Nick Lowe | Interview

by John Dugan

Published: December 7, 2011

The former power-pop king reinvents himself as a styish silver crooner. We chat with the Jesus of Cool. 

Nick Lowe named his 1978 debut album Jesus of Cool. Few would argue that the British pop-rock journeyman doesn’t still qualify. Best known to Americans as a producer for Elvis Costello and the Damned, and for solo hits like “Cruel to Be Kind,” the 62-year-old’s new The Old Magic sees him reborn as a stylish, silver crooner. We spoke to him over the phone.

The new album does not shy away from the fact that you’re an older gentleman. Rockers are older than ever, but still trying to rock. Were you self-conscious of that?
When my career as a pop star came to an end in the early ’80s, I knew it was coming because I’d been a record producer. I had one foot down with the artists and the other up on the 20th floor, yucking it up with the suits. The public gets tired of your schtick, they find somebody else. But nonetheless, when it came, it came as a bit of a shock. You can’t get a table in a restaurant, and there aren’t legions of exotic women that want to go out with you. But I thought that I hadn’t done anything really good yet. Back then, there wasn’t anybody doing pop music into their 40s. I definitely didn’t want to be known for my time in the sun and be condemned to go out for all eternity stuck in that bubble of the late ’70s. I wanted to move things along and take advantage of the fact I was getting older.

You’re writing in the style of ’50s. Are you feeling nostalgic?
It really is about what works for the song, but that is my era. My influences are very obviously American popular music, including Broadway show music, soul and R&B, but also I love what happens to that music when it comes over here.

In the ’60s, you had your time in Germany, like the Beatles. What do you remember?
When I left home to join [Kippington Lodge], it was the end of that era that the Beatles went through. We went to Munich, Stuttgart, and they had these cellar rock clubs. They loved the British bands. You had to play all night during the week, maybe you had Monday off, until 2 or 3 in the morning. On the weekend, you played all day and all night. It sounds grueling. We lived in terrible squalor. I was 18 at the time, and we just loved it. There was loads of girls. The fringe benefits were fantastic. The fact that you didn’t have anything to eat, well, it was like going to some sort of college.

Was this your destiny being determined at an early age?
I’ve always thought of myself as a club and bar musician. I’ve done loads of shows in stadiums and basketball arenas, but always as the opening act. I think this is a ridiculous place to go see music. I’ve kept that small room, close up to the audience feel.

Nick Lowe opens for Wilco at the Civic Opera House Monday 12.