Deep in the Roots: The Low Voltage plugs in to a sound that's both earthy and haunting


The Low Voltage

Colin Simpson, aka The Low Voltage.

Colin Simpson was a veteran of bands in Oregon and Washington before returning to his home state of Michigan a few years ago. He arrived in Ann Arbor with no job and no connections to the local music community. But he did have an idea that he wanted to try something a little different.

“I knew I wanted to continue with music, but I also knew I didn’t want to just be the guy at the back of the coffee shop with a guitar,” he recalls now. So he created the concept of The Low Voltage to play out his musical ideas, adding a kick drum and some electric guitar -- and, later, a musical partner, singer-instrumentalist Emily Fox.

The result is a remarkably distinctive sound, sitting somewhere in the realm of Americana/folk/indie rock but managing to find its own unique niche. The sound is effectively evoked by the name [|The Low Voltage].

“The band name came from an overall feeling that I wanted,” he explains. “What I envision for the feel of it is a dark room with low lighting. The Low Voltage kind of springs from that feeling.”

Simpson’s powerful singing voice contributes to The Low Voltage sound, too, of course. “What works for me is a bluesier sound, although it’s not necessarily what I listen to. It’s just what works for my voice,” he notes. “My voice works best when it’s a little raspier.”

On the latest Low Voltage album, The Night Is Young, released Aug. 8, Simpson’s growl plays off against the bright tone of Fox’s singing voice. But due to the fact that Fox recently moved out of state, The Low Voltage is now back to being a one-person operation in live shows.

In a way, the change is fitting, since there’s a certain theme of movement and restlessness to some of Simpson’s songs. In fact, he says, two cross-country road trips he’s taken -- his initial move to the West Coast as a young man and the return trip to Michigan with a wife, a child, pets, and “a house full of stuff” -- inspired a number of his songs.

“It had a pretty profound effect,” he says of the experience, dealing with tremendous change and everyday realities at the same time. “A lot of the songs I write have to do with change, and driving across the country, and starting over.” (He's currently a supervisor with the Ann Arbor District Library.)

Although The Low Voltage is an outlet for Simpson’s songs, he notes that Fox wrote the lyrics to one of the standout tracks on The Night Is Young, “Crooked Tree,” about the Ottawa tribe near the town of Good Hart.

“Midwestern Plains,” one of the other highlights of the album, was inspired by Simpson’s trip back to Michigan, bringing his family along to an uncertain future with no job yet in hand. “Be the lighthouse guiding me to your shore,” he pleads, with Fox’s voice providing a haunting counterpoint. “Be the song that leads me back to your door.”

Luckily for local music fans, The Low Voltage seems to have found a home in Ann Arbor.

Bob Needham is a freelance writer; the former arts & entertainment editor of The Ann Arbor News and

The Low Voltage plays the [|River’s Edge Brewing Co.] in Milford, 125 S. Main St., on Oct. 1. The Night Is Young CD/MP3 is available to buy at [|CDBaby].