Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
Rosie Lowe Deptford 24 4 19 by Nathan Barnes 00 LEAD

Resistance is futile

07 May 2019, 08:00
Words by Simon Edwards
Original Photography by Nathan Barnes

As the release of her second album Yu looms, Rosie Lowe reveals to Simon Edwards how self awareness and understanding those around her has helped her relinquish control for the better.

You have to be compassionate towards yourself before you can give it out to others, and this is what Rosie Lowe’s YU is all about. It’s an album dedicated to herself, her partner, and her rekindled belief in love.

“Do you mind if I have a fag before we get started?” says Rosie Lowe as we meet. It’s hard to believe these words are coming from the same mouth that only moments ago was projecting songs of love and lust so elegantly.

This is the beauty of Lowe’s character. There are aspects of her personality that may clash and collide but she knows herself, and she has accepted the polarising qualities that make her who she is. As we head outside we find a small fire to keep us cosy from the harsh Berlin winter. The crackle of the flames keeps us company as I’m introduced to the many faces of Rosie Lowe; an inner city hippie with a fondness for swear words who will happily sprinkle her spiritual musings with a casual “fuck”. It’s her own personal icing on the cake.

“I’m so incredibly proud of my first album Control, but it was from a very particular time of my life. It was my debut and I knew that I wanted to do it on my own. I wanted to write all of it on my own. Even though I have this incredible network around me, there was just something in my gut that told me to do that,” Lowe says.

“Originally, I thought it was about relinquishing control, which it kind of was, but YU has taken it to a whole new level. I’ve put so much more faith in the people around me, and a lot more trust.”

Lowe’s little black book of musicians reads like a who’s who of modern neo-soul. Jamie Woon, Jamie Lidell, Jordan Rakei and Kwabs all back her up on vocals for YU’s debut single “Birdsong” – a funk-leaning, pop-gospel jam. Even the elusive rapper Jay Electronica blesses Lowe with his presence, which in itself is no small feat. New music from Jay Electronica comes once in a blue moon, and for him to come out of hiding and write a verse on a love song shows just how magnetic Lowe is. When I ask her how she managed to coax Electronica out from wherever he has been hiding, her face lights up.

“I am obsessed with Jay Electronica, I fucking love him,” she says. “He is my one of my top rappers, up there with Andre 3000. When we were recording ‘The Way’ we thought, ‘We need a rapper on this, it’s begging for it’.”

Initially, Lowe’s record label Wolf Tone was hesitant to ask for a guest verse from Electronica, claiming that he would be too expensive or too busy. But Lowe persevered. Something in her bones told her that he would love the song, and her senses were right. He wanted to do it.

“We weren’t in any rush, so a few months later I messaged him to say, be free, just do whatever you want, for however long you want. I gave him creative freedom,” she explains.

“Then one morning it landed in my inbox. It was crazy. He’s either a mind reader or he’s on some crazy spiritual level because his verse embodies so much of the album, even mentioning ‘Pharaohs’ – another song on YU – and other references from the record’s lyrics. We were asking ourselves if someone had given him the album, which they hadn’t, so it was really weird. I think if you have good people around you and you’re making music your way, everything falls into place.”

"I’ve put so much more faith in the people around me, and a lot more trust"

YU is built upon these relationships; whether cosmic, spiritual, or physical, these unspoken connections are the lifeforce of the record. It becomes clear during our conversation that there are two relationships at the heart of YU – two people in her life that this album probably wouldn’t be possible without. The first is musician and producer, Dave Okumu. After helping to turn her first album Control into reality, YU is as much a reflection of Okumu’s character as it is for Lowe. They have been longtime collaborators but never written together, so this was new ground for both of them. Again, Lowe had to give herself over to someone else for this to work. And luckily, it did.

“I want to work with people long-term, grow and develop with them – which is exactly what me and Dave have done. So we agreed to do this album together, no matter what happened or who was involved,” Lowe says. “We made that commitment to each other and it was natural that it would include writing together. It was actually quite scary going into this process and collaborating with him in that way. We thought, ‘Oh god we hope this works” because we’re best friends and long time collaborators. Luckily it did work and it was beautiful.”

Okumu’s influence can be heard in every note because, as Lowe puts it herself, he is “pure funk”. YU feels more organic: warmer, funkier, born from a more confident, happier place. Lowe recognises this herself and bursts into laughter. “I’m in a happier place, so the funk can definitely come through a bit more when you’re happier. I feel like in this day and age, music is like speed dating. Some people are really good at it, but it just doesn’t work for me. I don’t just want to jump over to the hottest producer. I want to create an ongoing thread with my music. I feel like that thread is very rare these days.”

Lowe’s hippie swagger is ushered in by the undeniable funk of tracks such as “Mango”, “ITILY” and “Shoulder”. The colours and heat emanate instantly from the dense, ambling instrumentation. The longing and lust sits heavy in the air as Lowe lays her cards on the table: “He has gone out / And he won’t be home for another three hours / So much to do / But we could get it going babe / There’s nothing in the way of loving you,” she sings in "ITILY".

So who is it that has made Lowe so happy, so free, so willing to let go? It seems that the source of her happiness seems to come from looking within, working on her own self awareness and her relationship with her long-term partner.

“About five years ago, I started going to relationship counselling with my partner. That has been hugely informative for this album, because this album is about love and my journey through love. I guess I never really believed that you could be with one person.

“I’m from a family of separated parents. All my friends are from families of separated parents. I don’t think that I’ve had a lot of positive love stories around me, I was never brought up on Disney. So maybe I was a bit cynical, or realistic – whatever you want to call it. Relationship counselling was pretty eye-opening in terms of shifting everything for me. Shit can get hard and it is hard work being in a relationship, but you can get through that and then it becomes a million times better because you can communicate with each other.”

"Relationship counselling was pretty eye-opening in terms of shifting everything for me – shit can get hard and it is hard work being in a relationship, but you can get through that"

Lowe’s readiness to reveal this is startling. Admitting that your relationship is not a picture perfect romance takes courage. Asking for help with something so personal can sadly be seen as a taboo in society, but as Lowe opens up you can see how much it has helped her personally and professionally. You can instantly tell how much this relationship means to her, just from the way she speaks. Her determination, strength, and fragility are bound together by her belief in holding on to something you believe in.

“Initially, I hadn’t realised how resistant I was to be with one person. I was resistant to a lot of things actually, for fear of getting hurt, I guess,” she says. “Love can grow and it can change, and it can become even more beautiful than you imagined because you can work on it together. That sounds really cheesy, but basically I’ve started believing in love again thanks to this process."

Lowe also studies psychotherapy alongside her musical career. Learning how the mind works has helped her to understand why her mind works in the way it does. Her training has enabled her to recognise her faults and deal with them head-on. Sometimes some problems are too big to face alone, and Lowe knows that she has people around her that can pull her through, as she sings on “UEMM”: You ease my mind / When you’re around it feels so simple to be / but through the night / it’s an empty shadow that stares back at me.”

“On my song. ‘Little Bird’, I actually started writing it about my nephew, who was around one and a half at the time. He was always falling over, taking a few steps, falling over again and hurting himself. I was just watching him. I wrote this song for him to let him know that you shouldn’t be afraid to fall. You’ve got to fall to learn to fly.”

She continues: “Half way through writing it I thought, ‘Fucking hell, how can I say that about someone when I am paralysed by my own fear of falling?’ I had to accept that I am exactly the same as this one a half year old boy.”

This thought makes her laugh. Perhaps from the absurdity of the image or seeing her tiny nephew stumble in her mind’s eye – we’ll never know. The human psyche plays a huge part in Lowe’s world; her soul, mind and spirit have all been excavated to create her second album. She doesn’t want YU to just connect with the listener on a mental level, she wants YU to engulf your senses. Certain songs, albums and artists have a unexplainable knack of taking us back to memories and places we have long forgotten, and Lowe wants to tap into that nostalgic feeling with her music.

“I feel like the senses are a huge part of music,” Lowe says. “When I listen to Erykah Badu, I can smell my mum’s cooking from when I was 10 years old, back when we were rinsing her first album. That happens whenever I think about albums I love. I taste it in my mouth, I smell it.”

Music is obviously designed to trigger your hearing, but how do you make your music stimulate your fans sense of taste and smell? Lowe has managed to find some pretty unique ways of tickling her fans taste buds and evoking their senses through her live shows.

“I’m basically a huge hippie at heart. I burn sage all the fucking time. I was burning sage throughout the whole process of making YU, it just smells like the album to me. I wanted to share that with whoever hears it,” she says.

Sure enough, as I enter the venue again later that evening to watch Lowe perform, the waft of sage is floating throughout the room, mixing with the smoke and sweat from the crowd. But how does a musician whet their fans appetite? Lowe has found a way around that seemingly impossible task too. “I asked my dad to make me some marmalade for the tour so people could taste what the album tasted like, because that’s all I was eating whilst recording the album: marmalade on toast.” And of course, being Rosie Lowe, she can’t resist putting her own cherry on top. “Because it’s fucking banging.”

The thought and detail that Lowe puts into her music – whether it’s the recording process or her live shows – is refreshing. She wants YU to be a body of work that will speak for itself. Sure, it has some great singles, but Lowe didn’t write these songs for playlists. She wants the whole record to be part of your life. With every listen Lowe wants you to be transported somewhere else, intertwining her struggles with yours, hoping that by finding her own personal solace through these songs you will in some way discover your own by listening to them. Control was a beautiful, introspective record – a polaroid taken during more turbulent times. YU is a distinct shift from Control’s starker reality; it mutates with every listen, a living organism thriving on warmth, love and the sense of other. YU is an offering, and if you’re willing to accept, every note will bury its roots deep into your soul.

"I’m getting much better at having some clarity over what I’m feeling...I guess it’s self acceptance"

YU also feels like a more human record, a more honest interpretation of Lowe as a musician, and a person too. In a way, Control was slightly aloof whereas YU welcomes you with open arms, just like Lowe does in real life. She is friendly, talkative, and above all else, natural. She’s not a pop star who puts herself up on a pedestal; she’s still the same south England girl she’s always been. Her period of self-searching has made her realise that everyone has flaws and sometimes you make mistakes, but that is human nature, you just have to learn from them:

“I’m getting much better at having some clarity over what I’m feeling,” she says, “and not putting it all down to the failure of something. Resisting things just makes those feelings grow. I guess it’s self acceptance.” It seems that Lowe is much more willing to take her hands off the wheel and see where it takes her.

Much of this album was recorded live, with vocals being recorded in one take. The rough edges are left on show for everyone to hear, although you have to dig pretty deep find them. The honesty she has learnt from her personal life once again feeds into her creativity. Lowe puts every ounce of her being into her music without thinking. It’s the only way she knows how. “I’ve never really worried about being too honest with my lyrics,” she says. “People in my life know that I’m going to put whatever I feel into my music.”

At the heart of it, YU is about Lowe sharing her life with another. Whether it’s her partner, her collaborators or her listeners, this idea of coexisting and feeding from another person’s energy is where YU finds it strength. Lowe no longer wants to strive out on her own. She wants to bring along the people she loves and cares about. She finds her power from the people that surround her – her loved ones, her band, the crowd she serenades.

Back inside the Berlin venue, Lowe takes to the stage. Chatter between tracks is kept to a minimum because this is one of the first few times that she is performing her new songs live. Lowe opens the gig with “Lifeline” – the first track on YU – the heartbreaking bridge between the introspective sound of Control and her new more organic sound. The lyrics swirl and echo throughout the air, revealing a simple refrain that encapsulates the meaning of YU perfectly: “It could all be so simple but / when I’m with you / you are my life.”

For sixty minutes the humidity and desire of YU fills the cold night air. Glowing funk notes soothe the industrial grind that the city has become accustomed to. As the show comes to a close the scent of sage lingers in the air, soaking itself into everything it touches, a constant reminder of the music that reverberate between these four walls. The crowd disperses as drinks are finished and conversations peter out, leaving the inevitable journey home ahead.

As I leave I’m not surprised to see Lowe sat behind a small table peddling her dad’s “banging” marmalade. She looks like the cat that got the cream. You can tell she’s in a happier place: she’s in love with someone, she’s in love with music, and she’s surrounding herself with people that love her. If it was up to her, I’m sure she would put this feeling in a jar and spread it on her toast every morning.

YU is released this Friday, 10 May via Wolf Tone
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