HomeInterviewsLowlight on "Endless Bummer," The Pretenders & Sea.Hear.Now

Lowlight on “Endless Bummer,” The Pretenders & Sea.Hear.Now

Photo Credit: Darren Cox

When you think about the top bands in the Asbury Park music scene, Lowlight is one of the first bands that comes to mind. For the past five years the band has been performing their blend of folk, Americana, country (tinged with a nice synth recently) all around the City that Bruce Built. And if you listen to their new tunes, you’ll realize just how awesome this band is. The evocative lyrics, a sonic sense of nostalgia blended with an undeniable sense of modernity, and and undeniable “it factor” makes Lowlight a must-listen band.

While the band probably wouldn’t buy into this statement, it’s no doubt that’s why the band has found themselves performing this weekend in front of tens of thousands of music lovers at the second Sea.Hear.Now Music Festival.

Recently, we spoke with the band’s lead singer Renee Maskin about their latest record Endless Bummer (such an awesome name), touring with The Pretenders, being “Asbury Famous” and this weekend’s Sea.Hear.Now Festival.

Lowlight is one of the few local, Asbury Park acts performing at Sea.Hear.Now. Can you talk about how you got invited to play?

Well, we were actually on our own little small tour, nothing as grandiose as we have done in the past [touring with The Pretenders], just a little scrappy small tour. We got a call from someone saying that we were invited to participate to Sea.Hear.Now. Last year we did one of the late night shows [opening for Twin Peaks at Wonder Bar]. So now we’re on one of the main stages which feels good. It feels a little bit like validation.

How does it feel about performing in front of potential tens of thousands of people? Is it nerve-racking, or is it just another show?

Fortunately, we had that tour with The Pretenders so it’s not like we’ve never played big crowds before. Honestly, it’s more nerve-racking when you’re going out on tour with somebody. Like when we were with The Pretenders it was like “Hey, we’re bringing you on a tour, please be on your best behavior.”

I’m more nervous about the artwork that I’m going to show at one of Danny Clinch’s tents. We’re gonna play and do what we do but I’m more nervous about people seeing what I draw in private.

That’s very interesting because I recently spoke with Chris from Blind Melon, and Adam from Low Cut Connie and they both said they were more nervous about showing their art. They’ve played tons of shows but it’s the first time showing their art.

Well that’s what I’m nervous about. The show will be the show. I’m nervous about that people are going to judge me on the things that I draw.

So, the odd question is — can you talk about your art? What are you going to be showing?

I will preface this by saying when I was in college [Ramapo University] I was an art major. I gave up art because I found music to be a much more comfortable medium. I feel like music is alive and breathing. What you do on record is not the same thing necessarily that you can do live. Music is this living, breathing entity that you can continually fuck with as you go along. Visual art I of gave up for a very long time because because once you draw something or once you painted something or whatever or film something, that’s it. It’s done. It’s there.

Tina [from Danny Clinch’s Transparent Gallery] and Danny asked me to make some stuff kind of brought me out of visual art, retirement. I just make weird little drawings of things I find to be whimsical or funny or, or things that I find interesting and hopefully somebody else will find them nearly as enduring.

Lowlight Endless Bummer

You guys just put out a new album Endless Bummer this month. The album has big PR promoting it. The band is touring outside the area, and performing on this massive festival. You guys have solidified yourselves as one of the top bands in Asbury Park. However, with this record do you feel you’re looking to break out of Asbury and look towards a bigger picture?

That’s definitely the call. We’ve been doing a bunch of touring outside of town and even beyond the state. The other weekend we just went up to Syracuse for a show. We are not content being just Asbury famous — which is definitely a thing. It’s funny because you can go a few towns at that Asbury and no one knows who you are.

But, we’re happy. People like to see us here. We’re happy for the seeds. I will say as somebody who grew up playing new Brunswick that scene kind of died on us. It’s nice to see a scene here that’s thriving I saw.

In New Brunswick there’s a few people holding on to the scene. But when I was coming up in college we were playing basements, and there was this whole scene. A lot of kids just wanted to play crazy music, and there were crazy times … but we lost it. So to that point, are we content with just hanging around Asbury? No. Are we thankful that shit’s going on here and we’ve got places to play and people who want to see us? Absolutely. We won’t turn our back on this city either.

Speaking of the record, I listened to the single “Horsefoot” and I noticed that you incorporate a lot of synth into the song. I read this was a common theme on Endless Bummer. You guys are known for having a country/Americana/folk vibe. Why bring synth into the mix?

So we’ve actually been transitioning that way for a little while. We put out an EP, it’s called Born to Run — and that pissed everybody off.

I think it’s great.

We thought it was funny, but then people got really offended. I was like everyone relax. [Anyway] on that record we started getting more comfortable with ourselves.

I think when we first came together as a band, we were thinking a lot about our influences. We were thinking a lot about Willie Nelson and Graham Parsons. Now we’re just going like this. We just kind of mess around and a lot of the messing around is with Dana Sellers just doing weird sounds on synthesizers. Then we thought we don’t have to go Graham Parsons all the time. We can just play off of what everybody’s playing right now. It’s just been a natural shift that there was not a lot of thought into it.

We’re just doing what feels fun and what feels right for the songs. There’s no overarching like musical political moves or anything. We’re just like, this feels right. We’ll do this.

Yeah because there are certain bands who start adding synth in because that is the popular thing to do. And it doesn’t feel right. But with you guys I’m like, damn, that really feels right at home.

We’re in the age of Pitchfork and tastemakers and these things we’re not paying attention to … we’re just kind of doing what we like.

You’ve literally just dropped this record, but you guys are pretty prolific when it comes to writing and releasing songs. Are there already plans for new stuff coming out?

We’re going on a single to have it done before the end of the year. We haven’t spent too much time together on it, but people who’ve ever worked with me in particular know I’m antsy. The [album] wasn’t even in the books yet and I was already writing lyrics and getting ready to do something else.

One thing I saw on the press release was that this time around you wrote a lot of the new record in studio which is not something you guys have done before. Why?

Well, frankly, for timing. Sea.Hear.Now was coming, and we wanted to try to get a record out anyway. So for Born to Run we did a studio experiment where I literally dared Lowlight — “Let’s just write some 10 minute jam in the studio and let’s see what happens.” It wound up being the most fun thing we’ve done in the studio. So for this [album] we saw some deadlines coming down the pike. We’ve got like some very early, loose  song ideas. Why don’t we just start recording and figure out as we go? I think Born to Run gave us the confidence to do that, frankly.

If you see us playing these songs live they’re not like they are on record. They’ve changed since we recorded them. That’s been an interesting process in itself. Instead of playing them to death and then recording them, we recorded them and now we’re playing them to death, but then changing them as we can.

You’ve been doing Lowlight for what four or five years now? Like you said you’re naturally antsy, but you’ve stuck with this band for a while now. You’re not out there going playing in other bands and doing side projects.

I do a little bit of solo stuff but I have never found a group of individuals who are more dedicated and more understanding, and who can put aside their own … how do I say this? It’s not about our individual egos. It’s about our collective goals. And everybody in Lowlight wants to do Lowlight. There’s no like, ‘I’d like to do Lowlight but I have better things to do.’ Everybody really drops everything for the band. I’ve never had that experience before.

What keeps me in Lowlight? I think we’re all stuck with each other. I think we are hardworking. We understand the end goal and the end and nobody wants to be impeding on anybody else’s time or, or presence or anything like that. And great musicians. There’s  nobody lagging behind on that. If anything, I’m the weak link musically.

So The Pretenders … that’s just cool as hell. Can you walk us through how that happened?

Remember when Conan O’Brien was going off The Tonight Show and he gave the speech and said something like “If you’re kind and you work hard, things will happen.” That’s what happened in this Lowlight situation. [The Pretenders situation] came about because somebody who I didn’t know at the time, was big into Lowlight and they were like, ‘You guys remind me of Chrissy Hynde and she’s playing Count Basie [in Red Bank, New Jersey] and I think I can get you to open the show.” [We said] go for it. And The Pretenders people said yes, and we played. And that was just because of the dude. So we were working hard on the scene and he liked the band.

Who was this dude?

He worked for Count Basie. I didn’t know him at the time. So then at the end of that show I managed to wave down Chrissy. She’s tough man. No one will fuck with her. [But] she came over. I was just like, “Hey, we were the opening band. I just wanted to say thank you.”  And then she came over and she chills with us for like a half an hour. Her team had to come and get her on the bus to go the next show. We were just talking about rock ‘n’ roll. What we did was work hard in the scene and then we got a good opportunity and we were gracious and, and did not fuck it up.

Then we played a couple more dates with them and then they invited us on a little tour and, and that was it. You know, you can’t make that shit up. That [situation] wasn’t like my uncle knew a guy or something. It just kind of happened. It’s weird, you know.

Did you take away anything from that experience, whether you know someone in that band party wisdom on you or you just observed them, or just something you thought on your own from doing select dates with, you know, a rock and roll hall of fame band.

We took away a wealth of knowledge from that. We’d never played bigger spaces like that. They were all pretty big theaters. We were fortunate that Chrissy wanted her team to work on our sound every night. She’s smart man. And she’s like, “I don’t want you guys sounding bad. If you sound bad, people aren’t gonna stick around.” So she got her team to do our sound and we learned a lot about what we should be doing in those bigger spaces from a technical standpoint. Then watching her every nigh … she changes up the set list every night. She was really in tune with what her audience wants and her band. She said “I don’t want this to be boring, you know?”

Lowlight performs at Sea.Hear.Now on Sunday September 22nd at 1:45 p.m. at the Park Stage.

Bill Bodkin
Bill Bodkinhttps://thepopbreak.com
Bill Bodkin is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break, and most importantly a husband, and father. Ol' Graybeard writes way too much about wrestling, jam bands, Asbury Park music, HBO shows, and can often be seen under his season DJ alias, DJ Father Christmas. He is the co-host of the Socially Distanced Podcast (w/Al Mannarino) which drops weekly on Apple, Google, Anchor & Spotify. He is the co-host of the monthly podcasts -- Anchored in Asbury, TV Break and Bill vs. The MCU.

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