much. Anything without eyes gives me the willies. It's a spooky disconnection. But I'm not for killing by any means.

How do you feel about drone music? Do you have a favorite drone band?
I love drone music. My favorite drone record is The Moon and Fireworks by Paper Kettle. Amazing record.

What were you thinking when you saw the drone falling from the sky, about the crash on stage?
Well, I was singing with my eyes closed. I felt the wind pass overhead. When the audience laughed lightheartedly at a lyric about masturbating border guards, I thought something must have happened. By the way, the song [I was playing,] "Behind the Airport Mirror," is a cover. The original is by a band called the Nonexistent Knights. They are amazing.

How much does the drone camera weigh?
I dunno. As much as a raven?

Does the camera record in high definition?
It used to...

Was Jeff scared that the drone would hit him? Had Jeff been hit by a drone before?
Jeff wanted to feel the wind. His mother used to blow on his ears to help him sleep and purr at a mechanical 120Hz. He asked Keith to fly in close and get the wind in the overhead drum mics. He's never been hit by a drone before.

Would you recommend drone cameras to other live performers?
No. I could see that going badly if the operators weren't qualified. There's loads of dooming lore about crashes. Our heli was really light and no one was in danger but I could see similar situations ending badly.

When will the drone video be ready?
Someone just sent me a rough cut. It's groovy.

Now that you've used a drone, what's next for The Low Anthem and technology? More drones? Maybe this
Whoa, yes. Or maybe this… 

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