ZT INTERROGATION: LOWEN CONJURE UP SOME MAJESTIC DOOM
Fresh from releasing their wonderful debut album, two-thirds of doom outfit Lowen tell ZT how they came to be an entity and why they like it slow and mystifying.
It’s fair to say that doom metal has enjoyed a fantastic time of late, with the likes of Pallbearer, YOB and more releasing some of their finest work in recent years, while the old masters in Sleep, The Obsessed and others just keep going. That can make it difficult to stand out for anyone fresh to the scene, but London-based trio Lowen have made a great attempt at doing so.
Melding elements of doom and stoner metal with a progressive edge and Middle Eastern charm (mostly through vocalist Nina Saeidi’s majestic voice), they’ve crafted five mesmerising songs on their debut ‘A Crypt in the Stars’ which was released earlier this summer. It even managed to earn an impressive 4.5 review in issue 85 of ZT, which isn’t bad for their first attempt.
To see what made them think the world needed another doom band and how their cosmic album was created, at ZT we fired a few questions over to Nina and guitarist Shem Lucas.
ZT: Firstly, how did Lowen come to be a band?
Nina Saeidi (Vocals): Shem, our guitarist, tapped me on the shoulder whilst I was photographing Akercocke at the London Underworld to pay me a compliment about my hair. It turned out we liked a lot of the same music and we were both rabid about a lot of the same bands. Shortly after that night he sent me a demo and the riff was so good that I immediately started writing what became ‘Krenko’s Command’. I realised we could make the music I’d always wanted to make together so we made it happen. We found Louis our drummer and started work on the record in February 2017, we finished and recorded the album less than nine months later.
Shem Lucas (Guitars): I went to see Akercocke play their first show back after their big hiatus, I’ve been a huge fan for years and I was really excited to see them play again. Early on at the show I headed to the front of the pit and I saw this beautiful head of long wavy hair that wasn’t like anything I’d ever seen, it turned out to be Nina and we got chatting and we were both as excited for the show as each other, after that night we kept in touch and at some point she mentioned she’d like to form a band. I don’t know why but I didn’t fully believe her at the time (a lot of people say that kind of thing and don’t really mean it), but one night I recorded a demo at home of music that was inspired by a lot of bands we’d talked about. I think the next day she sent me a recording of her singing over the demo and as soon as I heard it I just felt like I had to do anything I could to make sure the world got to hear her voice because it gave me goosebumps, it still does.
And why did you decide to go down the progressive doom path?
Nina: It was never an active decision that we made. We all listen to a lot of different genres and kinds of music so there was no point at which we wanted to emulate a particular sound. Everything you can hear is us trying to get down to the root of our own creative expression. So I guess sounding progressive is a symptom of that approach to music. It’s a ladder that we’re trying to climb in order to reach something we couldn’t get to when we started, but when you see the next rung you’re compelled to keep going.
Shem: Each of us in the band have quite different personalities and I’ve had other musical projects in the past but I don’t feel my artistic contribution has ever been as truthful to who I am at my core than it is in Lowen.
What is it about the genre that you think lends itself to work so well with your voice and the Middle Eastern elements?
Nina: In my opinion the Middle East is the heaviest place on earth and doom is one of the heaviest genres I know. I didn’t choose to sing in a specifically Middle Eastern way, my voice is simply the result of someone who was raised in a confusing space between the cultures of the East and the West. There’s an element of sorrow and longing that is sometimes expressed really well in doom that I felt would work really well with the darkly coloured sound of traditional Persian singing. I had always wanted to hear someone mournfully wail over a fat riff so I made it happen.
Do you think this will help you stand out among more traditional doom bands and appeal to fans?
Nina: Perhaps, we’ve had really good reactions to the music so far. I don’t know what will happen when we start developing that, maybe people will find us too alien.
Shem: I think those elements will grow stronger as we release more music and become more established in what we wish to achieve. I consider myself a student of Middle Eastern music and I work regularly to understand and respect its inspiration in shaping my guitar playing. I’m completely self taught and my goal is always to play guitar in a way that expresses my personality and the way I feel. I love that about music, it can give a voice to emotions that you don’t fully understand.
How was the writing and recording for your debut album ‘A Crypt in the Stars’?
Shem: We live tracked the whole album in a day and a half, with guitar and vocal overdubs also completed in that time. It’s pretty crazy to look back and think we got it all done in that time now. Nearly every song on the album was live tracked in one take, and I’d stay in the live room after they were completed and overdub additional guitars before we moved onto the next song.
Nina: The majority of the album was jammed out in the rehearsal room and then refined slightly, so it’s a very muddy and basic representation of what we sound like as humans. We’ve already changed our writing style to be more focused on a different, more structured way of expressing the furies, sorrows and soundscapes that would be impossible for us to get out without an amplifier and some electricity.
What inspired the lyrics and themes on the album?
Nina: I can’t go back to the country my family came from because if I do I could be killed or indefinitely held in prison. I’ve spent my whole life in the UK, culturally stranded between the East and the West. It has often made me feel like a stranger, but it gives me a lot to write about as a musician.
The sense of destruction and estrangement that I felt because of this inspired the overall theme. Each song is a snapshot of the different stages of civilisation. You have cultivation, war, sacrifice, worship, creation – all expressed through the life cycle of a god.
The first recorded civilisation was that of Ur, in modern day Iraq. I did a lot of research into the religion and burial rites of that region and mixed that in with my love of the Dune series, in which Frank Herbert expresses that same sense of how time destroys even the vastest empires built on ideas and power. Acknowledging the fleeting nature of power brings me comfort, because it means that one day perhaps I will be able to go to the place that was supposed to be my home.
Most of the lyrics happened whilst we were jamming and I rarely had time to really go over and add to them, so a lot of it is expressed on a very basic level.
And was there anything in particular that guided the musical direction?
Nina: For this album the direction was mainly just what came out of us when we jammed in the rehearsal room. But it’s helped us realise what we want for the future, which is to develop the Middle Eastern elements and really start to experiment with what we can do as musicians. We’ve only just found our feet.
Shem: ‘A Crypt in the Stars’ features some of the first songs we wrote. As a band the temptation is there to keep things hidden behind a veil and rehearse and write and play shows until you have a prodigious body of extremely crafted work. But for me personally there is something about the early days of this band that was worth committing to record, you can hear how the different elements start to creep together, and I think it adds to the organic atmosphere of the album the way those currents ebb and flow.
How did you get the incredible album artwork produced? Did you have much influence over it?
Nina: We didn’t commission the artwork, it found us. The moment I laid eyes on Herve’s artwork I saw that it had every element of our album and our sound just sitting beautifully on the canvas. It was as if he’d mind-melded with us and expressed visually what we had done musically.
I tracked Herve down on Facebook and sent him a message asking him if we could use it. He’s a really kind and generous artist and I just don’t understand why his work isn’t more widely recognised. I still feel a leap of joy whenever I look at his art, it’s just incredible.
As a relatively new band, what do you see being the biggest challenges and opportunities in the future?
Nina: The biggest challenge for any band is finding the time and money to keep making music, but we’re already writing the next album so hopefully we can keep the momentum we’re currently experiencing going. At the moment we’re wondering if we should keep self-releasing or actively look for a label deal that would allow us to have a bigger budget or play more shows.
What are your future plans and ambitions for Lowen?
Nina: We want to play as many shows as possible, make as much art as possible and do it in as many places as possible. We’d love to be able to play around with the usual show format and experiment with how people experience our music live.