Nick Lowe Interview
Those words sound strange coming from Nick Lowe, whose early music helped pioneer the punk and New Wave sounds of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Lowe, 59, was behind some of the most potent music of the era, recording his own songs and writing and producing for the likes of Elvis Costello, Graham Parker and The Damned.
His first solo album, “Jesus of Cool,” was recently reissued by Yep Roc Records to commemorate the 30th anniversary of its release, which some see as a landmark in the evolution of punk — fast, hard, rebellious rock music.
“That horrible beat and that screaming about absolutely nothing. It was the worst aspect of white music writ large,” Lowe told Reuters in a recent interview.
“What I did like was the mischief it caused. That interested me much more. I wanted to do something that was a little more insidious and change things a little higher up the food chain.”
Far from the nihilism or amateurish nature of punk, the music on “Jesus of Cool” encompasses a variety of styles — power pop, British Invasion, rhythm & blues, reggae or hard rock — and filters it through Lowe’s mischievous wit and irreverence.
The songs are hard to confuse with punk, but listeners can clearly see the source of punk’s inspiration.
Lowe said that listening to the album is akin to listening to an oral version of a 30-year-old home movie.
“You sort of recoil in horror from your hairstyle, your clothes, your antics. But despite all that, we did know how to have fun back then. I have grudging affection for it,” he said.
PUB ROCK TO PUNK
Lowe got his start in the band Brinsley Schwarz, a purveyor of pub rock, in which bands would play songs modeled after R&B, country and old rock ‘n roll, but sped up and with a dollop of attitude.
When that band split up in 1975, Lowe hooked up with his friend, Jake Riviera, who was starting Stiff Records, one of the most important independent labels to emerge from Britain in 1970s. At Stiff, he was named house producer, helming sessions by Costello, Ian Dury, the Damned and Wreckless Eric.
“I could feel that there was going to be a major change in the air,” Lowe recalled. “I didn’t know what it was going to be. But I could feel it. I and a few of my friends took a look at the way that the music business was, and realized that the first thing we had to do was tear it down and start again.”
Lowe said that music lovers look back at that period and see it as the dawn of a new tomorrow, but he saw it as an end.
“We were just gathered around the corpse stealing the stuff out of the pockets. We thought we’d all be back in regular jobs by the end the year,” he said.
Lowe would go on to score hits in the late 1970s with “(I Love The Sound Of) Breaking Glass” and “Cruel To Be Kind.” He also penned “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding,” which was a big hit for Costello in 1979.
But when “Jesus of Cool” was being conceived, he had little inkling the music would continue to resonate.
“I really thought the music would be completely forgotten by the end of the year. And all that would remain would be the attitude — it was quite rude and cheeky … And this record would just be forgotten,” Lowe said.
“I didn’t know it was still going to be talked about in 30 years. I didn’t even think there would be a pop business in 30 years.”