Lowry Lane is an earnest, thoughtful and talented singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist based in Regensburg, Germany. Born Paul Friebe, and inspired by “the naive and bold simplicity of Andy Warhol, and the sobering and disillusioning insights of Hunter S. Thompson“, he named his solo music project after English painter L.S. Lowry as a way of exploring his “musical self discovery, which aims to recklessly unfold the inherent conflicts he finds within himself and in the world around him.” He names an extensive and eclectic list of artists and bands as influences for his melodic and complex style of alternative rock, including The Smiths, Fugazi, The Pixies, Sonic Youth, The Libertines, Joy Division, The Cure, Nirvana, Wavves, Pavement, The Strokes and Kurt Vile.
I learned about Lowry four years ago when he followed me on Twitter, and was immediately impressed by his debut single “Find A Way”, a superb track with strong Nirvana elements that I liked so much I reviewed it. He followed with another fine single “Why Bother” in early 2018, and had planned to release a full-length album later that year. However, his struggles with personal and financial issues, as well as trying to juggle university studies with making music, led Lowry to put the album on hold, though he continued writing and recording new songs. Happily, he finished the album, which he’s named Lonely War, this past summer, and began releasing a series of new singles in anticipation of its release. One of them, “Angel Falls”, I reviewed in September.
Lonely War features 14 excellent tracks touching on dark topics like relationship troubles, personal loss, addiction and mental health, while still offering glimmers of optimism. In preparation for reviewing the album, I asked Lowry some questions about how he got into making music and his creative process, which he kindly took the time to answer.
EML: Thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions Paul. I’ve been a fan of yours ever since first hearing your debut single “Find A Way” four years ago. I know you started out playing with other bands while in your teens, and decided in 2017 to branch out on your own as a solo act. I’m guessing that, like many musicians who’ve played in bands but later go solo, you wanted to make music entirely on your own terms, am I correct?
LL: Thanks for having me and for the kind words, Jeff! Making music on my own terms definitely played a large role in starting a solo project, in a way it has really streamlined the whole process of decision-making. It allowed me to focus more on my musical instincts when it came to songwriting. But there were also other, more practical aspects, that played a role. Many of my band mates at the time were taking university and or work a lot more serious than I ever did, so there was this really great disparity in terms of free time available between us. I also felt the great desire to get a lot more involved in making music and to take on other roles as a recording and mixing engineer and as a producer. Lowry Lane was an opportunity for me to work on these things day in and day out for the last four years. In the long term, however, my hope is for Lowry Lane to evolve into a proper band, like we saw happen with projects like Wavves or Bass Drum Of Death.
EML: You’ve cited as influences for your music such iconic acts as Nirvana, The Pixies, The Cure, Sonic Youth, The Strokes and Fugazi, as well as more current acts like Kurt Vile, Surf Curse and the aforementioned Wavves, and I can definitely hear elements of their music in your exciting and wonderfully eclectic sound. This may be a dumb question, but how do you go about incorporating those many elements into your songwriting?
LL: I think that’s a really interesting question, albeit a tough one to answer. I think a lot of it happens unconsciously. And a lot of it probably comes down to being shaped by what music you listen to in your youth and throughout your lifetime in general. For me, those bands and their music just feel deeply ingrained into my sense of self. The way it usually works for me in practice is that a certain song or an element of a song takes my mind on some kind of journey. They remind me of a place I’ve been, a dream I had or a situation or feeling I’ve lived through. Then I just let that mood guide me through the whole process of writing, recording and mixing.
EML: Of all those acts, who would you most like to have the opportunity to open for at a concert?
LL: Honestly, opening for any of them would be a dream come true, so it’s impossible for me to decide. Realistically, I think opening for Lunatics on Pogosticks or Gringo Star one day would be amazing!
EML: You’re an accomplished multi-instrumentalist who I understand plays all instruments on your songs. As someone who plays no instruments whatsoever, I find that to be an incredible and admirable talent. Has your ability to play so many instruments been mostly or entirely self-taught, or have you had some musical training?
LL: I took a few guitar lessons at 14 or 15, when I started playing guitar, but other than that I had no musical training in the traditional sense. But there are so many other ways to learn music that I just didn’t really feel the need to take lessons. I’ve been very lucky to have met a lot of amazing musicians over the years. I regularly jam with my friends at our rehearsal space and I learned so much simply by playing together with great musicians. At some point I just started banging around on the drums before and after our jams, got a few tips and tricks from our drummers and just kept practicing for a few years. And then there’s of course the internet. I learned a lot of stuff from message boards, blogs, and YouTube videos, too.
EML: I’ve reviewed a number of other German musicians and bands over the years, all of whom write and record their songs in English. I’m guessing that doing so opens their music up to a potentially wider audience, right? What is the German music scene like these days?
LL: The potential audience for English lyrics is a lot bigger, that’s true. And it’s also the language of music that a lot of us here have grown up with. I very rarely listen to music with German lyrics (with the exception of Isolation Berlin). I’m not really that informed about the German music scene in general, but the indie music scene, at least here in Regensburg, is very small. Most professional live musicians I know make their living from teaching and playing at weddings, fairs and festivals. We have a few small venues here, like Alte Mälzerei, where you can regularly see cool indie and underground artists, but a lot of places closed in the last years, even before Covid-19. And there are a few places that used to have open stage nights, which were really fun sometimes, but I don’t know if they’re still around. The scene is much bigger in cities like Berlin, of course. Usually, when I want to see a band from overseas, I have to drive to either Munich or Berlin. And at that point there’s really only a few concerts a year I’m even considering going to. It’s great for seeing amazing indie bands at really small venues, though!
EML: I love your new album Lonely War. As with many singer-songwriters, your songs are often inspired by your own experiences. Many of the album’s tracks address topics like failed relationships, loss and mental health, while still offering glimmers of hope and optimism. Has writing these songs been cathartic to you on any level?
LL: Absolutely! Making music is by far the best emotional outlet I have. Every song on the album has some personal story behind it. Be it about my on/off relationship, the difficulties between me and my parents, substance abuse or simply the ongoing journey of finding myself. And writing about that stuff can really help you reflect on things and heal. Psychotherapy has also helped me a lot with improving my mental health and also with finally finishing the album.
EML: The Covid pandemic prevented artists & bands from performing live for much of 2020 and early 2021. Do you have any plans to tour or do live shows to promote your new album?
LL: Not at the moment, sadly. I would love to play live again (it’s been years..) and I hope I can get a band together sooner than later, but we’ll have to see.
EML: Is there anything I’ve neglected to ask that you’d like your fans and my readers to know about you or your music?
LL: Well, I’d like to say that I’m definitely planning on putting out new music much more frequently in the future. Also, Matthew Agoglia from The Ranch Mastering did an amazing job on the album!
So let’s get into the album, shall we. Lonely War is fairly long, with 14 tracks and running over 51 minutes. It opens with “New Waves“, a gentle rock track with a mesmerizing guitar riff that instantly reminded me of the Smashing Pumpkins’ iconic song “1979”. When I mentioned that to Lowry, he told me I was spot on, as the song was definitely an inspiration for “New Waves”. The poignant lyrics speak of looking back on past events, some good and some bad, that shape who we are today, also realizing that time marches on in a continuous stream of waves: “New waves form. I know you from before the storm. Don’t regret a thing. Despite our struggle, memories of you keep me warm and out of trouble.” He has a fine, mellifluous singing voice, and his vocals here are especially pleasant and soothing. The same goes for “Tuesday” a lively song with a wonderful garage rock vibe, highlighted by jangly guitars that border on surf.
One of my favorite tracks is “Angel Falls”, a glorious hybrid of new wave and punk, with elements of Joy Division and early The Cure. I love Lowry’s psychedelic and jangly guitars that are perfectly layered over a chugging bassline, assertive drumbeats and ominous swirling synths, all creating a dark, almost menacing soundscape The lyrics seem to describe someone who’s losing touch with reality, and possibly having a mental breakdown or experiencing a drug overdose: “Messy wiring, Flashing images, Neurons firing, Hidden messages, Thoughts expiring, Brain cells in distress, Oh so tiring, Oh so limitless./ Voices in the walls, Haunting silent calls, Echo through the halls, Another angel falls.“
“Ghosts” is another favorite, both musically and lyrically. The interplay between Lowry’s jangly grunge-like guitar riffs and strong bass notes is really wonderful, and I love his plaintive vocals. The lyrics are spoken to a former loved one, expressing regret and sorrow for the mistakes he’s made that caused the relationship to fail; “No excuses in the end. I know I failed you as a friend. Torn apart with every tear. You’re in my heart, but you’re not here.” “White Noise” is a rousing rock track with fast-paced gritty riffs, punctuated by a blistering little solo in the bridge.
Lowry taps into his love for grunge on several tracks. “Comfort Zone” is a dark song about feeling of pain and ennui, highlighted by trippy psychedelic guitars and his monotone vocals as he drones “So much comfort in my pain. Every morning feels the same“. The Nirvana-esque “Boring” is yet another favorite, as I love the fantastic mix of jangly and grungy guitars. The song speaks to feelings of dissatisfaction with a partner he’s done with: “Never coming back again. I always hated all your friends. I don’t want to stay with you another day, boring. That’s okay, you never had a chance to run. I just don’t think that I could take it any longer. I know I’m not the only one.” And on “Super Silver Haze“, he uses a mix of grungy and psychedelic guitars and synths to create a dark and trippy vibe.
Midway through the album, Lowry unleashes “Black Hole“, an intense track featuring a relentless barrage of reverb-soaked, super-gnarly guitars, accompanied by spooky synths and a droning bassline. His calm vocals contrast sharply with the menacing soundscape to great effect. “Water” lightens the mood markedly, with a bouncy melody and beautiful chiming guitars, but “On My Mind” brings us back to a darker reality. Similar to “Ghosts”, the lovely but mournful song is an honest confession of regret for the hurt and pain he’s caused: “Goodbye friend, I guess it’s time to move on and draw a line. And I know you know I would make it better if I could. Kill the pain I put you through. Fix our broken hearts with glue. You are always on my mind.
I was wrong and I was blind.”
Lowry closes the album on a decidedly more upbeat note with the final three tracks. “Easy” is a pretty song with a bit of a Beach Boys feel, thanks to his sweet, echoed vocal harmonies and jangly surf-like guitars. “Sea of Tranquility” is an outlier on the album, in that it’s an instrumental only track and, running 6:48 minutes, far longer than any others. Featuring a repetitive strummed guitar line, and accompanied by airy, somewhat spacy synths, pleasing piano keys and a pulsating bassline, the song has a languid, relaxing vibe, as suggested by the title. The Green Day-esque closing track “Here” has a lively post-punk feel, with a rousing melody, snappy drumbeats and colorful frantic riffs.
What more can I say about Lonely War other than that I absolutely love everything about it! I love Lowry’s songwriting and poetic lyricism, his brilliant musicianship – especially guitar-playing – and his beautiful vocals. He’s done an impressive job with the album’s arrangements, recording and production, and once again, credit must be given to Matthew Agoglia for his expert mastering.
And here’s the album on YouTube: