Although it carries the names of two people in its title, Sufjan Stevens’ crushingly beautiful Carrie & Lowell is mostly only about one of them: Stevens’ mother, Carrie, who abandoned him when he was a child, and who died in 2012. Her husband, Lowell Brams, is mostly a background figure on the album, with his and Carrie’s home in Eugene, Oregon, simply serving as the backdrop for the summer trips that were Stevens’ last real contact with his mother.
It’s interesting, then, that of the two, it’s Brams who’s been far more involved in the Illinois performer’s life, staying in touch with him after his divorce from his mother, and co-founding the Asthmatic Kitty record label with him in 1998. The two are friends and partners to this day, with Brams—an electronic music producer—even recording music occasionally with his one-time stepson.
It’s natural, of course, for Stevens to gravitate to his memories of his mother, as he wrestles on the album with his feelings of filial love and rage. But it’s also fascinating to hear Brams’ take on events, as revealed in an interview he recently gave to Pitchfork, which came about after he reached out to the site to gently defend his ex-wife from an assumption about one of the pictures included in the album’s liner notes.
It’s a melancholy conversation, mostly, a look at another kind of relationship with the enigma at the center of Carrie & Lowell’s wounded heart. Among questions about his relationship with Stevens, and his memories of those long-ago summers, Brams expresses the pain of seeing a moment from a failed marriage take center stage on its album art. But he also praises the album itself, calling it, “As good as anything [Stevens has] ever done.” (We agreed, naming it our third-favorite album of 2015.)
“And having seen the reviews, and having been at five of the shows where he played the entire album, it’s clear that it’s something that really reaches people, going beyond his personal story. There are so many universal themes on the album. It’s just beautifully done, too. It was a while before I could listen to it without crying. But it also makes people cry who didn’t know his mother.”
You can read the whole interview here, at Pitchfork.