Interview: Lowlight

Written by Laura Curry

Photo Credit: Chris Shashaty - Pop Shop Photobooth
Photo Credit: Chris Shashaty – Pop Shop Photobooth

Whether you’re listening to their recordings or hearing them live, Lowlight keeps you rocking to their bluesy, folk-rock music. Their songs create a warm and inviting ambiance, which encourages listeners to relax into the moment with a glass of whiskey. Before they take the stage tonight at Wonder Bar, Pop-Break caught up with Lowlight about their sound, what inspires them and their EP Bonjour.

Who is Lowlight? (Names of the band members & the instruments you play)

Lowlight, from the rhythm section up: Colin Ryan (drums), Rey Rivera (bass), Dana Sellers (keys and backup vocals), Derril Sellers (guitar), Renee Maskin (guitar and vocals).

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What year did the band form? Are you primarily based out of Asbury Park?

We started playing together sometime in 2013, but didn’t start playing shows until 2014. We’re late bloomers. Renee is the only one who actually lives in the vicinity of Asbury, but NJ music seems to be based out of Asbury Park, so we like to call it home.

What’s the story behind your band name?

The name was chosen because it reflects a feel that we associate with our music. There is darkness and a mood, but it’s not so harsh. We went through hundreds of names. We operate a bit like a bureaucracy, so we went through a lot of self-imposed red tape. There were multiple rounds of anonymous voting with Google forms. It’s embarrassing.

What rock elements do you think are most prominent in your music?

Our format is very rock. Two guitars, bass, keys, and drums. It’s hard to avoid rock with those ingredients—not that we try to. When a genre is this ubiquitous and malleable it’s the spin you put on it that becomes important.

Who has your sound been likened to? Is there any band that fans tend to say you sound like? 

You know, I can’t recall being likened to any specific bands yet. Maybe you could help us out? We like to think they’d say Phosphorescent, Futurebirds, and The Band.

What bands or artists do you draw inspiration from?

We’ve each got our own set of artists, but the ones that overlap are probably Bob Dylan, David Bowie and Tom Waits.

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Have you performed in bands before Lowlight? If so, what are the names of those bands and how did they influence the sound of Lowlight?

We have. Renee and Colin were in a prog. rock band called Fun Machine, then a quieter acoustic/percussion outfit called Seapost. They’re both currently in the Roadside Graves. Dana and Derril still play with a prog. rock band called Hsu-nami. Rey is the DJ of a hip-hop duo called Original Text. The prog. rock in our history definitely helped develop chops. Some experience in different genres is a big help when it comes to going to a weird place with a song. In the early stages of a band, the genre of music that you play can vary widely from song to song, and our other projects really show their influence there.

On Bonjour, what song would you say encapsulates the meaning of the demo overall?

It would have to be “Waves.” It’s got poppier elements, but the middle of the song is a kraut-rock jam that we’ve never totally pinned down. Semi-structured kind of jams are not something we do, but it was an important part of introducing ourselves to each other as musicians, and to the rest of the world as a band.

What themes are explored on Bonjour, and how are they carried out in the music? 

The themes we explored in Bonjour were mostly instrumental. We definitely have an interest in different flavors of Americana. We also had to figure out what it was like to play together. Bonjour was mostly recorded live, when the songs were still new to us, so the dynamics tended to skew louder and it helped the songs feel more alike than they would in a more fleshed out studio production.

Would you say that “Track and Field” has a western vibe to it? Every time I listen to it, I imagine a shootout in the Wild West. Also, I’m wondering, is that a Hammond organ synth that I’m hearing? 

There is definitely a western feel. We’re a bit enamored with that vibe, be it auditory or visual. In this recording, you’re actually hearing Dana’s Nord Electro synth doing a pretty sweet imitation of a Hammond. Dana plays a lot of rock organs and pads, it’s most of the glue that holds our sound together. On our upcoming debut album, we got to record some tracks on an actual Hammond through a Leslie (speaker) thanks to Johnny from the Roadside Graves. He’s got a great collection of classic and weird keyboard instruments that we’re taking full advantage of.

Photo Credit: Phil Shepherd Photography
Photo Credit: Phil Shepherd Photography

I really like “Dirt” because it’s so mean (in the best way possible) and heavy. Also, the instrumental breakdowns are so intense. What is the story behind “Dirt” and what inspired you to write it? What makes the song so powerful? 

That song is a bit of an outlier because it’s so heavy. It actually has a VERY specific inspiration! Have you seen the movie “Sling Blade”? The antagonist is Doyle, a hateful, horrible drunk played by Dwight Yoakam. Doyle has a terrible band that plays in his back yard. “Dirt” is supposed to be what Doyle’s band would sound like if they practiced more. It tries to capture the rage and darkness that exist in the mind of a true drunken scumbag.

While you are performing, how do you want the audience to be feeling?

We would all probably have different individual answers. On the whole, we hope that people are feeling fulfilled in some way. The genre of music that we generally play can, at its best, create an organic feel where people can actually recognize what it is to feel good while it’s happening. We often have to look back to realize how good things were, but music can give us the perspective to see it in the moment and experience it fully.

When you consider all the bands in the Asbury Park scene, what makes Lowlight stand out from the rest?

Asbury has so much great music. If Lowlight stands out, it’s because we’re coming from a genuine place and making music that we really work on and love. It feels exhilarating when a song comes together and that enthusiasm can be contagious. 11222454_773655602771696_6077506091702727697_n

If someone has never heard your music before, what song would you recommend theylisten to in order to fully understand what Lowlight stands for, and why?

That’s tough. If you’re looking for something you can find online currently, “Track and Field” might be a good choice. It’s a short and sweet intro that says a lot about our sound without going too far. If you were to listen to us live, it’d be “Why Wander” or “Bones.” They’ll both be on our album and get played at almost every show.

What is your proudest accomplishment as a band? 

We were proud to be nominated for the Asbury Park Music Awards. Asbury is a special place that is so concentrated with talent and passion. We were a new band that hadn’t even released an album yet, so it was awesome to be recognized as legitimate local creatives.

What are your goals for the rest of 2016?

We’d like to spend a little time on the road. We’re going to release our debut album, we’re working really hard on a music video, and we’ve got a lot of music to write and record. Our goal is to make as much music in as many places as we can.

Lowlight performs at Happy Mondays at Wonder Bar with The Paper Jets and Wicked Hollow tonight.