Telegraph Hill Records
PAM NASHEL LETO // Publicist
TAYLOR HAUGHTON // Publicist
For Lowlight, the ideas of band and family are inseparable – for them, playing music together is more than an artistic or commercial venture, but a way to form and strengthen a community. Keyboard player Dana Sellers, wife of guitarist and engineer Derril Sellers, says, “In my experience, the bond shared between bandmates comes through a combination of performing live, songwriting, and traveling - a relationship that lurks between family and friends, but is unlike either. The fact that I also get to share that special bond with my husband, is something I am overwhelmingly grateful for. I am not a spiritual person, but the shared energy of your bandmates on-stage, and the audience off stage, is nothing short of addicting.”
At the forefront of one of America’s most resurgent music scenes in Asbury Park, New Jersey, Lowlight is a female-fronted indie rock band that blends traditional Americana and roots rock with synth-driven new wave into a sound that is at once fist-pumpingly familiar and slyly experimental, a seamless combination of psychedelic grooves with country twang, screaming guitar riffs with lyrics that present surprisingly delicate and fractured narratives.
Although Renee and Derril were acquaintances and college classmates, their musical paths didn’t cross until years later when mutual friend and rock photographer, Mike Petzinger, brought Renee to Derril’s studio to record an album of unapologetically dark, often yearning, sometimes hopeful songs she’d been performing solo. Renee’s narratives of life at the edges and Sellers’ lush sonic palette and ambitious full-band production instantly clicked – those sessions, which featured contributions from Colin Ryan (drums) and Dana Sellers (keyboards) formed the basis of the musical collaboration that would become Lowlight. When their early guitar and pedal steel player, Tony Aichele, moved to Nashville to pursue a successful career as a session musician, Rey Rivera joined the band on Bass and MPC2000XL, completing the lineup that has brought Lowlight to its distinctive modern-Americana aesthetic that places them in the company of genre-defying acts such as Sharon Van Etten, The National, and Timber Timbre.
On any given day, a combination of band members can be found in the Sellers’ home studio, affectionately known as “Lowlight HQ”, busy working on and refining new material, rehearsing, or just rewatching Deadwood together. Every song is created as a collaborative act, often starting with Maskin’s lyrics and having musical ideas added by every member of the band until each song becomes a mosaic of their distinct personalities. The members of Lowlight have all played in bands since they were teenagers, touring the country with groups such as New Jersey’s Roadside Graves, or, like Rey Rivera, coming from a background of hip hop production. Of their process, Dana says “The thing we strive for most is to create something that feels new, but has the spirit of songs we love and grew up with.”
Lowlight’s unique sound began to come together on the their initial full-length offering, Where Do We Go From Here, released in 2016 on the BNS Sessions label. Renee describes the album as “being a mix of what we initially thought we wanted to be, and a lot of strong hints of what we were going to become.”
Their next release, the provocatively-titled EP Born to Run, proved to be a turning point for the band in several ways as their sound and process evolved, including being the first release written and recorded with Rey Rivera. Dana cites “Birdman’s Last Ride” as a standout song from the release, citing that the ten-minute long opus was “a studio creation; an experiment for us as a band that I really enjoyed working on. Brain Eno and Can came up as influences on that song, and it's one of my favorites to date.”
In 2018, they took a step that felt, to all of them, like their family was finally complete: the purchase of a tour van. Colin explains that “buying this van felt like a big deal because now we, as a band, had bills. We own this thing together and we need to make money to keep it on the road. It's a huge, bright red object representing all of the things we've always talked about.”
Touring and live performance have always been an integral part of Lowlight’s mission. Renee says that she’s “always admired musicians like David Bowie or Prince, who never failed to sing and perform with conviction. We try to do the same. Lowlight pours a lot of blood, sweat, and soul into the music we create, and it’s important to us that we take as many opportunities as we can to show that to people and have it translate in a live setting. We also believe in the old school ‘show biz’ aspect of the work. This is entertainment, and we take our roles as entertainers seriously. We want people to come out and see us and walk away feeling like they experienced something fun and special.” Rey doubles down on the idea, adding that he imagines live performance to be something like stand-up comedy: “You don’t know if you're funny until you try your jokes in front of a crowd.”
In 2018, the band was asked to open for The Pretenders on several dates of their East coast tour. “They took us to some of the most amazing venues this country has to offer,” Renee says, “and showed us the ropes of how live sound is done in larger rooms. We’ve also just as recently played in dingy basements that smell like musty cat piss and slept in a room full of dead wasps and mouse shit. We believe in the work and we do the work. No matter how big or small, or how comfortable or gritty a gig feels, we always come there to play.”
Endless Bummer, which will be released by Telegraph Hill Records, with vinyl distribution by Gruesome Twosome on August 16, 2019, is Lowlight’s second full-length studio LP, and represents the realization of the promise of their earlier releases. The record is a departure for the band, in that most of the songs were written almost entirely while in the studio to focus even further on fostering a collaborative, democratic, and communal environment. The result of this experimentation expands on Lowlight’s use of synthesized textures and intricate poly-rhythms, while remaining grounded in their country-inspired roots. “We tried recording these songs as they were being written,” Derril says, “without putting them through the rigors of live performance first. We're confident enough to try these things now. I feel our songwriting has progressed. We're proud parents.” Dana adds that, “for the first time with this release, we sound like who we were growing up to be all along.”
Describing her inspiration for the lyrics, Renee says, “I had been living in a really small, shitty studio apartment that was very uncomfortable to be in. I was in a toxic situation with a dude and I was also stressed out about making money. My one source of solace living there was a small sliver of the ocean that I could see out the window of my bathroom shower. That’s when I knew I wanted Lowlight to make a summertime record for people to play in Asbury Park in its peak tourist season, on the beach, in the posh bars as well as in our local haunts. I wanted it to sound lush and warm and beautiful. And I wanted it to be very, very sad.”
Musically, Endless Bummer sees Lowlight’s restless sonic experimentation moving further into new territory, such as the incorporation of looped samples on “Horsefoot”, stadium-sized rock on “Coastlines”, and a Pet Sounds-style “more is more” approach to layering sound on tracks like “Every Time”, which Colin describes as their most dynamic song yet, a massive sonic tapestry with “Five drum sets, countless synths, weirdo horns, a loon, it's all in there...”
Today, the band is ready and eager to get back out on the road to promote this new record, which they’re all intensely proud of – the only thing they seem to disagree on these days is what to name their tour van. When purchased from the band Community Center, it had already been dubbed “Rosie”, but Renee has been stumping to have this changed to “Otis”, after Otis Redding. Derril Sellers, looking up from a pile of disassembled audio equipment and unidentifiable wiring, wrinkles his face and says, “Nothing has been decided yet.”