Lowell: Light Hooks, Heavy Sources

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Hometown: Calgary, Alberta
Current Release: We Loved Her Dearly, (Sept. 16)
For Fans Of: Santigold, Metric, Shiny Toy Guns, MIA

With passionate, lilting vocals and at times unidentifiable sounds, Canadian songstress Lowell falls between several genres, but definitely won’t slip through the cracks. Her new album walks the line between complicated and simple, airy and dark, naive and experienced. Lowell doesn’t want to be the sage in the room; she’s full of contradictions and she’s not afraid to share them.

Through her rhinestones and red eyelashes, Elizabeth Lowell Boland is soft spoken, often punctuating her answers with a quiet chuckle. The voice that alternates between powerful and innocent on her forthcoming album has a quiet certainty. “Words Were the Wars” kicks off with a cadence beat that hits hard beneath the vocals. “I don’t need him anymore/ his words you’ve given me/ they’re yours, they’re yours,” she pleads, as if trying to convince herself.

Since age 14 Lowell has used music as an emotional response. “A friend of mine committed suicide at the time, and I didn’t know how to react to it,” she says. “Obviously, when you experience the first death in your life, especially something like that, there’s so many different emotions going on in your head, but it’s mostly just confusion. You understand what death is, but you can’t understand that that means, that person’s not going to be there anymore. And that they just ended their life like that. I think, I had to write the song to deal with it in some sort of therapeutic way. I actually ended up writing a pretty positive song, but still pretty dark.”

Her newest effort uses the same approach to tackle subjects like sexual assault, human rights and acceptance. Like product placement for societal issues, Lowell has packaged heavy topics in lighthearted compositions. “I like to make my music poppy and catchy and fun. Because I don’t want people to think talking about these things make you boring. I don’t want it to be a negative thing. You hear New Age Feminism and people go wah-wahhh,” she laughs.

But the last thing Lowell wants to do is preach. Her music is open to interpretation, and “that’s the most important thing when you want your people to progress,” she says. “You want them to start initially thinking about things, and then wondering, and then discussing.” Though songs like “Cloud 69” and “I Love You Money” showcase fist-pumping, girl-power mantras, Lowell clarifies she’s never had all the answers. Her music is as much for herself as it is for the listener, and that’s what makes it so honest. She calls We Loved Her Dearly a diary of someone navigating society’s injustices and her own sexual assault.

“In my situation, I was roofied,” Lowell says. What’s worse, she explains that the authorities treated her like a suspect rather than a victim, asking her inappropriate questions and making the attack seem provoked. “Fortunately, it didn’t make me sad,” she says, “it made me really angry, and made me want to do something about it.” In a situation where she was told what to feel, expression became more valuable than emotion. Fittingly, the songs on We Loved Her Dearly often play with chants over theme-and-variations compositions. Lowell takes her listeners through the stages of trauma, hoping to provide comfort for those more vulnerable than she was.

At the same time, Lowell wants you to think for yourself. A firm believer in environmental perception, she chants in “LGBT” about people unable or unwilling to break their convictions. The song’s island rock vibe melts into a disco monologue about the haters in every generation. “I don’t think anybody really likes change, no matter what generation it is,” she tells us. “Our generation has been raised in a much more open environment. But it was funny, in the lyrics I actually say, old people don’t understand change, but then I think some young people don’t understand change. They try to pray away the gay.” Writing the song was a back-and-forth with herself—who was worse, older people who couldn’t let go of their conventions, or younger people rejecting an open-minded society? “I think young people have less of an excuse,” she concludes.

Though she’s written about important problems, Lowell embraces her limitations. She admits her music may not “take it past the slogans,” but trusts her listeners to use it as a jumping-off point for discussion. She puts the same trust in her producers. “A lot of the sounds are ones I’ve made, and then coming into a room that have better instruments and better recording equipment, [we] sort of elaborated on the original ideas that I had, and made them better.” “Words Were the Wars” and “Summertime” are the two most lush compositions on the album, both of which came from simpler ideas in Lowell’s home studio. She uses a MicroKorg synthesizer at home and a Roland Gaia live, as well as some other unusual tools.

“My percussion box has grown, it used to just be kitchen utensils,” the singer laughs. “I really like having limitations in life, I think it’s super important. At one point, I definitely didn’t have enough money to get any sort of instruments, and now I could probably buy some more. But I’m really hesitant to do that, because I have so much fun having these limitations; you have to be really creative. I have producers that ask me to send them my lo-fi sounds, so I figure I should hold onto that a little longer.”

We hope she does. The handclaps, vocal chirps and plunking keyboards ground the more complicated tunes. They’re a creative spin on the bass beat so typical of current pop music. A roller coaster in the dark, We Loved Her Dearly rolls through power highs and sudden plunges, sometimes in the space of one song. “Palm Trees” and “LGBT” dive into their bridges with an emotional fervor that might catch you off guard. And that’s exactly how Lowell likes it.

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