NIck Lowe and His Band play Variety Playhouse tonight with Tift Merritt. $32.90. 8 p.m. 1099 Euclid Ave. 404-524-7354.
In his younger days, Nick Lowe was called “the basher,” due to the motorik hooks that drove such power-pop anthems as “Cruel to Be Kind,” “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass,” and “Heart of the City.” They were sophisticated cousins to punk’s less-is-more design, although Lowe imbued his chords with more class and storytelling. Now in his 60s and touring with his latest album, The Old Magic, Lowe furthers his arc of aging gracefully, while proving that he’s still got it.
Chad Radford: You've been all over the world as of late — England, Australia, and now you're coming to America.
Nick Lowe: Yeah, we've been on the road for a bit now, me and the band — since the end of January. So we're pretty good at the moment. We know how it all goes at least, but you can kind of get forced into being good, and that's when you need to trick yourself into being a bit bad. If it's too slick you can find yourself drifting off while thinking about things like, “I wonder if I should get someone to move the car,” while you're in the middle of singing some impassioned tune. So you really have to keep yourself on your toes. We can do that now.
The last time we spoke it was 2008 and you were playing a solo show at Variety Playhouse a little while after releasing At My Age.
Yes, yes. I remember, I remember! It really is sort of a different discipline, doing that solo stuff. With the band, these guys all play on my records as well, and we've been together really quite a long time, off-and-on. They play with a lot of other people, too. But really, this is an extension of the solo thing, because we don't play very loudly. Actually, we play fairly quietly, but it is rockin’. It's like an acoustic show but it's a bit more interesting than that.
Yes, it really is a treat. The thing is, with the equipment that’s available nowadays, it’s entirely possible to get a sound that can either pin you to the wall, or it can be like listening to a fantastic stereo system that's used just right. So we play quietly in order for it to sound beautiful in the room where we're performing. You can get it to really sound great and keep the rock 'n' roll tunes and the slower ballads sounding fine, too. People respond well to the show, and you can have a much funnier and finer evening all around if you're not straining your ears. That’s what I want to deliver.
Are you playing a pretty comprehensive set this time around?
Of course! You know, there are some songs that I have to play, and I'm very happy to do so. A good song is a good song and it will last through the years, so I don't roll my eyes when “Cruel to Be Kind” comes up on the set list and say, "Oh blimey, here we go again, gotta get through this.” I never feel like that because it's a cool song and people really like it. There are some tunes that I just can't do now. I'm too old and they’re from my youth and I would feel embarrassed doing them, so I leave those alone.
Like which ones?
Well, "I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass" is one, and if you really listen to it, there isn't much of a song there. But there are plenty of others that are really fantastic, great songs to play live. I don't quite know how I managed to write good stuff when I was young and stupid, but somehow I did.
And somehow, they seem to mirror up with the newer stuff. I don't get any complaints, and I don't feel that people are thinking, “Oh blimey, he's doing all this new stuff now,” or, “Oh dear, oh dear, when's he going to do the stuff that we know?” The audiences seem to react just the same to the new stuff as they do to the old stuff, which is great.
Your songs have always felt like intensely personal narratives, and they've grown and changed just as much as Nick Lowe, the character singing them, has grown and changed. Not many songwriters can pull that off so gracefully.
That's a very nice compliment. They also kind of self-adapt themselves in a funny way, you know? A song like “Peace, Love, and Understanding,” for example. I've heard it done hundreds of times — well not hundreds, but a lot — and in a lot of different ways. I've got recordings of it that were made by Tahitian fishermen, kids in the Amazon jungle, as well as Bruce Springsteen and Emmy Lou Harris. They all sort of do it differently, it's a good song. I didn't know it was a good song when I thought it out, but it has proved to be so, and there's one or two others besides that one that all self-adapt themselves and can be done in so many different ways.
You create a sense of self in your songs in a way that leaves them open-ended. Some of them could be about Nick Lowe, but they can also be about me, and all of the things that I’ve gone through and dealt with.
That's a really great thing for you to tell me because I don't really write from an autobiographical angle at all. I use the first person, but as you say, I'm generally making up a character. I think of myself as old-fashioned. I’ll make up a character and tell their story, but I do know what it’s like to feel misunderstood, or mistreated, and I know how it feels to have your heart broken. So I know what I'm singing about, but it's all sort of made up.
Well, the last album was called At My Age, which kind of illustrates that point, and now your latest record is called The Old Magic. Do you still have it?
[Laughs] Well, it's kind of a sporting cliché really, “that old magic.” It’s sort of like during a football or a soccer match when they would bring out some old player and the sports commentator would say, “Well there's a capacity crowd here tonight, and they're all looking at Thompson to see if he's still got the old magic.” Or, if a couple are going through a bad time they'll say, “We're going away on a holiday for a couple of weeks in the West Indies to see if we can rekindle the old magic.” It's sort of a humorous thing to say, but I thought it was a good title for this album. In fact, I can't believe that no one has done it before. So that's as far as it goes.
The woman on the cover is a friend of my wife's. My missus is a real good dancer, and she goes dancing at a club in the West End at a sort of indie hop and dive — that sort of dancing. And that woman on the cover is one of the other women who go to this club. She walks around dressed like she's from the 40's all the time, and I think she's quirky. And she's got this fantastic face, as you can see. So we asked her if she'd be on the cover for a change.
Is there a song on the album that kind of sums up this time in your life and what you wanted to get across?
Well, there are a few cuts … I think “House for Sale” is a really good one. But also, “I Read a Lot.” I think it's a good sort of grown-up song. It's a mysterious business, this songwriting thing. If I really knew how to do it, I'd do it a lot more — it's very odd.
*Christ, Lord sorry
"Punk" style like this seems like it is the polar opposite of punk. Bradford Cox…
They're kind of starting to look like a joke of themselves. Song's good though.
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Their show with Chris, Lord about 3 years at the Unicorn was the best.
I am a connoisseur of this real soul music like the comment above I'm glad…