Photo: Shamshawan Scott
Olivia Osby and Avsha Weinberg always knew they wanted to make music. The difficult part came when the inevitable questions of how and with who would arise. At least that was the case until a chance encounter in a high school math class in suburban Atlanta, which would eventually serve as the birthplace for Lowertown. Now, a few odd years later Olivia and Avsha find themselves signed to Dirty Hit, home to the likes of The 1975 and beabadoobee, and aiming to make their most ambitious project to date.
"The Gaping Mouth," a sprawling confessional that blends soft-spoken lyricism bordering on avant-garde poetry and experimental indie rock instrumentation, arrives as the first taste of that ambition. The titular single from their forthcoming EP, set to release September 16, feels like a daring call to arms, a single firework shot in the dark, impossible to ignore and indistinguishable. Most notably of all, it feels like a noted maturation for the duo, a step forward into new, uncharted territory.
On the new single, Osby ponders on the object of her affection, or rather attention, repeatedly uttering the lines "You are the iris in my eye" until they no longer seem to be coming from her, taking on the weight of a mantra spoken outside herself. It's only one such instance of the duo's newfound stream-of-conscious lyrical approach, which sees them ruminating on the fallacy of growing up and the associated fantasies that come with it. All of this is complemented by the duo's fearless instrumentation and production flourishes, which call to mind everything from experimental '90s indie rock to the sonic detours that permeated Sufjan Steven's early works.
We had the chance to speak to Lowertown via e-mail about the difficulties of shifting from "teenagerdom" to adulthood, the advantages of having a french fry fork and their bold new musical direction.
You two originally met in a high school math class. How did the discussion of music first get brought up and how did it lead to forming Lowertown?
Avsha: Olivia was a new student at the school, and I was shy, so we had sat next to each other for some time before we really had any conversation. After some months, I would look at the music Olivia would listen to over her shoulder and make small excited comments or jokes. That's how our friendship began, through comments about Olivia's love of emo music or my insufferable judgment on some new music I had heard. It took a year for us to start thinking about doing music together. The eventual forming of Lowertown happened on a beach in Ottawa, where I was again making a judgment on some new song I had found and decided to show Olivia some of my demos. That was where we decided to work together. Those demos and others eventually formed our first record Friends
Were there ever any thoughts about pursuing music before that fateful meeting?
Olivia: I'd always hoped to be able to do music professionally, but it had always seemed like it was so far away from being possible. I always knew that even if my solo music did not work out as a career, I wanted to work in the music field. Whether that was becoming a manager for other musicians or becoming a booking agent, I knew for a long time I wanted to be surrounded by music no matter what I ended up doing.
A: I had spent almost my entire life hoping to be a musician. I started playing classical piano at age four, and up until two years ago, was planning on going to a conservatory and becoming a concert pianist. As my taste expanded, I taught myself guitar, drums, bass, and production, all with the hopes of continuing professionally. Growing up, I was exposed to many different artists and genres, and I always wanted to give people what the music that I grew up with gave to me. The demos that I had recorded in middle school were the ones I showed Olivia and the ones that led to us knowing that we had to start a band.
What was it like signing to Dirty Hit?
A: The process of signing was definitely a difficult one as we had begun talking with the label only a few months before COVID, and as we were narrowing down on the decision to sign, it became incredibly difficult to see a scenario where we would be able to meet anybody on the label. We ended up having many, many FaceTime and Zoom conversations, wherein we were able to talk in-depth with the team and get a good sense of the label. These conversations were really great, and it was a great signifier of the relationship to come as we have had a really great relationship with the label. Although the signing process was tumultuous, we were able to grasp that the relationship between Dirty Hit and their artists was a familial one, and that made us incredibly excited to work together.
If you could have one thing in the world at this very moment, what would it be?
O: A good night's sleep. I have terrible insomnia and can't remember the last time I had one.
A: A french fry fork. I'm pretty exhausted with how messy eating french fries is.
Has the past year affected how your approach music at all?
A: In the past, I knew that the more I worked, the better I became, but this year has shown me that the times that you choose to completely leave some things alone are just as important as the times that you focus all your energy on them. I was completely drained of inspiration and motivation until I was able to sit and do absolutely nothing. The lack of music helped me realize that there was a lot about myself that I wasn't thinking about. I was able to learn more about myself and have new sources of inspiration and thought.
O: For sure. This year has given me an excessive amount of time to get better at playing music in general since I've been on my own so much. It has also given me too much time to sit and think by myself, which can be beneficial for music but also pretty detrimental at the same time. I've ended up feeling like my old sound and writing process was really stale, since I had been writing songs the same way for years. I've ended up experimenting a lot with new sounds and approaches to songwriting, which has been extremely refreshing and I feel like it's brought out some of my best work. I used to put way less emphasis on instrumentation, but now that I've progressed a lot musically, I've written a lot of instrumentation that I'm very proud of and that has ended up developing into Lowertown work. I also learned a lot about production over this past year which has been extremely inspiring and helpful for my solo work.
How did you approach the songwriting on "The Gaping Mouth?" The lyricism and experimental instrumentation are honestly breathtaking.
A: When composing the instrumentals, I wanted to write a song that was very expressive and unique but that worked entirely on feeling rather than a traditional verse and chorus song. I wanted to write the piece with points that I knew the guitars would push Olivia's voice to the forefront and points that raised the energy around Olivia's words. Olivia's lyrics are so personal, and she always has so much to say, so I wanted the whole song to ebb and flow together with the identical, and occasionally reciprocal, emotion and intimacy.
O: Avsha sent me this beautiful guitar piece one day and it immediately connected with me, and I stayed up all night working on it. I recorded a demo take of the vocals, just singing/talking over the song where it felt right and natural. That first take I took at home at four in the morning actually ended up being used in the final song because it felt so emotive and raw. The first vocal take had an unmatched authenticity that we couldn't capture again in the studio no matter how many takes we tried. Our producer Catherine ended up falling in love with it as well and did not want to try to replicate something that was already amazing as it was.
There's a real sense of maturation present not just in the delivery of the single but in the lyrics, "Being stupid and being 15 / Being older and think I know who I am and what I want… / The way I stay the same and I never change." Is growing up or rather the idea of growing up a central theme to the music you're currently working on?
O: I had just graduated high school when we were writing this new project, and I was feeling extremely anxious about the trajectory of my life. I kept thinking about if I was doing all that I should be doing at this age and how much had I really changed since the beginning of high school. I felt like a lot of mannerisms and detrimental ways of thinking that had plagued me when I was 14-15 were still incredibly present in my life, and it felt pathetic to think that I had not made much progress on some of my biggest shortcomings since I had first become a teenager. I feel like at 18/19, you're not quite an adult, but you're no longer just a teenager. You begin to shoulder real responsibility and have a lot of agency over your life. It's quite terrifying being the one who has the power to make important personal decisions. If you screw up, it's on you and no one else. The transition from high school where you have assignments to turn in every day and tests and a crazy amount of structure (you wake up and go to bed the same time every weekday) to making music and creating with a self-made schedule can be extremely jarring. I'm still grappling with that transition, as my workflow can sometimes trail into six in the morning which sometimes becomes a problem.
"The Gaping Mouth" is the eponymous single from your forthcoming EP. What can people expect from your new EP?
O: It's gonna be leveled up from anything we've dropped before! This is our first project recorded in a studio setting as well as working in-person with a producer. We've matured since our last project as musicians and we've simply grown more into adults. A lot of this was written when we were 18 and when we'd just turned 19, and a lot of things happened at that point in our lives to write about. Our producer Catherine really helped push me to my full potential while working together. There are some louder songs mixed with some instrumentally dense and beautiful songs. There's a good amount of experimentation as well in this project that I'm excited for everyone to hear.
A: We've focused so much on our songwriting and composition; I think people will be able to hear how we've matured. I think this EP reflects our need to always change our sound and grow it. It's exciting because I think it's really fresh and still has our musical roots sewn into the core.
And what's one thing you hope people take away from this next stage of your music?
A: I hope people are able to see the world and the story that we want to create with our music. I hope people can see that our sound will always be maturing and that our music can be surprising and exciting.
O: I feel like our fan base has grown alongside us. Lowertown has been a project since we were 16 and it feels like it has already come so far, which is so amazing and I'm really thankful for everything that's happened thus far. I hope our music can continue to authentically capture each stage of life Avsha and I live through while making music together. This record was written fresh after graduating high school, so I hope those who are grappling with the jarring transition from teenagerdom to adulthood can find some solace in the feelings expressed in this record.
What is your go-to fast food order?
O: We're both pescatarian so sometimes finding easy fast food can be annoying. I'm a big burrito person so I'll always get a bean burrito with a ton of veggies.
A: A universal choice for me in any fast food place would be an extra large order of fries, or however many is the most they offer, and a large Diet Coke. There were points during this year where every day of the week was punctuated with an absurd amount of McDonald's fries and hot sauce.
Who are your Ones To Watch?
O: Pretty Sick , Horse Jumper of Love, N0v3l
A: Uboa, OOIOO, Donzii