A Talk with Nick Lowe
The Jack of All Musical Trades Discusses His Era-Spanning Career
Listen to Joe Palca's conversation with Nick Lowe.
Web exclusive: Lowe talks about writing the song "Indian Queens," and plays a bit of it.
Aug. 3, 2002 -- Nick Lowe likes to play other people's guitars. "If you play your own instrument all the time, it can sound a little slick," he says. Playing foreign guitars seems more "front porchy."
And so it was that during his talk with Joe Palca for All Things Considered, he played a guitar borrowed from an NPR staffer. Those listening at home might not notice a difference, says the man many critics have called the "godfather of punk." But he notices. And anyway, borrowing instruments means "I don't have to lug my guitar around with me."
Now 53, Lowe likes to travel as lightly as possible. He's on tour for his latest album The Convincer, but airports and strange hotels have lost whatever appeal they may once have had. He says he spent the 1970s and '80s touring the United States "in varying degrees of comfort," but like a lot of younger musicians, he rather liked the vagabond rock and roll life. These days, while he loves performing live more than he ever has, he says the traveling is a bit of a grind.
That may be one reason Lowe is at least as well known for his songwriting and producing as for his performing. He's had a few hits with his own records -- the biggest being the 1979 single "Cruel to be Kind" -- but he achieved greater success with "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace Love and Understanding?" which became a hit for Elvis Costello. He also produced a multitude of albums for Costello, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, John Hiatt and many others.
Lowe, his pals Dave Edmunds and Graham Parker, and other British "pub-rockers" are credited not so much with creating punk as with building the platform upon which punk could flourish. Their back-to-basics work in the early and mid-'70s opened the door for many of punk's earliest stars. As a member of the seminal band Brinsley Schwartz, Lowe wrote three-minute, brass-tacks rock songs even as many of his contemporaries were composing spacey epics that took up whole sides of vinyl LPs. And as house producer for Stiff Records, Lowe applied his rough-hewn production style to records by The Pretenders and The Damned.
Edmunds and Lowe achieved some success together in the band Rockpile in the late 1970s, but it was mostly the pair's loyal fan base that drove the success of the group's single album.
Back then, Lowe was still striving to achieve chart success. But no longer. He doesn't even try to get his songs played on the radio any more. "I've given up on airplay," he says. "I think my records sound fantastic, but nobody else does."
A Fresh Air interview from November 2001
A fan's discography
The official Nick Lowe site