Biography LOWLIVES


Do you remember what it was that made you fall in love with music? That teenage head-rush thrill of thrashing guitars; the heavyweight drums punching you in the chest so hard it takes your breath away; the innate desire bubbling up in your gut to shout back the words exploding from your headphones?

Luke Johnson and Lee Downer do. It’s a memory that has fuelled them to devote their lives to the simple pursuit of music so loud it stirs the soul and shakes the walls. There was a time, however, when they’d lost sight of it; having each been fed through the music industry ringer across two decades in the game, that innocent excitement for their lifelong passion slowly squeezed out of their hearts and minds by the struggle for survival that had turned a once pure passion into a working daily grind.

“I once thought that music could only bring amazing things,” Johnson says today. “I never realised it could also bring unhappiness. But as time went on in my previous bands, the innocence of making music had dissipated to a place where it was about trying to make money from art. The purity had gone.”

In each other, however, the two hitherto strangers – connected at first only as Englishmen both living under the Los Angeles sunshine with a passing awareness of each other’s existence – would find it again. That deep-rooted musical fire never goes away, of course. Dig deep enough and you’ll find it, those embers of passion still burning, undamped by even the most dispiriting of experiences.

Lowlives isn’t so much about carefully stoking the embers as pouring on gasoline with merry impetuosity. With vocalist Downer and drummer Johnson soon joined by guitarist Jaxon Moore and bassist Steve Lucarelli, the nascent band was founded on a shared love of ‘90s alternative and grunge, and a shared desire to make music once more for little more than the love of doing so. Fuck the rest of it.

“During my time away from music, someone bought a pair of child’s ear defenders for my wife and I as a present when we announced we were pregnant,” Johnson recalls. “I’d put them awayin the cupboard, thinking we’d never need them, that I wouldn’t be playing any shows again. But they became this thing that nagged at me, the feeling that my daughter would never know the original me, for whom music was everything. Over time, those feelings came flooding back, as did the hunger, and the innocence. A massive part of me had been missing, and I wanted to get back to doing something pure and for the sheer love of it. That’s what Lowlives is. Whatever happens, happens. Let’s just Thelma And Louise this off a cliff.”

Debut album Freaking Out, set for release in May 2024 via Spinefarm Records, arrives imbued with that same such spirit. The intervening years have, after all, been above all about nurturing exactly that, first through jam sessions at Luke’s home studio and latterly fledgling adventureson the road. A 2018 tour of the UK, hastily arranged following the cancellation of a high-profile support billing the band were mere hours from embarking upon, was formative in bonding the quartet on and off the stage. Performing to an audience of two before bedding down in a trashed squat will do that to even the most seasoned, tour-hardened souls. “It really did cement who we are and what we’re about,” Johnson says, laughing at the fond memories of the 13-date fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants trek.

Being locked down and quarantined-in-place while working with producer Adrian Bushby at the live-in Chapel Studios in Lincolnshire in the eye of the Covid pandemic storm, meanwhile, gave them the freedom to capture such spirit and transfer it onto tape. The 10 tracks that arrive under Freaking Out’s banner are the scintillating end product of their self-funded two-week stay, where the four musicians would work all day with joyous abandon on fleshing out the sketches of songs with which they arrived, before retiring at night to unwind over cans of cider and the football.

“The experience of being forced into that situation of living and working together brought us even closer together, I feel,” nods Downer. “We were able to work collectively in a way we hadn’t previously, due to the geography of where we all live in the States.”

Downer points to his passion for Nirvana and Alice In Chains shining through on tracks such as ‘Vertigo’ and ‘Swan Dive’; Johnson likewise to his obsession with The Smashing Pumpkins on ‘You Don’t Care’. Fans of early-day Foo Fighters, Bush and Stone Temple Pilots will feel at home between Freaking Out’s sheets; admirers of Billie Joe Armstrong (‘Freaking Out’), Matt Skiba (‘Damien’) and Rivers Cuomo (‘Loser’), likewise. Freaking Out is an unashamed celebration of its influences, and the simple beauty of the coalescence of guitar, bass, drums and vocals. “We’re making music that excites us because it’s what we want to hear,” Johnson says, simply. But make no mistake: there is depth here, too, deeply ingrained in lyrics that mine fears, anxieties, vulnerabilities and the existential questions that keep us staring at the ceiling in the early hours.

Freaking Out is, above all, the distillation of what Lowlives is truly about. It’s rock music to make you fall in love with rock music all over again. ‘I thought by now I’d have the answers / Or the power to save my soul,’ Downer sings on the impassioned ‘Closer Than You Know’. Lowlives might not hold that key, but it’s the spark that he and Johnson have been missing in their lives, and looking for all along. Let it in, and you might find it’s the same for you, too.

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