Nick Lowe on Crafting "Swinging" Pop in His 60s
Nick Lowe has worn more than a couple stylistic hats in his 40-plus years as a songwriter, performer, and producer. He played ambling country rock with Brinsley Schwarz, ushered in pub rock, punk, and new wave with solo records and production for Stiff Records, and eased into a remarkable career as a singer/songwriter, touching on blues, rockabilly, country, folk, and blue-eyed soul.
Dan Burn, Yep Rock Records Nick Lowe
Johnny Cash (his one-time father-in-law) and Elvis Costello have covered his songs. He's produced records for The Pretenders, The Damned, and even an early Motorhead single. He's played with Los Straightjackets and Little Village (featuring John Hiatt, Ry Cooder, and Jim Keltner).
Through it all, he's proven his knack for a hook, melody, and charming wit.
Dan Burn, Yep Rock Records Nick Lowe
His latest, The Old Magic, shows no signs of diminishing returns: "Checkout Time" winks slyly at death, "Sensitive Man" cracks wise on the state of men in the modern age, and "I Read A Lot," a song I first heard Lowe perform at The Rhythm Room in 2008, is positively crushing, the kind of sad bastard ode that has finds hardened listeners reaching for a handkerchief.
Lowe talked to Up on the Sun from Nashville about his "two" careers, touring with Wilco, and his fear that "good songs" might not be enough to sustain careers in the future.
Up on the Sun: You're coming to the Musical Instrument Museum solo, but you've done a lot of full-band touring this year. Do you prefer that?
Nick Lowe: I suppose I do, really. The touring aspect is certainly much more fun, but there are advantages to doing it on your own. You can change things up. I pretty much do the same set every night, because you almost have to -- there are certain songs that people really want to hear and I want people to have a good time at my shows. I don't just want to please myself, but if you don't leave a bit of room to change things up each night, you go a bit crazy.
With a band, it's a little more difficult to do that. The other thing -- probably the most important thing -- is that I make about five times as much money on my own as I do with a band [laughs]. But it swings in roundabouts, as they say. Both things have their advantages.
The Old Magic is a pretty swinging album -- it feels like there's a lot of energy to these songs.
I try to keep the solo show -- to use your fabulous word -- as "swinging" as possible. I really don't want to deliver a too serious set. I try and keep it swinging along. It's surprising -- if you have a nice audience, the sort who's coming along with you, you can really turn it into quite a good little dance party, even if there's only one of you.
I caught you in 2008, at the Rhythm Room, and I was struck by how the show moved, how you were able to go from things like "I Trained Her to Love Me" to "All Men Are Liars." You avoid the "boring, guy with an acoustic guitar" kind of thing.
Since that show, I did two tours with Wilco, and I thought it was a really cool thing for them to ask me to do, to open up solo. I was conscious when I went on people would say "Oh, who's this old bloke with an acoustic guitar?" So I was very anxious to dispel that feeling as soon as possible by keeping it in the groove, keeping it swinging, not boring people, and not staying on too long, as well. That's very important [laughs].
Jeff Tweedy of Wilco has sort of a habit of working with people he admires, and that clip of you, Mavis Staples, and Wilco covering The Band was wonderful. Have you and Jeff talked at all about recording some songs?
We certainly have talked about it, but that's as far as it's gone. He wanted me to do something him and Mavis at one point, but Wilco's been touring sort of endlessly since I saw him. I haven't heard anything, so maybe he's changed his mind, I don't know [laughs].
But the Wilco audience seemed to catch on to what you were doing?
It really did seem to work and as I said, I can see the results. My audience, there's a lot more younger people now; a lot more women come to see me now. A few of the old-timers have sort of dropped away a bit, because it's not noisy enough for them, but they've been replaced with other people. Funnily enough, the new people, they don't really know much about [my older work]. I feel as if I've sort of had two careers, one that lasted till the end of the '80s, and one that sort of kicked off around the end of the '90s. The new people don't really know much about Rockpile and all that business.