“Since we started recording the record, we’ve been obsessing with achieving warmth,” Lower’s guitarist Simon Formann tells me. “Just because so many people have said the opposite. It’s not the people that we are.”
In fact, you’d be pretty hard-pressed to thumb down exactly what “kind of people” Lower are. Academics, punks, sailors; their various backgrounds make for an unlikely collection of individuals. It’s a Monday afternoon and we’re packed into the corner of a noisy Williamsburg beer garden. Dressed in various shades of grey and light khaki, they certainly don’t come off as the dark, brooding types that their various web write-ups would lead you to believe. They jump to interrupt each other frequently as we talk, butting in to challenge one another’s statements in light-hearted disagreement. “Of all the bands in Copenhagen, Lower is the band where everyone has an opinion about everything,” Simon explains with a chuckle.
There’s certainly no posturing here, the members of Lower are bluntly honest about their contradictions and inconsistencies. “I don’t even know what K-town is, I’m not punk at all,” vocalist Adrian Toubro tells me, referring to the annual Copenhagen hardcore/punk festival Lower is scheduled to play next month at the Ungdomshuset squat (the Youth House). Simon, on the other hand, had been arrested as part of the rioting back in 2007 when police moved to evict the inhabitants to prepare the building for demolition at its original location. The squat had served as meeting place for leftist groups and played an important role in Copenhagen’s punk scene for several decades.
Drummer Anton Rothstein, too, had grown up going to the house. His old bands occasionally performed at the space, it’s DIY ethics playing heavily into his evolving worldview. “You have to be honest I guess,” he says, explaining how they navigate their disparate ideals when making band decisions. “You’re honest to each other and if you disagree you say it aloud so that you can reach a compromise.”
“And that’s reflected in the music,” Adrian agrees. “If we all wanted to copy a band, if we all wanted to play one kind of music it would be a bit boring. But we’re all so different, we have such different tastes.”
Lower’s new record, Seek Warmer Climes, sees the band working the angles of this diversity more than any of their previous material. It’s been two years since they released the Walk on Heads EP and the progression is undeniable. The songs feel deliberate, measured and thought out. They’re melodic and upbeat, albeit with enough discord to maintain an apprehensive edge. The vocals too have matured, seeing Adrian coming into his own as a singer, demonstrating his impressive range with a confidence that had yet to appear on either of the earlier releases. His words are winding and poetic, twisting lyrical dramas to the tune of a rhythmic dissonance.
Despite their differences, whether musical or ideological, the move to Matador seemed to be a sensible one for everyone in the band. “It means that we can go places, discover new stuff and not have such a hard time getting where we want to,” Anton says. “But it’s not about financial success or reaching new audiences,” he adds, “Because I just play for myself, I don’t play for the crowd or whatever.”
“I play for a crowd,” Adrian interjects, in typical Lower fashion, “I don’t play for myself only.”
With the new record they felt like they were creating something that needed a different platform. “It’s like the amount of effort that we put into this requires that it gets maximum distribution and that it gets maximum reach,” Simon tells me. “It’s kind of like the effort you put into it has to be reflected in the way that it’s presented. There’s a feeling where you have like a frame, a window, and it’s passing Copenhagen now, and so you get encouraged to do as much as possible while you’re in it.”
It certainly is true that Copenhagen has been in the spotlight in recent years. The city has produced such notable acts as Iceage, Sexdrome, Vår, Lust For Youth; the list goes on. The music scene is so tightly intertwined that it’s difficult to talk about any single group without mentioning a whole slew of others. “It’s like every time you start a new band or form a new group it’s going to be an all-star group. There’s no way of avoiding that,” Simon says. “There’s only like 30 of us,” Anton adds, “Copenhagen is very small.”
The Mayhem venue and rehearsal studio has been the center of much of this creativity. Along with the other groups in their circle, the members of Lower were invited to use the space after the city appointed the building to a handful of local musicians and artists. It’s provided them with a place to experiment, to set up their own shows without worrying about financial risks. “We can put on a show and two people can show up and it’s no big deal,” bassist Kristian Emdal explains. “There’s a freedom with it, to know that whatever you decide to show at least five or ten of your friends are going to stand there and watch it.”
“It’s been the cradle for us, for the whole Posh Isolation thing,” Anton recalls, referring to the label that released dozens of records by Mayhem-related bands. “It’s so many different kinds of music but at the same time it’s all kind of related to one another in some way.” While the creative output has certainly been remarkable, Lower’s involvement with the Mayhem and Posh Isolation circle has made for certain associations that have proven difficult to shed. “Last week for the LA show the Facebook event said, ‘Lower: like Iceage but better,’” Anton recalls. “I kind of like that [laughter], but I don’t think we sound anything alike at all.”
The two bands had just played a show together at Home Sweet Home in NYC’s Lower East Side the night before we met for the interview. “We’re good friends,” Anton continues, “We share a rehearsal space, we’re from the same city, we put out records on the same labels, play the same shows all the time, it’s a natural association to make. We’re both from the same neighborhood you know? It’s Copenhagen music.”
Admittedly, Lower has seemed to follow in Iceage’s footsteps at times, opening for them on tours and following their trajectory from Escho to Matador. But anyone looking for a rehashed version of Iceage will be in for a bit of disappointment. “It must be fucked up to see a flyer that says, ‘Depressive, cold, post-punk,’ and then you come to the show and hear tribal rhythms and see Adrian dancing around. It’s just like, quite the opposite,” Anton muses. “As soon as some media like Pitchfork or whatever write something, all the others think it must be true because this channel of authority said it. That means that it can’t be something else after that.”
This sort of rehashing and recycling of phrases is nothing new. Music journalists have a tendency to brand the artists they write about, defining the “sound bytes” that are referenced as the artist is discussed in future conversations and effectively confining their sound to a few short strings of words, inadequate as they may be. “It’s not for us to decide really,” Simon argues. “Because as soon as somebody starts writing about you, it’s out of your hands.”
For the record, Lower are neither bleak nor dystopian, and they assert that with their latest effort. Even the title of Seek Warmer Climes seeks to step itself away from these brooding misconceptions. “It’s mostly about personal progression, Adrian tells me of his lyrical content, “Moving from a bad place to a good place, trying to reach that. It was very important to me that the issues would be something that were very universal, relatable for everyone… to take something that was very banal and down to earth and write something beautiful about it.”
“We try to write something that’s as honest as we possibly can be,” Simon adds. “It’s not a place you’re ever going to get to, but it’s the road there that matters. Hopefully people will understand that over time. Maybe the story won’t change per se, but maybe it will be a longer one at some point.“
Lower’s new record Seek Warmer Climes is out on Matador in the United States, Escho in Denmark and Big Love in Japan.