the history of a band
Emporia, Kansas. . . trailer parks, farms, crystal meth, Iowa Beef Processing, land of the lost, truckstops, UFOs. . . furthest from the oceans.
It began with "Dirty Steve", a garage band specializing extremely loud music. We recorded one record. It was self titled. To my recollection, there are two copies in existence. The whereabouts of one of those copies is in question.
I was mostly interested in experimental music at that time. And to sum up what you’re about to read, it’s pretty much always been just me and those who get caught in my web.
I spent most of my early musical years in an amazing fog.
Then I moved away from the plains to the diametric opposite sort of place. I spent a great deal of effort on my travels towards NYC. I remember many different types of people on that journey. I lost a great deal of weight. Other things happened.
The details are rich and deep. In the self-important closets of my mind, my recollections of those experiences fall short only when speaking in terms of Robinson Caruso or the Count of Monte Cristo. It was in that initial period that Awful Joy was conceived.
I wandered about in NYC awhile. I was distraught. I did stupid things for money. I lost more weight.
But there were gigs here and there.
The first gig I landed in NYC was playing guitar for a former superstar singer from Albania named Simaku Parashqevi. After a couple of gigs in front of Albanian gangsters, I opted out and grabbed the piano player and drummer of the band while I was at it. We worked on a short project called 'Sangre' which included prog rhythms, latin beats and ridiculous lyrics. More prog shit. I couldn't get out of the way of it.
We lasted 2 gigs. But the piano player, Anthony Garcia, helped me craft some of the first important songs from Awful Joy. He's a classically trained pianist and, while some of his arrangements were a little more classically oriented, the melodic seeds of what is Lowry today exist because of Anthony.
I remember writing Knots, Jukebox Heart, What You Got, Traveller, Bedford & Kensington Cowboy in Anthony's living room in Kensington, a really depressing neighborhood in Brooklyn. I had just left a disastrous relationship with the girl who inspired "Taking Away My Good Feelings" and Anthony allowed me to move into what was formerly his living room. I was destitute but happy. I wrote Good Feelings in the basement at The Sidewalk Cafe in the East Village a couple of weeks later. Anthony and I drank much alcohol and smoked cigarettes out of the kitchen window in a run down apartment complex off of Ocean Parkway.
What I took from that period was a certain need. I was interested in writing cathartic music, that's for certain. What I also took from those years was the notion that I could create an alternate universe for myself and the band. It was a manifestation. One built from a river of surrealistic fabric that also contained eddies of real experiences running through the basic programming code of the music. A fantasy world in one instant. . . a very realistic world in the next. I felt like we could just move in and out of each of those variants at will. It was a very liberating musical experience that we felt together.
Later that year, I ran into Claire Bowman, Sarah Bowman, and Eric Feigenbaum. It was The Sidewalk scene. By that, I mean the Anti-Folk scene in NYC. And the above mentioned entities didn't encapsulate the scene. . . they're just the people that I ran into. I won't pontificate on the anti-folk scene either. I'll only say that it was there. The Bowmans and Feigenbaum would be the next turn in the road.
I started into the Sidewalk Cafe scene sometime in mid 2004. That's when things started getting interesting.
Eric caught me playing 'Arkansas' one evening at The Sidewalk. We had mutual friends in Ian Thomas. He had recently produced Ian's first album (a great album) 'Young Man's Blues'. He felt he might be a good candidate to produce what would become Awful Joy. I agreed and that was that. In the same time frame, I met the Bowmans and they quickly became a part of the project. . . Sarah as a cellist and Claire as a backing singer, booker & tour manager.
This would prove to be the path that led us to our first multi-state tour. And we would need a drummer.
Claire and I organized a road trip into the midwest and I put out the word for a drummer through various contacts in the city. Ironically, our drummer for the next 10 years would come from Los Angeles, not NYC. His name is Crash and he would become a big part of the music.
The tour featured Ian Thomas, The Bowmans, and Lowry as the headliner. Amazingly enough, Claire was able to put together a month long tour for 3 completely unknown acts. We played 30 shows.
I consider Awful Joy to be our true debut record. It was released in 2005 on Oddmobrecords and was distributed to indie record stores mostly on the east coast. It was also my first record to be digitally distributed to the world wide web.
We did several tours in the United States over the next year and I sat back and considered turning what was essentially a glorified solo project into a band. The sound itself was slow to develop. Suffice it to say, the project spent many years as a solo project that could have been a band project at certain junctures.
After a couple of years, The Bowmans needed to move forward with their own project, which left me, Shawn Setaro on bass, and Crash on the skins.
We’d spent some time in North Carolina doing some shows earlier in 2006 and we were invited to do a residency at The Evening Muse in Charlotte. During that residency, Crash and I became friends with Heidi Sidelinker.
Heidi, a highly accomplished singer & songwriter in North Carolina, happened upon the band through mutual friends during one of Lowry's southern tours and also caught up with us at the residency. As fate would have it, she hung out with the band enough to pick up on some harmonies. We asked her to sing with us on a couple of shows that summer. She did. Two years later, she she found herself living in NYC and still playing banjo, guitar, synths & singing with us.
Enter Greg Touhey.
In passing one afternoon, Crash had mentioned that perhaps we should ask Greg to have a sit down with some of this music. I had known Greg at some level for several years but hadn't even remotely considered him as a potential replacement for 2 other musicians. A Berkley trained jazz guitarist, Greg was a busy guy. First, with his own band and secondly with a multitude of other artists in the city that demanded his level of expertise on the guitar. I wasn't sure he was right for the band anyway. I had experienced guitar players with way too much skill and not enough taste. It had always ended miserably. Fucking wankers.
The wisdom of Crash is sort of like a building being demolished mixed with a ballet. It's a juxtaposition of high intellect and complete self annihilation.
But then again, how many degrees of wrong could Crash actually be? I decided to have a sit down with Greg. I found him to be highly tasteful.
We immediately went to working on our follow up to Awful Joy in December of 2007. It would be a record recorded by me, Heidi, Crash, and Greg. I arranged a better portion of the bass lines for this recording. At the time, 3 years had passed since we had last released a full record. In the interim, we had released 3 EPs - Live in Atlanta & The Magazine EPs V1 & 2. Live in Atlanta was a full acoustic show recorded at Eddie's Attic in the spring of 2005. The Magazine EPs consisted of some studio outtakes and some live takes from a show we performed at Belly Up in Aspen in the fall of 2007.
In February of 2008, we self released our new record, Love is Dead. It was a very close look at love and hope. Maybe too close for some. The title, meant to be ironic, was suggested by Heidi. It is a line in the song "Face Behind Your Hands" from L.I.D. It was too perfect to ignore.
Engineroom records picked up the record and re-released it the following year.
This version of the band continued to work together touring the United States playing some 145 shows stateside. Then in 2012, we made our first venture into Europe.
We toured Northern Europe supporting Awful Joy and Love is Dead and saw success across the pond. After that stretch, we settled back into NYC and proceeded to ink and record another full length studio recording titled “Emporia”. It was a massive effort. There were 16 songs that were condensed to 14. The record was recorded in the studio twice. The first version just didn’t carry the weight of the content and it was decided to just start from scratch.
The 2nd version of Emporia was nothing short of through-the-roof production. And the record is still being sifted through to this day by those who didn’t discover it back then. Engineroom released the record but folded shortly after and the record was lost in the mix. The record is still growing on me to this day.
However, the toll of recording the record twice and a less-than-ideal stateside tour following its release spelled the end of this collection of musicians. Between just pure exhaustion, the changing of life plans amid other reasons, I found myself once again on my own for at least the 4th or 5th time in my life of music. I was sitting alone with all of my material and no band.
The following 4 years were a low point in my life. Both in the absence of music and the trite tails of booze, drug use and the such, it took a toll on me. After coming clear of that, many friends encouraged me to try and write a 4th record. I was apathetic but agreed that it would at least give me something to do that kept me from destruction.
Between the years of 2015 and 2017, I wrote enough material to feel comfortable about heading into the studio again and finish the record in under 6 months.
Also in that time period, I continued experimenting with different musicians and we did 4 more tours in Germany, Belgium, Holland, Poland and even managed to reach Prague for some wild shows.
At that point, I made a promise to myself that I would create an environment where other musicians could live. A place where musicians could affect my music in their own original way and feel like a part of the greater idea, as opposed to just being a backing band.
I allowed this brand new record to simmer for a year before deciding to release the music in 2019. It is essentially a brand new record.
Members for the last 3 years include Kyle Carmean, Raphael Espinoza and Dom Grey. The music has never sounded better. All in all, since 2012, we’ve played over 120 shows across Europe.
And that brings us to today. I may be be responsible for the primary narrative running through the music, but I hope I’ve created a universe where whoever is playing with me feels like they have a part in it. It is also refreshing to hear the music played differently with different combinations.
There is a band that is called Lowry. Symbolically, it is all of us together. At the heart of it is me.
I guess we want to bend time a little. . . to maybe help it to go slower (or faster - depending on your disposition). It has been a way to stay in the moment. . . a way to stay in the present at all times. . . to not get mired in the past or spend our existence always thinking about the future. This is our little world. We are particularly interested in time. Because, for whatever reason, you can't get it back no matter how hard you try.
The world is a painting filled with love, conspiracy, and probably fake UFOs. It's been a very long time since Thunderbird Trailer Court. But those memories don't go away.