Liverpool looms large in Rock history. In fact, the city changed the musical landscape forever back in February 1964 when four mop-topped Liverpudlian lads appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. From that moment onwards, Liverpool went from being just another city in England to becoming the birthplace of the new British invasion. Suddenly, fellow Liverpool acts Gerry & The Pacemakers, the Searchers, Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas, Freddie & The Dreamers and many other groups were thrust into the limelight. From that point forwards, new groups emerged from this magical city every few years, almost as if there was something magical in the water. In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, another British Invasion emerged and many of the bands were from – you guessed it – Liverpool! From Yachts, Deaf School, Echo & The Bunnymen, and the Teardrop Explodes to the Icicle Works, OMD, China Crisis, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Liverpool remained the center of the musical universe. The city remained ‘ground zero’ for Rock ‘n’ Roll with the emergence of other bands such as the La’s, the Christians, the Lightning Seeds, and Carcass. Wait… what? Carcass?
Emerging from Liverpool in 1986, Extreme Metal band Carcass is proof that the city is more than a breeding ground for Pop-oriented combos and heavenly harmonies. One must remember that every ray of sunshine creates numerous shadows, and the members of Carcass spent many years living amongst those shadows. Now acknowledged as pioneers of the Goregrind genre, the band has also tapped into other genres including Death Metal, Grindcore, and Melodic Death Metal. With albums such as REEK OF PUTREFACTION (1988), SYMPHONIES OF SICKNESS (1989), HEARTWORK (1993) and SWANSONG (1996), the band solidified its reputation as one of the most brutal bands on the Metal landscape. However, the band split up in 1996 and the Extreme Metal genre lost one of its most brutal bands. Luckily, guitarist Bill Steer and bassist/vocalist Jeff Walker reformed Carcass in 2007, reigniting the music scene and taking their sound to a new level. The band’s first album since they reunited was 2013’s SURGICAL STEEL, a solid return for a band that has become legendary.
Eight years later, the next chapter of Carcass’ story has emerged. Although the wait has been long, the brain-crisping blast of Carcass’ 2021 album TORN ARTERIES shows that the band has lost none of its original charm… er… harm. This is not ‘easy listening’, folks. Carcass’ music has always been confrontational and powerful, disarming and brutal… and that’s just their soft side! Fans have already feasted upon three of the album’s tracks – “Dance of the Ixtab (Psychopomp & Circumstance March No. 1)”, “Under the Scalpel Blade”, and “Kelly’s Meat Emporium” – and anticipation is at an all-time high for TORN ARTERIES. The album reminds us that the band is not without a sense of humor, referencing one of the Beatles classic songs in their own song title “Eleanor Rigor Mortis”. On TORN ARTERIES, the band is technically tight yet there is still a dark and menacing atmosphere that slithers in between the notes, threatening to tear everything down to its (grind)core at a moments notice. And that is what makes Carcass still sound dangerous and not the type of folks you want to meet in the dark recesses of the Cavern Club. And isn’t that the way it should be?
Founded in Duluth, Minnesota in 1993, Low has become one of the most respected bands in indie rock. Formed by guitarist/vocalist Alan Sparhawk and drummer/vocalist Mimi Parker, the band has featured several bassists in their line-up over the course of their career including founding bassist John Nichols (1993-1994) who was then succeeded by Zak Sally (1994-2005), Matt Livingston (2005-2008), and Steve Garrington (2008-2020). While Low’s standard guitar-bass-drum line-up might lead the uninitiated to believe that Low play formulaic indie rock, the band’s sound is far from standard and formulaic. The sounds that they create from these ‘average’ instruments are other-worldly. At times, their sound is dark and dangerous, but once you immerse yourself into the Low musical universe, their soundscapes suddenly become haunting and beautiful. Low is a band that is hard to classify, which has always made them unique and special.
For their legions of fans, each Low release is eagerly awaited and lovingly embraced like a gift from the heavens. Since their 1994 debut album, I COULD LIVE IN HOPE, Low has continually explored music that exists in the ‘ether’ – this is not necessarily music that belongs to the earth or the sky. The group has expanded their musical pallet over the years, inventing new sounds and adding more emotional depth to the music. They’ve released a series of critically acclaimed albums including THE CURTAIN HITS THE CAST (1996), SECRET NAME (1999), THE GREAT DESTROYER (2005), THE INVISIBLE WAY (2013, ONES AND SIXES (2015), and DOUBLE NEGATIVE (2018). They’ve also released 24 singles, nearly a dozen EPs, three live albums, and have contributed songs to more than 20 different compilations. And this is not even mentioning the group members’ side projects…
While Low has taken breaks in between albums, they’ve never gone away. However, each album packs the emotional punch of a ‘triumphant comeback’… and their 2021 album HEY WHAT is no exception. Three years since the release of their last album, this release conveys all the emotions that we have experienced since 2018. Their haunting sound may be laced at times with fear and sadness, there is also plenty of triumph and hope. When Sparhawk and Parker harmonize, they add the warmth of humanity, which take these songs to a new level. Songs like “Days Like This”, “More”, “Disappearing”, and “White Horses” have already enchanted their fans, old and new, and the rest of the album is just as engaging and riveting. Like previous Low albums, there are many layers to HEY WHAT that will be discovered over repeated listenings, which makes this a must-have for anyone looking for music that hits your emotions before it hits your ears.
NICK LOWE: In the case of THE CONVINCER, I think that’s probably my favorite of my records. I don’t think any of them are tremendously good, because if you’re the person who made the record, you just always think there’s something wrong with it. You can’t help those feelings. I must say, I don’t see any of my records as jewels that I can get out and pat myself on the back as I marvel at their awesomeness. [laughs]
STEPHEN SCHNEE: You’ve been classified as a Pub Rocker, a New Wave artist, a Power Pop legend, and an iconic producer thanks to the many projects you’ve been involved with over the years. Did you feel comfortable with critics attempting to pigeonhole you? And how would you classify Nick Lowe?
NICK LOWE: I certainly appreciate being classified at all! I know it’s a bit difficult to put me into a pigeonhole and I’m rather pleased about that. I’ve spent quite a lot of time deliberately trying to make myself as unclassifiable as possible whilst writing and playing music which is accessible. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel, I deal in tried and tested formulas for pop songwriting. I can understand that it’s difficult to put me in a bag because I’ve been all of the people you’ve just mentioned, and I say let them continue if they’d like to.
STEPHEN SCHNEE: While you are well-known for songs like “So It Goes” and “Cruel To Be Kind”, there seemed to be a big change in your songwriting, possibly beginning with 1994’s THE IMPOSSIBLE BIRD but more evident on 1998’s DIG MY MOOD. It seemed that you had been chasing the song and the sound in your early days but you discovered and embraced your honest and true ‘voice’ in the 1990s. Ever since then, nearly every song you’ve written is a new Pop or Country standard just waiting to be discovered and adored by the masses. Did you purposely make a change in the way you wrote and recorded, or was it purely organic?
NICK LOWE: I consciously sought a new way to write and produce for myself in the late eighties. Elvis Costello persuaded me to start doing solo shows with an acoustic guitar, and that had a great bearing on my efforts because I’d found that up until then I was more interested in making records. There is a subtle difference since in the past I’d be writing for records, which is different from writing for a song. Prior to that I’d go into the studio with a sketchy idea and build it up. Occasionally you’d get lucky with a song that you weren’t sure how it would go when you stepped into the studio. After I started doing solo shows I learnt that, oh boy, do you want to make sure that the songs you’re singing with an acoustic guitar really stand up. You really want to have the song working on all cylinders and you get maximum bang for your buck. All of that had a bearing on how I changed my act in the nineties.
STEPHEN SCHNEE: Do you ever see yourself writing another straightforward Pop song like “Surrender to the Rhythm”, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding”, “So It Goes” or “Cruel to be Kind” again? Or have you moved on from that frame of mind?
NICK LOWE: I think I sort of still write songs like that. I’ve always thought of myself as a sort of Tin Pan Alley or ‘Songs for Sale’ type of guy. I don’t really think of myself as an artist with some point-of-view to put across that I’m looking for people to agree with. I really do write jingles, that’s how I see it. You’re always looking for something catchy, and now that I’m in my seventies, I’ve become quite picky about what I think is any good because I’ve heard quite a lot of it all before. I can be fiddling around home with a song idea and then think to myself, “Oh come on, really? Give me a break!” I’m always looking for something catchy and all of the songs you mentioned are indeed catchy pop songs. And even “Peace, Love and Understanding,” which has become something of an anthem, is one of the most earnest songs I’ve ever written. None of them have caught on like that one did, probably due to Elvis Costello’s fantastic cover of it. In the end I’m always looking for something catchy.
STEPHEN SCHNEE: 2001’s THE CONVINCER is a stunning release filled with songs that sound like they’ve been around for decades yet are still fresh and exciting. And very timeless. Even the three cover versions – including “Poor Side of Town” – pale in comparison to your own originals. What inspired that set of songs? And how do you feel they stand up two decades later?
NICK LOWE: By the time we got to THE CONVINCER, we’d done two albums prior to that with the same modus operandi: familiarize the musicians with the songs and then record them live, as if you were making a jazz record. It was very good fun making records in that way. THE CONVINCER just seemed to chime. That’s when we got it overall right. The tunes were of a good enough quality and the assembled musicians made it work at its best.
STEPHEN SCHNEE: You worked with a small core band on the album including Geraint Watkins, Robert Treherne (AKA Bobby Irwin from the Sinceros/Noise to Go/Cowboy Outfit), and Steve Donnelly. Did you rehearse the songs many times with them, or did you prefer to just approach the songs as fresh and loose as possible?
NICK LOWE: A bit of both really. We wanted to try and capture something unique about the performance. We did some extensive work in the editing stage, where we’d record five takes of each song where one was the master take. If there was a part of the master take that lost time or was out of tune, instead of recording the offending part again, we’d just find a good bit in another one of the takes and edit that part in. Some of them were one take, but usually it was the bridge from here, the intro from there. It’s old-fashioned record-making like how Frank Sinatra used to record.
STEPHEN SCHNEE: Ten years later came THE OLD MAGIC (2011). Working with the same core band, you also added a lot of guests including Jimmy Vaughan, Kate St. John (Dream Academy), your former bandmate Paul Carrack, and many others. Was it a conscious effort to make this a different type of listening experience than THE CONVINCER and 2007’s AT MY AGE?
NICK LOWE: I suppose so, but it was more an excuse to get my pals on the record because it’s a thrill to hear someone who you really like make a contribution to your record. There was no other reason really, just to broaden the palette a bit.
STEPHEN SCHNEE: THE OLD MAGIC is another timeless classic. It could have existed at any point in the last 60 years, yet it is distinctly a modern Nick Lowe album. These days, some might classify it as Americana… but there’s that ‘pigeon-hole’ problem again. Like later-period Jonathan Richman, THE OLD MAGIC is a warm and intimate album… and very honest. Are most of the songs on the album written from experience or do you tend to write from an observational angle?
NICK LOWE: I tend to write like a pop songwriter. I don’t have a desire to explain my life to my audience, per se. I generally invent a character in these situations and tell the story through that character. I’m very keen on slightly hapless characters that do their best but fail miserably. That’s a recurring theme throughout my work. They’re not a bad person, but very stupid and get kicked around a bit. Those are the characters that I’m interested in. It’s not my diary, but I know what it feels like to be jerked around, to have loved and then lost, to be greedy and caught in a lie, I know all of these feelings. I can dig into them and make the characters in my songs dance to the tunes.
STEPHEN SCHNEE: Looking back at your career, do you think that you are a better songwriter today?
NICK LOWE: In some ways, yes. You become more and more of a craftsman over time. I try to stay relevant for my audience and not be some conduit for them to relive their past. I know a lot of people have to reenact the time they were popular and squeeze themselves into tight leather trousers. I’ve tried not to do that. It is a shame that the older you get you lose that youthful urge to tell people stuff, which is replaced in older age with a bit more chin-stroking and consideration. That youthful urge makes it a bit harder to listen to my earlier recordings, but that’s what people fall in love with, the youthful innocence of it all.
STEPHEN SCHNEE: “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding”. Does it surprise you that this song is even more relevant today than it was when you wrote it?
NICK LOWE: It does. When I wrote it, I thought it was the first original idea I had. I’d been writing songs for two or three years, but up to that point I’d just been copying my heroes. That day I woke up and had that idea for “Peace, Love and Understanding” and I thought it was a bit of a mouthful, but it was a good idea that would have a limited shelf life. How could you have any idea that it would be the most covered of all my songs?
Born in London, England in February 1994, rapper, singer, and actress Simbiatu Abisola Abiola Ajikawo is better known by her stage name Little Simz. Born to Nigerian parents, Little Simz attended Highbury Fields School in London before attending St Mary’s Youth Club in Upper Street, Islington. After studying at Westminster Kingsway College, she chose to pursue a career in music. Her first steps towards her successful hip-hop career began in 2010 when she released her debut mixtape, STRATOSPHERE. That well-received release was followed by several more mixtapes including STRATOSPHERE 2 (2011), XY.ZED (2013), and BLANK CANVAS (2013). With interest in her music at high, she set up her own label, Age 101 Music, and released a series of EPs including E.D.G.E. (2014) plus DROP 1, DROP 2, and DROP 3, all released in 2014. The following year began with the release with of a few more EPs but ended with a bang…
In September 2015, Little Simz released her debut album A CURIOUS TALE OF TRIALS + PERSONS, which entered the UK’s R&B Albums chart at #20. The album’s popularity stretched outside the R&B/Soul/Hip-Hop community and the album also entered the Independent Albums chart at #43. Little Simz followed that album in late 2016 with STILLNESS IN WONDERLAND, another critical success. However, her third album, GREY AREA (2019), was her commercial breakthrough. Winning the Best Album honors at both the Ivor Novello and NME Awards, the album was also nominated for a Mercury Prize. Many fellow musicians – including Jay-Z, Damon Albarn, and Kendrick Lamar – began to sing her praises, raising her commercial profile even higher. Singles such as “Offence”, “Boss”, and “Selfish” (featuring Cleo Sol) introduced Little Simz to a new audience while also exciting her existing fanbase.
Now, 18 months after the release of GREY AREA. Little Simz returns with SOMETIMES I MIGHT BE INTROVERT. Including the singles “Introvert”, “Woman” (featuring Cleo Sol), “Rollin’ Stone”, “I Love You, I Hate You”, and “Point and Kill” (featuring Obongjayar), the album blends modern hip-hop and electronica with a pure understanding of soul and R&B music. While her raps are riveting, the power of Little Simz’s musical arrangements lie within the soaring and melodic sung choruses and the swirling keyboards. The hip-hop beats may help Little Simz tell her stories, but the huge walls of melodies pick the listener up and gently cradles them, unveiling the depths of the music while also providing comfort and calm. In many ways, the verses – and her lyrics – spell out the uncertainty of the times but those massive hooks come in and provide hope and reassurance. Which makes SOMETIMES I MIGHT BE INTROVERT an album that a lot of people should be able to connect with. And judging by critics and social media, this is an album that is definitely doing just that.