We first heard Canadian artist Lowell this summer when we caught the minimalist video for her excellent single “High Enough.” The song caught us right from the start, with low droning keys and stripped-down that blow up into a glitchy, thrumming, danceable track that quickly found a spot on one of our favorite mixtapes this year. When her media people reached out to us with an early stream of the rest of Lowell’s new Part 1: Paris YK EP (out now on Arts+ Crafts) and an offer for an interview, we jumped at the opportunity to find out more about the singer, musician, producer, and writer. Read on for a conversation on her songs, their inspiration, and politics in and out of music.
raven + crow: Alright, I don’t think I’m alone in not knowing a whole lot about you beyond what’s communicated in your music—tell us a little about yourself, if you don’t mind. You’re Canadian, right?
Lowell: I am a dual citizen, Canadian and American. I’m obsessed with making music, especially writing.
And you’re concise. I like it. I feel like so many of our favorite bands through the years have hailed from Canada though—Braids (my absolute favorite band), Purity Ring, Broken Social Scene, Owen Pallett, Arcade Fire, Stars…the list goes on. I’ve interviewed Icelandic artists and discussed a similar dynamic with their country and they ventured that all the cold weather and lack of light had something to do with the creative output—do you think something similar’s going on with all you talented Canadians?
Its possible! I know for a fact the best comes out of me when I’m out of sorts, and winter can certainly do that to you. The other greats all come from Sweden and the winters there are no picnic either. Canada also has a pretty supportive system for certain artists. I’m sure that has its pros and cons but with that list I’m guessing the pros somewhat out weigh the cons. Speaking cons, The Constantines belong on that list as well.
Right right! You even lived in the Yukon for a time though, right? That had to inspire some introspection. How has that landscape or Canada in general colored your work?
I didn’t really live there, my father lives there. My connection to there is through him, although I have of course visited. One year I even looked after Huskies up north in the summer. The great white North is a beautiful thing. I’m sure it has contributed to some of the sound of my music…somehow.
Not to fixate, but do you have any lesser-known Canadian bands we can look into?
Nice—I have yet to hear Weaves, but like your other suggestions. And we’ll have to check out Les Nananas. Can you talk inspiration for album titles for us? Your first EP was named I Killed Sara V.—what’s that from?
I Killed Sara V. was both a personal and political statement. I had a story of my dodgy past working as a stripper for some time under a sudo name “Sara V.” The press thought that was exciting…I thought I’d just put it out there and let people react to it. The idea was that when I made the EP it was a form of me killing “stripper me” and reincarnating as Lowell the artist. The most important thing came in the album We Loved Her Dearly which was a revelation that I didn’t need to kill or reject the things I did in the past to be respected. It became an ode instead of a murder story. It showed remorse for the beauty who was killed by society…a sexually empowered and successful female who felt the need to be “dignified” and reject herself….
I love that, it’s a really nice evolution of self-awareness or image of self, I think. Bringing us up-to-date, you released the Part 1: Paris YK EP late last month on Arts & Crafts—can you break that one down for us?
Its probably going to be three parts. Each part will relate back to an important place of my nomadic upbringing. I chose The Yukon first. I’ve always been a bit of a dreamer and though sometimes its been a great thing for me, it has also caused me to suffer. There was a time when The Yukon was the land of opportunity… and this place Paris, Yukon could be looked at as, say, “Canada’s dead Hollywood.” With that in mind, I guess this EP was supposed to make you question your hopes and dreams. Something I need to do every now and then in order to stay happy.
How do the songs on this new EP differ from your previous work?
They are different I suppose. This EP in particular was more of a collab on the production side, so that made a huge difference.
I always liked the track “Cloud 69” from your first album a lot, but I do feel like the new work shows a certain musical growth and maturity…and we like it a lot, for what it’s worth. How did you get hooked up with Arts & Crafts?
They called, I answered. I have always had a love for that label.
Likewise. You’ve openly stated that work to address real issues and empower listeners with your music—why’s that important to you?
I think in order for people to move forward as a whole, artists have to start a movement.
Is there a song you can think of that was difficult to write for you in terms of subject matter? Or, if that’s no fun to talk about, maybe one that you just felt really impassioned about, like “I HAVE to write about this NOW”?
My song “LGBT” came to me after some hate crimes were committed in front of me in London. its not the deepest song on the surface but I was upset and that’s what came out.
Have you ever had any fans reach out to thank you for talking about these more difficult topics in your work?
I have, yes! I don’t think I’m unique in that way. Artists have the gift of being able to affect people in a special way, even if its nothing to do with the subject matter. It still makes me feel great when I get notes from people saying I’ve inspired them to look more into feminism or approach the way they make music themselves. Being open and honest as an artist is not always easy and there are times where it is down right terrifying, but I really believe it is something that needs to start happening in pop culture, so anytime I get a pat on my back it makes me feel like i’m doing the right thing. It makes it easier for me to stay true to my vision.
Glad to have your voice out there, honestly. Speaking of terrifying though, given how FUCKING FRIGHTENING the possible outcome of our election this fall…can we come live with you in Canada if things don’t pan out well for us?
I’m not sure. I have a spare room in my house you could probably settle into but you’ll eventually need a Visa. Luckily Canada believes that immigrants are actually very helpful for the economy and so the process wouldn’t be that gruesome. In fact, we’ve been doing our best to fly in and settle Syrian refugees whilst also putting together some integration programs to make the shift as easy as possible for new immigrants. We have settled up to 25,000 in the past year. I’m sure there is plenty of room for you as well…but you should stay there…if the unspeakable happens they will need you more than ever.
Good point. And cheers Canada for doing what we should—I heard that news story about the Syrian refuges earlier this year and it simultaneously made me inspired by your country and dismayed by ours. It’s been so turbulent and divided here the past years.
ANYWAY though, I don’t know if you’ve read it, but in Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl—Carrie Brownstein’s excellent memoir—she writes about how annoying it was that Sleater-Kinney constantly got asked about how it felt to be ‘women in music’ and so eloquently stated “To this day, because I know no other way of being or feeling, I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman in a band — I have nothing else to compare it to. But I will say that I doubt in the history of rock journalism and writing any man has been asked, ‘Why are you in an all-male band?’” Is that a question you get a lot and do you have a similar feeling on the matter?
I find it weird that, as a writer/producer, I am part of the 3% of women that do what I do in music. So for me, I am not bothered by the question. It is fair to observe that there is a lack of women doing what men do in music. There is a great all girl band in Toronto called The Beaches and their merch is a t-shirt that just says “GRL BAND.” Yes, it is an anomaly. It is also silly. Women rule at music. That being said…it is probably annoying to be asked all the time about being a woman when being a woman should have nothing to do with what you do.
I recently heard someone putting forth what I think is now a pretty widely unaccepted concept—that we’re living in post-raciaal America because our country elected a Barack Obama. They then extended that concept to say that we’d live in a post-gender society if we elected Hilary Clinton. Can you give me your two cents on why that might not be?
We are living in a post-racial America, we do live in a post-gender society and this will worsen when Hilary is president. For me it has been difficult to see racism crawl out of the woodwork like it has over the last few years, however it is so important to remember how great this is for the future of society. Racism doesn’t just spontaneously generate. It was very much alive before Barack Obama and it only seems worse because it has become more visible. The backlash against Black Lives Matter… and the fact that “All Lives Matter” is a real actual thing that people say is upsetting, but its better for people to hear it than to not so we can stop denying race issues and start doing something about them.
Totally agree with you on the last bit—I’m hoping these are cultural growing pains, painful as they are. Back to the music, I haven’t seen any announced tour dates recently—think that’ll change in the near future?
Yeah! You’ll know very soon. I do have a tour coming up.
Any plans to come to Los Angeles?
I hope so!
I know it’s not about California, but can you tell about the inspiration for the song “West Coast Forever”?
Its all about being in a shit hole and yearning for more.
We’ve seen bands do it well and bands do it…not so well, but what are the challenges in your mind in translating a largely electronic studio track to something that’ll play well on stage, in front of an audience?
Its always though finding a balance between budget and and artistic vision. The more tracks you use, the cheaper it will be and the more money you will make (or more accurately, the less money you will lose). I have a lot of respect for real musicians, because I went to music school for a year and met so many legitimate musicians that have undeniable drive and talent. I like to see that kind of thing when I’m at a show; however, reality is, most of my fans are excited about seeing my personality and so I can kind of get away with using tracks and just performing to the max. My shows are not exactly about scales and noodling anyways, they are about having fun, partying, dancing etc. I’m ok with that. Of course I still play, and Matty D is a killer guitar player, but until I’m headlining with a real budget, a full band aint happening! To be honest there’s something charming about the way it is right now anyways. Its very intimate.
Can’t wait to see ourselves. Well thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us.