Interview with Tony Lowe

 

By Lorraine Kay

October 2006 

Q. Tony, I know you have been around the progressive rock scene for quite some time and you have recorded and toured with some awesome people. But you are doing a new thing with a lovely lady and I’d like for you to tell me about it.

A. What we’ve been promoting this year is the “All of the Above” album which is my collaboration with Alison Fleming. We’re actually in the middle of recording a follow-up for that, which will be available, hopefully, in December of this year. It will be very different from ‘All of the Above’ but that’s very exciting too. I’ve got a lot of instrumental stuff out there, film music and television stuff, you know. And just this year I signed with a company in Providence, RI called Big Noise. They’re shopping me to the industry over there. That’s looking good. I’m kind of what you call a musical Jack-of-all-trades. I’ve worked with a lot of different writers and helped to develop their material and if I’ve got enough time I just write as much as I can and put it out there myself. There’s lots of different projects, but I’d like to focus on “All of the Above” cause that’s the one that’s happening at the moment.

Q. I saw where Neil Young used one of your songs on his latest website. How did that come about?

A. He was looking around for protest songs and anti-war songs and he liked “Fires Keep Burning”, which is actually the first track on “All of the Above”. Because it is a concept album about the various colors of the spectrum, Each composition was influenced by the colors in the visible spectrum corresponding with a mood that is experienced when listening to the songs, which move through different musical styles. The first color being red, we started with a very deep and dark red in “Fires Keep Burning”. From that moment on the album becomes more positive and uplifting. It’s not all dark and dangerous. But the first track is. That seemed to fit.

Q. Now your latest big project is your collaboration with Alison Fleming as you mentioned. Tell me about your work with Alison, how did you two get together.

A. Way back in the late 80s she approached me with some of her music and I was enthralled by her voice. I thought she had the most incredible and compelling voice. We went ahead and did about 8 songs and they were just put out there in the music industry and she was offered a few deals but nothing that she was happy with. So later on when I decided to do this project, which was an enormous task because of all the different elements involved, the colors, the aroma therapy and all the music I needed a good female voice and she was the first person I approached. She then added lyrics to some of the material and it went from there. It’s a very, very good working relationship except she lives in Missouri. So that kind of makes things a little bit difficult because I’m in London. She is English, but her family moved down there quite a few years ago, so we work by the internet which is quite an unusual way of making albums. It’s not quite as quick because you have to send ideas back and forth and then if you have any changes you have to bounce it back, it’s a very interesting way of working.  She’s down in the Ozarks.

Q. If you are creating your music over the internet, what is the process that you are doing?

A. It can start with either one of us. We both have our own ideas, and usually if it is one of mine I’ll just put a rough version of it together and send it over to her as an MP3. If she thinks any of it can be improved or changed she’ll make a few adjustments and send one back to me and we carry on like that. It’s an odd way of working but it seems to work very well. I’m not sure why because it would be a lot easier if we were in the same room. And the same with her, if she’s got an idea she’ll send me maybe just an acoustic guitar and a voice and sometimes I arrange that more into a song. Other times she’ll send me stuff and it’s pretty complete the way it is, so it just needs recording, and I do all that at this end. But it’s a digital set up so she’s able to record the voice as a Wav file. I’m using a digital workstation, which is just one compact box with 24 tracks of audio and all the internal effects and everything. And I’m also running Cubase on another computer for a lot of midi stuff. I have everything I need really to make a lot great noises. She doesn’t have as many tracks but it works quite well with the voice stuff because she can then put my stereo tracks on two tracks of that and then just build up some voice tracks on the rest. And then she can send it to me in the right format and I can open the file in my machine. So it works pretty well.

Q. Will you be touring in the US any time soon?

A. As soon as anything is happening there it will be on the web. We’re trying to build the profile on that particular project. I’m hoping to get out there and I’m also hoping she’s going to come out here and do some stuff as well. She misses it here in England and we’ve worked very hard and long on that album and now it’s time to get out and play it. The problem with it is that because it’s a multi-media presentation, all the lighting has to be computerized, and we want to use aromatherapy oils as well as lighting to enhance the music. It’s all been researched, you know, color therapy, using the right oils with the right kind of music, the right kind of feel and right kind of lighting and ambience. Most people are aware of the influence of color on our moods and emotions, the subjective power of a particular image, and the manner in which music can move us deeply. Combining these with a sense of smell produces a powerful sensory experience. So hopefully it would be something a lot more than just a rock show or a pop show. Those that experience this unique event will never again see our world in quite the same way. But not easy to put on if you see what I mean, with all those different elements. It is to be a glorious tri-sensory experience.

Q. If you do a tour in the U.S. will you bring a band from the UK or try to use musicians already here?

A. Well, that’s an unknown as well. The last people I had playing with me live are now living in Australia so that makes it even harder. But I think possible we will hook up with some people at that end. Because the parts are pretty definite, it’s more like forming a small orchestra around you than a band.

Q. I know you have been performing since you were a small child. You have also worked with some very awesome people in this business. What things are you proudest of?

A. That’s a tough one. Probably some of the work that I did with a French artist you probably wouldn’t have heard of in the United States named Julien Clerc. I did three long tours with him, not just in France, but in Switzerland, Belgium, Quebec and Holland, Germany, places like that. It was wonderful to get out and play to that many thousands of people, 7,000 to 10,000 people a night, that was a real thrill, especially playing in the South of France with the ocean in the back. It really sticks out as a very enjoyable time of my life and it was still when I was touring a lot and before I actually started writing. So it was a different place for me and that felt really good. A lot of television work went with that one and it just seemed to go on forever. Other times I worked with Julian Lennon, which was a great honor, in the studio. He is a very nice guy, very shy. There’s quite a lot of work I am proud of. I did three albums with Simon Townshend that I think I did some very good work on. Simon’s a great friend of mine; I’ve known him for a long, long time. And we work very, very well together in the studio. But he’s busy doing all kinds of other things now. He has his own band called The Casbah Club. And he’s playing with The Who constantly as well. So he kind of doesn’t get to do his own stuff in quite the same way anymore but he’s been a good friend for a long time. I thoroughly enjoyed doing his three albums. He’s just real professional. I suppose there’s been a lot of moments. I’m just trying to focus on one or two, there’s been so many.

Q. Who have you not had the opportunity to work with that you truly would like to work with in the future?

A. That’s a tough call. I’ve always had respect for Peter Gabriel’s work. I’d love to be playing with him at some point in time. I’ve always been a big fan of his stuff. So many. Okay we’ll go with Peter Gabriel. Okay, throw in Paul McCartney too. I have a lot of respect for both of those guys musically and certainly that would be a big moment in my life.

Q. I see where you have such a varied background. You play so many instruments and you have tackled so many different kinds of music. Which of those things from your past is the most like the real Tony Lowe.

A. I don’t know. Somebody else would have to tell you that. The odd thing is that I’ve always enjoyed so many different kinds of music. When I was a teenager a lot of people couldn’t understand the varied face I had. They all eyed me from what ever they were in to. The various genres that were around didn’t really cross over back then. But I was into all kinds of classical stuff and I think possibly because I heard a lot of classical music when I was a very young child. My grandparents would play the piano more than anything else and I grew up with a piano in the house so as soon as I was tall enough I was banging away on the keys and making tunes up. But I think I was just lucky to be influenced by so many things and I’ve carried it forward and been able to project myself into all of these things with the same amount of enthusiasm. And sometimes it can be a bit of a hindrance because a lot of people want to put you into a box and categorize you. And it certainly wasn’t that way in the states a few years back. It’s not so bad now. But you know that thing where they say, “well are you rock or are you pop or are you new age, or classical”? I can’t answer that. I think that there are elements of all of it in all of it. I don’t know, I must be a musical chameleon or something like that.  I change moods from day to day. This way I thoroughly enjoy all of it and it actually is refreshing, especially if I’ve done a lot of rock stuff or a lot of heavier guitar stuff, it’s great to get down and do something very light and maybe acoustic. It’s refreshing to do that.

Q. How many instruments do you play?

A. Well, not that many actually. I play guitar and I play keyboard, so… I mean most of the stuff is actually done using keyboards and samples. I program drums and I do have some live kit going on the next album but I just find it’s just me programming and working really, really hard and hope to get as close to a real live band sound as I can. So after I get all the basic parts on and the keyboards, I play all the other parts, string parts, everything on keyboards, so I don’t actually play any wind instruments or anything like that.

Q What is your preference? Performing live or studio work?

A. Oh, I very much love performing live, there’s nothing like that. When things are going well and the sound is good and there’s a receptive audience – that’s something that can’t be replaced. Studio work is great but it’s always like that – not quite there enough.  Not quite on the edge with it. If you’re working on a record or any project there’s always that thought that you really want to get out and do it in front of an audience and get that live reaction, which I think is the most important aspect of it really.

Q. You have recorded with so many labels at some incredible studios, but one stands out to me and to most Americans, Abbey Road. You said something about a ghost, was that at Abbey Road?

A. No that was at Trident studios. Abbey Road is obviously famous for the Beatles. I did work at Abbey road. I did a lot of work at Trident, too. I think I might have remarked that the atmosphere at Abbey Road was incredible in there because of the history of the place. It really it is. You can still feel all those great albums that were made in there. But Trident did have a ghost. That’s absolutely true, or at least I was told that it was. Strange things would happen. Things happened like sounds disappearing and strange noises on tape. And sometimes we were working until quite late in the night there. Trident is known mostly for David Bowie, Genesis, and a lot of 70s stuff was done there. I think the Beatles recorded “Hey Jude” in there while Abbey Roads was being rebuilt. So that’s got a wonderful history too. So that is where the ghost was. But, I never actually saw it.

Q. Certainly even without the ectoplasmic thing happening, there must be ghosts of all the great music that has been produced there.

A. Some kind of magnetic resonance I would think, whether it’s actually anything physical or not I doubt. But I am sure that there’s a feeling there. Just like in old churches and old buildings. I don’t know if they’re really ghosts or not.

Q. It would seem that you are pretty well-known in the UK, what are you hoping for in the U.S.?

A. Well, really, just to get known and try to get my music across because a lot of people have said you’ve really got to try and get it over in the states because there are a lot of people over there that would really like this kind of music. And I think it’s been kind of hard to get that stuff noticed in the states before. It’s getting a little bit different now – people are more open. You know in Europe there’s been what they call progressive rock, which is not a very good term for it, where people are actually a bit more interested again in stuff that’s a bit more maybe of a concept or has orchestral parts or goes a little bit deeper than just a bunch of songs on a record. And I think there are a lot of people in the states that would really go for this and the show. If we can get the show on. That’s the next big thing, to push to get the show on.

Q. What was the last CD you bought?

A. David Gilmour – On An Island

Q. What was the last concert you attended as a fan?

A. Jon Anderson in London last year – The Tour of the Universe. His one-man show with midi guitar and back projection and stuff. I’ve always been a huge fan.

Q. What was your most memorable Spinal Tap moment?

A. One time I was running backwards on stage facing the audience playing a guitar solo in one very fast rock number and then I flipped straight over onto my back and somehow rolled back to a standing position and managed to keep playing. And everybody thought that was amazing and could I do it again. I don’t think it would have done my back much good over the years.