Lowpines – An Interview

ImageOli Deakin and Lyla Foy are Lowpines, an honest and sincere twosome hailing from west London. The dashing duo create succinct and heartfelt tunes that have the uncanny ability to simultaneously sound familiar and unique. Like finding a misplaced photograph on the bottom of a dresser drawer, Oli and Lyla’s compositions have the power to unearth emotions that have been ignored or pushed aside. Lowpines have released two EPs (Give Me a Horse and Avenue Blues) and a handful of scattered songs that have created the proverbial buzz among music bloggers and people with excellent taste in music. In an industry full of imitators and phonies, the Lowpines are a sweet distraction from the status quo. Oli was patient and kind enough to answer some of my questions regarding the band, the process he goes through to develop songs, and the overall evolution of his musical journey. Hopefully this interview will give Lowpines fans a deeper understanding and appreciation of their music.

How did you guys come together as a band?

I’d been playing as part of a larger set up for a while when I was invited on to a tour that required something smaller. So to begin with I arranged some songs for two and began things from there. That formed a basis for the first recordings and it all started from there.

What is the origin of the band’s name?

The name Lowpines came from chewing on a few different words that felt good but didn’t seem to work on their own. I kind of stumbled upon it and liked the way it sounded. It feels like a place name or house name, sounded like a good place to keep my songs… Shady.

How did Lowpines become involved with Eardrumspop? I’m assuming you support the label’s digital only, free music approach? Has the band thought about approaching any more traditional labels to release music, especially in vinyl/cassette/compact disc format(s)?

Eardrumspop came across Lowpines on Soundcloud and sent a message inviting us to collaborate on a release. They have quite a unique approach that appealed to me – teaming up bands and visual artists. It turned out to be a very happy place to start things. It’s always nice to produce actual vinyl and cd copies of records and that’s always part of the plan. But free downloads are a wonderful way to get things out to people quickly, which is more important when you start something new. In the first instance you just want people to hear what you’re up to.

From what I understand, the band was hands-off with the artwork for the Give Me a Horse EP? If so, are you comfortable with someone creating a visual aspect/representation of your music? Did you guys have any input into the artwork?

I’ve always preferred to do my own artwork, it seems so important that it should fit with what I see in the recordings. But with Give Me a Horse it seemed like an opportunity to actually see what would happen if I let someone else have complete control. I loved what Sean Mahan came up with for this. I never would have come up with something like that.

What is your goal with Lowpines?

Lowpines is a home for songs that I write and record. The goal is always to write and record more of them. Releases are the moments where some of those songs are gathered together to form an album or an EP to be presented as a collection, but behind the scenes there are always more songs being written and the works goes on. There’s no specific end point. It’s a beginning.

Does Lowpines perform any other cover songs outside of The Be Good Tanyas’ “It’s Not Happening”?

I’m working on some Nick Drake songs I have been asked to play to accompany a film screening about him. It has got me thinking about other songs I might like to play afterwards. It can feel quite indulgent to record covers, but there are often good things to be learned from doing it, so I think I’ll always have something I’m thinking about playing.

What did the The Be Good Tanyas think of your version?

I don’t know that they’ve heard it. I can only imagine that they’d think it a little… darker than they perhaps intended. We certainly took the spring out of its step. It’s a challenge to re-interpret a song you really like, you have to find a way to make it your own and take it away from somewhere where it’s been happily living it’s whole life, see if you can get it to put down roots elsewhere.

Do you guys have any non-musical influences?

Songwriting is so much a product of your experiences I think it’d be hard not to be influenced by all sorts of things, whether you’re aware of it or not.  I think whatever song you set out to write you’ll find yourself referencing some aspect of your own experience. Books are very nourishing in terms of language. I don’t read as much as I’d like to but I try to dip into books as often as I can, if only to take in a few pages, or even a few words. Books seem to get your imagination going in ways you wouldn’t normally use.

Do you feel your songs are melancholy? Do you strive to make a melancholy song?

I don’t intentionally write melancholy songs. But I can understand how some people might see them as melancholy. To me, they’re uplifting; I pursue the sounds and images that feel good to sing. There is warmth to certainty, and I suppose melancholy has a kind of certainty.

Who does the heavy lifting in the creation/development of a song? Are the lyrics/song structures/music a combined effort, or are they isolated creations that are pieced together during the recording process?

I normally write songs alone but arrangements are nearly always collaborative. I like to respond to whomever I’m playing with and get their stamp on the sound.

Do you get nervous about writing songs? In other words, is there an overwhelming stress hanging over you until a song is completed?

Not a stress, no. There’s an energy to it for sure – an excitement if it’s going well, apprehension if it feels like it’s eating itself. Songwriting can be a very addictive process, particularly once you get started on a few new songs at once. So if a song starts looking a bit off-colour you have to turn your attention to another so as not to lose momentum. Sometimes they turn a bit grey and you just have to walk away.

Where do the lyrics come from? Are they pieced together from journal entries?

They come from all sorts of places, always different. The ones that come quickest seem to give the least indication of where they came from. Sometimes if a song just arrives, fully formed, you look at it thinking ‘where did this come from? Whose is it? It can’t be mine…’ Those are the best. The ones you don’t even recognise but get along with at once, becoming life-long friends.

Where’s Lyla’s beautiful vocal contributions on the new songs?

They’re out there somewhere! Lyla is doing lots with her own project at the moment, so her beautiful voice is in high demand.

Can you give a little insight into the new song “Call off the Hunt”? What is it about? What inspired it? How long did it take to develop and record the song?

It’s a song that went through a few different stages. During the winter I started a little project to write songs just on my guitar and write them all out in a big book, only recording them into my phone. I figured I might end up with lots of different recordings of the same song in different places. This is one that was bothering me in that it never seemed to sit quite right on any of the versions. So one night in January I just threw some other noises on it and started messing around with it. It came together pretty quickly after that. It’s a song about the moments between climbing and falling.

In regards to song composition/construction, when is a song finished? For example, is there a feeling inside that says, ‘this song should be less than three minutes or longer than four minutes?’

I’m not sure a song is ever finished. But there comes a point when it’s ready to be heard by others and continue its life out in the world. I’m always changing little bits along the way, odd words and notes. Occasionally changing the name, maybe give it a haircut. But it’s only allowed out of the house once its got its boots on.

What do your parents think of your music? Are they proud? Embarrassed? Indifferent?

I come from a musical family so there’s always a support, expectation, curiosity… and pride when it’s earned.  My parents play classical music so we have totally different references for what we do, but work in very similar worlds. So we compare notes a lot.

Outside of a Facebook page and a brief write up on Eardrumspop, there’s not much on the Internet about the group. There seems to be a mystery behind the band. Is this intentional? I even had a difficult time even finding pictures of you guys. Any plans on developing a proper website that solely focuses on the band?

There’s no intentional mystery, but I do think bands are best represented by their music. If people are looking for something about Lowpines I’d always prefer that they found a song first rather than a biography or press shot. It’s still a very new project so the music is very much the focal point. I’m sure we’ll set up a website at some point, but I quite like inhabiting all these different music sites for now. They each have their own little communities of users so there’s always a slightly different atmosphere to posting tracks on the different ones.

Are you collectors of vinyl/cds? Do you have a large music collection?

I love my vinyls and try to buy a handful every year. But I’m always listening to new things so I store most of my music on my phone, and stream online. I try to listen to as much as possible and then make concerted decisions when I get to the record shop. Buying a record normally means picking out five or six that I really want and walking round the shop with them for a good while, working out which ones I feel I really can’t leave without. Then the others go back on the shelf ‘til next time. I like to mail order vinyl too – there’s something extremely pleasing about the size of box that a collection of eBay-ed Dylan vinyl comes in, not knowing whether any of them will actually play.

Do you have a favorite Smog album? Did you read Bill Callahan’s novel, Letters to Emma Bowlcut?

I keep my copy of Letters To Emma Bowlcut handy at all times – I must have read it about five times through but now I just like to dip in and read one letter at a time. There’s a perfect balance of poetry and humour in the way Callahan writes. I went to hear him reading from it in London and he looked really uncomfortable, almost pained. I went to get it signed afterwards so my copy has a scrawled message in the front. I first came across Smog when someone gave me a copy of A River Ain’t Too Much To Love. It’s one of my favourite albums. Since then I’ve been quietly collecting all his albums.

Do you have a favorite Rolling Stones album?

I don’t really know their albums, but I spent some time with Exile On Main Street on a recommendation from a songwriter friend. That’s a good album.

Is there anything you’re currently listening to or reading that you’d like to share?

I’ve been trying to read Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer for a while but I keep getting distracted. This week’s listening has included… Joshua James, Kurt Vile, Daughn Gibson, and the new Caitlin Rose record.

Any plans for a lengthy tour in 2013? Or do you guys have day jobs that keep you from fully pursuing your musical desires?

No lengthy tour plans at present, working on lots of new songs and some collaborations, all of which leaves no time for a day job. Alas.

Is there anything else you want people to know about yourself?

We have songs you can listen to. We’re working on more songs. Soon as they’re done you can listen to those too.

June 5, 2013. Tags: , , , , , , , , , . Interview. 2 comments.

Lowpines – Give Me a Horse EP

ImageLowpines are a cool co-ed duo hailing from west London. Behind the somber sounding band name are Oli Deakin and Lyla Foy, partners in the sublime. The talented two have released a minimalist masterpiece, Give Me a Horse, via EardrumsPop.

Teasing us with only three songs, Lowpines open up the EP with the title track, a slow moving lo-fi acoustic waltz that meets somewhere between Bonnie Prince Billy and Smog. Deakin interjects some Bill Callahan/Jandek type of lyrics: “Give me a horse and I’ll give it grass to feed on the winter long / Give me a horse and I’ll keep it strong for you to ride on.” Much like Callahan, I’m sure the horse is metaphorical for the aching desire to be in a loving relationship. Foy’s convincing voice, along with a somber electric guitar enters to bring the song to a sweet climax. Quite frankly, “Give Me a Horse” is an excellent single.

Opening with a softly cutting and climbing guitar lightly washed with effects, “Heavy Hander” is haunting in its efficient construction and pleasing in its economical use of vocals and instrumentation. Deakin and Foy magically meet in the chorus when they plead, “Come away heavy-hander / Give me back my summer sun.” It’s interesting how the duo can make the song simultaneously sound anxious and relaxing.

The EP ends with “It’s Not Happening,” a cover of the Vancouver-based band The Be Good Tanyas. Though Deakin takes the lead on the vocals, this is the first time we hear Foy flex her vocal power without harmonizing with her band mate. Maybe I’m a bit too enamored with the Lowpines, but their version of the song is more heartfelt and emotional than the original. At the same time, I would’ve liked to have seen the band give the listener another original composition instead of a cover tune.

I’m pleasantly surprised by Lowpines. I want more. I want more songs. I want a physical release of the EP to hold in my hands and wave around. I want to see them in concert. Heck, I even want a t-shirt and poster. The Lowpines have real talent. They aren’t just studio smoke and mirrors. Make sure you check out their fairly recent Daytrotter sessions where they give a beautiful performance of their few tracks. Oh, and I love the cover art. It fits the mood of the EP. Great job, guys. Write more songs!

March 12, 2013. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , . Albums. 2 comments.