LIFE LESSONS “Once you know what you’re doing, it’s sort of too late.”
Nick Lowe is a rare creature, a punk rock founding father who has endured and evolved gracefully. As singer and principal songwriter in British pub rock pioneers Brinsley Schwarz, he paved the way for the punk revolution, and later released Jesus of Cool (released as Pure Pop For Now People in the US), his 1978 solo debut, a classic of the new wave era. Lowe never stopped recording and, in recent years, he has crafted an exquisite series of albums swathed in retro sounds of country and soul.
In addition to making his own music (including the worldwide hit “Cruel To Be Kind”), Lowe has produced landmark recordings for other acts, including the Damned’s “New Rose” (regarded as the first British punk rock single) and Elvis Costello’s first five albums. Lowe’s songs have been interpreted by many artists, including Johnny Cash, whose reading of “The Beast In Me” served as the centerpiece of Cash’s American Recordings album.
Nick Lowe plays the Narrows Center for the Arts on October 15. We recently talked with him by phone.
ON YOUR RECENT ALBUMS, YOU BLEND COUNTRY, BLUES, JAZZ AND POP INTO A STYLE THAT COULD BE PLAYED BY A SOPHISTICATED COUNTRY ARTIST LIKE CHARLIE RICH OR A MATURE R&B SINGER LIKE JAMES CARR. HAS BLURRING THOSE STYLES BEEN A CONSCIOUS PROCESS? Yes, I think so. There was a time in the ’80s when I was thinking how I could develop a style which would take me into middle age and beyond. I’d been a pop star for a short time in the ’70s, and after that was over I thought, “I’ve done pretty well here, and if my career is over now, I could go back into civilian life and feel quite pleased.” But I didn’t feel as if I’d done anything really good up till that point. I did think taking classic pop music writ-ing styles and mixing them together could be something that I could use. And it has paid off quietly. Untold riches haven’t been mine, but that was never my aim.
YOUR MOST RECENT ALBUM IS TITLED AT MY AGE. UNLIKE SOME ACTS, YOU DON’T HAVE THE URGE TO RECREATE YOUR YOUTH. I see some of my contemporaries who are compelled to relive their moment of fame over and over again, and that’s something that I was absolutely determined not to do. To have to behave as if it’s punk rock heaven so that people can relive their youth through you is an awful situation to be in. So I wanted to try and find a way of using the fact that I was getting older as an advantage over younger acts, who might even be saying, “Boy, I can’t wait to be as old as that Nick Lowe.” That would be really something.
YOU PRODUCED THE PRETENDERS’ FIRST SINGLE. THIRTY YEARS LATER, CHRISSIE HYNDE SANG ON YOUR SONG “PEOPLE CHANGE.” DID YOU HAVE HER IN MIND WHEN YOU WERE WRITING IT? No, actually. We had three or four goes at recording that song, and it never really worked. It sounded a bit like a breakfast cereal commercial at one point, and that’s not bad, either, but it wasn’t quite good enough. Eventually I went to see Chrissie on another matter. And I happened to say, “I have this song that I’m having a bit of trouble with.” I showed it to her. She was very forthright about it, and made me throw out half of the song. She said, “I’ll come and sing on it. Make sure you don’t mess it up.”