From exclusive interviews, live performances, special collections and more, we’re celebrating music all month long. We talked to the bands and artists playing our upcoming UO Live in Austin shows about their musical beginnings and the places they’re headed next. Click here to read more from our favorite musicians.
RG Lowe is an Austin-based musician who will debut his first solo album, Slow Time, later this year. Influenced by a wide-reaching range of influences, from Stevie Wonder to Dire Straits, "I knew that the music that had been most inspiring to me was that which expressed deep emotion but did it in a way that allowed all kinds of people an entry point," he explains. Leading up to his show in Austin this month, we visited Rob at home and at his studio to discuss pop music 101, music-as-language, and what we can expect from him this year.
Photos by Jared Royal
Who or what would you cite as your main influencers for the sound of RG Lowe?
This record was created over quite a long period of time. It’s funny to look back and see entire swaths of inspiration that came and went through the three or so years that I was working on this music. In some ways it was really kind of a pop music 101 thing that I was going through, starting with a heavy deep Graceland phase, traveling thru Fleetwood Mac territory, and rounding out with a solid obsession with Prince and Michael Jackson. Hardly any of the songs that I wrote in the Paul Simon phase made it onto the record, perhaps none of them.
The one artist that has stayed around and provided me with constant inspiration, enlightenment and humility is Stevie Wonder. The love that shines through all of his work I think is unique in popular music. His magnificent trio of records from the mid-1970s (Innervisions, Fulfillingness’ First Finale and Songs in the Key of Life) were my constant companions in those years, as they continue to be. Other somewhat random but deep inspiration came from Jackson Brown, Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone, Dire Straits, D’Angelo, Daft Punk, Ray Charles and tons of far afield tracks too numerous to mention.
In many ways it was a period of time in which I was really obsessing over some of our countries most popular and famous musicians. I have had plenty of times in my life where all I wanted to do was find the one artist that I felt like spoke to me and only me, this was more about trying to get deep into the music of some artists who had the capacity to speak almost universally, to an entire population.
How would you explain the feeling or vibe of the project?
When I think back on the process of writing these songs I can see clearly now that I was trying to work my way out of a difficult and confusing period. So much was changing for me personally and I was quite confused and depressed. I was trying to find out a new way of thinking about my life and music was the tool that I was using. I knew that the music that had been most inspiring to me was that which expressed deep emotion but did it in a way that allowed all kinds of people an entry point. I wanted to use the nondescript vocabulary of music to help transform my feelings about my situation into new ways of looking at my life. And so in some ways, I just did my best to take what I could from the artists that I felt had helped me do a lot of that kind of recontextualizing myself. It’s like something that takes place internally when you listen to a song like Stevie Wonder’s “Love’s in need of love today” or Marvin Gaye’s “Whats Going On,” you feel their warning and feel their pain, but they are also simultaneously offering a way to cope or understand that pain. It’s therapy. Something that only music can do for me.
How is the approach to RG Lowe different from your Balmorhea project, where you spent 10 years up until now making solely instrumental music?
I think there is a foundational way in which all the music I have worked on is the same. The idea that music is a language that can communicate powerfully and can connect people who might have absolutely nothing else in common. A kind of heart language.
Balmorhea’s music is very much about a direct line of communication. The messages in that music are somewhat shrouded and ambiguous because there are no lyrics. It’s just an idea of a feeling that we are trying to express and it’s not particularly important that there is an explicit meaning to the music. It’s very spiritual in a way. This new project I guess is very similar, because I believe that it is that same human connection that I am going for, it just uses a more concrete language (lyrics) and style (pop-music) to deliver that same energy. So I guess the differences between the two projects are formal and aesthetic, not spiritual.
You worked with War on Drugs and Kurt Vile’s Producer and Engineer Jeff Zeigler in Philadelphia for this record — what was that process like?
It was great. Every record I had made with Balmorhea we had done in Austin. I was really looking to work in a different city on this project as it’s not exactly what you would typically think of as 'Austin music.' I had recently met my girlfriend who was living in Philly at the time and I was spending quite a lot of time up there with her and was really falling in love with that city. I had some mutual friends who had worked with Jeff before and he came highly recommended so it was a no brainer to work with him. I think he brought a lot to the project and I’ll always associate this record with my time in Philly.
You’ve quietly played around Austin a bit and will have some SXSW shows on the books, what’s on tap around the album release and afterward?
It’s been really great to start performing these songs live. I finished recording the record at the end of 2015, so It’s been kind of a long time between finishing writing the songs and the release of the record. I’m really lucky to be working with some super talented people in my band and it’s been invigorating to rediscover what these songs can do and say in a live setting. I can’t wait to go on tour and open up this material further. As of right now, I’m planning on playing around Austin whenever I can and doing a couple of fast paced US tours in the US in June and July up to New York and out to Los Angeles. I’m also hoping to take the project to Europe in the summer as well. I’m just hoping it doesn’t take me 4 years to come up with a follow up record...
See him play this month at UO Space 24 Twenty for UO Live in Austin. Click here for more schedules and information.