Canadian rockers Lowest of the Low had become closer to myth than legend after their break-up in 1996. Well-known and well-loved in Buffalo, the Low’s popularity here has continued to grow throughout six years of silence from the band, thanks in no small part to their frequent rotation in the playlist at bars across the area. Last December the band embarked on a club crawl to promote their newly released live album, Nothing Short of a Bullet. The two-disc set features one fully live CD and a second studio disc consisting of three new songs. “New Westminster Taxi Squad” has been released as a single, and ears hungry for new Low are eating it up on stations north of the border.
Guitarist Stephen Stanley recently spoke to Generation about the band’s long road back and their vague plans for the future. A 38-year-old husband and father of two, Stanley splits his time between duties as a rock star and as a graphic designer for Reel Screen magazine.
Stanley graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in English and art, but he said that his early aspirations were distant from these fields—“Music was always what I wanted to do.” Three of the band’s members—lead singer and guitarist Ron Hawkins, drummer David Alexander and guitarist and vocalist Stanley—began playing together in 1986 in a band called Popular Front. When that dissolved in 1990, they formed Lowest of the Low with bassist John Arnott. After releasing Shakespeare, My Butt in 1990 and following with Hallucigenia in 1994, the band parted ways less than amicably.
Stanley was convinced that when the band broke up in 1996, they would not play together again. “There was a lot of pressure on us—pressure that we didn’t need, pressure that we didn’t handle very well,” he recalled about the break up. “It just fell apart.” The band members did not talk to each other for about five years after that. “As those years went on, it was water under the bridge. We all lived in the same part of town, so we saw each other on the street and it was fine by then, but the topic of getting back together never really came up,” he said.
Then in June of 2000 the band received some concrete offers to play in the Toronto area and in Buffalo through their old agent. Stanley was apprehensive about the reunion. Thankfully, however, the band “started practicing to see how it would feel, and it felt pretty good.” Lowest of the Low then went on to sell out two shows at the Funhouse later that year.
After selling out Artpark last summer with guests the Weakerthans, and selling out two shows at the Riviera Theater this past December, the band has found that six years of distance was not enough to weaken its fan base. In fact, there are more Lowest of the Low fans now than ever before. “The audiences have been almost exclusively college kids,” Stanley said of their recent club crawl. This took him as a surprise because “people who saw us the first time around are, I think, more like us,” he said, referring to the ages of the band members, which is a bit beyond the age of the typical college clubbing crowd. He attributes this to the fact that their CDs have been passed from one generation of listeners onto younger siblings.
Their music, however, is the main reason that their popularity did not wane in their absence from the scene. “The music passed the test of time well,” he said, noting that their break-up itself may have actually helped maintain their presence in the Canadian music scene: “We had more notoriety when we were broken up than when we were together.” Staples from their collection, including “Bleed a Little While” and “Eternal Fatalist” have remained in rotation on stations such as the River and Edge 102.
They draw on a range of influences that blend together to form their melodic and richly harmonized, yet not too soft to be wussy sound. Lowest of the Low’s songs kick a lot of ass without resorting to sloppiness, and are complimented by refreshingly clever lyrics. Stanley personally cited Billy Braggs, Bad Religion, Ike Rielly, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Nick Drake as favorites and influences. “We all had post-punk roots, and the way we ran the band was a real sort of do-it-yourself attitude,” he said in reference to the fact that their somewhat folkier sound overshadows the band’s punk tendencies.
The next step for the band is as of yet up in the air. There are currently no plans to play in the Buffalo area this spring or summer, although the band has not completely ruled it out. As for releasing a new album, he stated, “It remains to be seen—we still have to write the songs.”