Nick Lowe doesn't party like he used to.
He didn't experience some monumental epiphany, and he didn't have a sudden revelation or a moment of clarity. He didn't witness a manifestation of the divine in a piece of room-service toast; nor did he wrap a luxury sports car around a telephone pole or ever once stab a friend with a letter opener during an argument.
He did none of these things. In fact, considering the pantheon of rock-star debauchery, his life's been pretty tame in comparison with his peers.
At some point, Lowe just decided that he wanted to devote more time to music. So that's what he did.
Some say the musician, singer, songwriter, producer, collaborator and downright innovator is experiencing an unexpected resurgence in the second half of his career. What they don't know is that Lowe always has a plan—even if the plan is not to have a plan.
“Things are quite different now from when I used to tour back in the day,” Lowe told CityBeat from his London home. “When we used to do tours in the '70s, we were gone for months and we did them by bus. It was fun and we were young, but the show was an irritating event within the days' activities. Now, the show is the most important part of the day.”
But the truth is that Lowe's renewed respect for performance could simply be maturity, or it could just be a part of the process for someone who has enjoyed a distinguished music career of more than 40 years.
Lowe, 59, started in 1966 when he and friend Brinsley Schwarz founded Kippington Lodge. Three years later, when the band began to infuse its rock 'n' roll sound with elements of country and blues, they changed their name to Brinsley Schwarz. Although Lowe was now playing under the namesake moniker of his friend and bandmate, it didn't seem to stifle his creative mojo—during this time, he penned two of his big hits, “(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” and “Cruel to Be Kind.”
He left the band a handful of years later and hooked up with singer and guitarist Dave Edmunds. The two formed the rockabilly-pop-influenced band Rockpile, with Lowe on bass and vocals. The band is widely considered to be a foundational influence on new-wave music.
“We didn't know what we were doing back then,” Lowe says with a soft chuckle. “None of us did. There seemed to be so little time and so many ideas, you know? When I listen to some of those old records, I think, Oh, that was pretty good, but if you had taken a little more care over it, it would have been really good. We never took proper care with it. Which was good in a way, but it also had downsides. Now, it'd be very hard for me to engineer that.”
During his stint with Rockpile, Lowe also served as the in-house producer for the legendary Stiff Records. Created in 1976, the label would take pub acts like Elvis Costello and Ian Dury and market them as punk and new wave. It's often credited with releasing the U.K.'s first punk single (The Damned's “New Rose”). While initially doing it for himself and Edmunds, Lowe ended up with producing credits on a long list of impressive titles. He also earned the notorious nickname “The Basher” for his no-nonsense, as-few-takes-as-possible approach to in-studio producing. He was at the helm for The Damned's debut album, the first five Elvis Costello albums and the first Pretenders single, among other projects.
Once reconciling previous commitments to different labels proved impossible, Lowe and Edmunds disbanded Rockpile and Lowe released his debut album, Jesus of Cool, in 1978. To avoid offending Americans' delicate sensibilities, it was released as Pure Pop for Now People in the U.S. Other than a brief stint with Ry Cooder and John Hiatt as Little Village, Lowe has released nothing but solo albums that are a true amalgam of styles. It's apparent that “The Basher” has embraced the idea of nuance.
“No one really calls me that these days,” Lowe says about his nickname, “except when they're joking. I certainly take more care than I used to when I'm in the studio and do more work before I get in. But I'm still going for the first of several takes. The main difference is that if I can't get it pretty quickly, I'll go and have a cup of tea and try again.”
Lowe released his latest effort, the country-tinged At My Age, last year, after a nearly seven-year hiatus—during which he became a first-time father at age 56. The album was released on Yep Roc (home of artists like Ron Sexsmith, The Sadies and The Reverend Horton Heat) to critical acclaim and, together with 2001's The Convincer and a deluxe reissue of Jesus of Cool (this time, with the title intact), has introduced his music to a new audience. Even with the new fan base coupled with old-time followers, Lowe remains somewhat of an under-the-radar commodity.
“‘Successful' is sort of relative,” he says. “I've never really been a household name, but my theory is that it's much more fun to be almost well-known. It's somehow much more fun. You get all the benefits, but none of the other. I mean, I would imagine it's absolute hell to be Elton John or Cher or one of those people. I don't envy them at all. So I've been quite careful about making sure that I never get too famous.”
Nick Lowe plays with Paul Cebar on Monday, Oct. 6, at Belly Up Tavern. 858-481-8140. www.nicklowe.net.