Countdown to SXSW Showcase: Who is Lowell Thompson?
Words by Eva Weber. Photo by Sophie Ward.
Last week I sat down with Lowell Thompson, the enigmatic songster who sings "Junkie Blues" and "Rose Petals." He will join five bands to perform at our SXSW Music Showcase on Wednesday here in Burlington, and at SXSW in Texas this March. Lowell grew up going to local Burlington music venue 242 Main and began playing after winning a songwriting contest as a young adult. Subsequently, his group of musically talented friends organically evolved in and out of different groups until it reached a peak with his current band. The four have been playing together now for eight years, have put out three albums, and played all over the country. With confidence and humility, Lowell described how lucky he was to have had the "great musical experience" he's had with these "great players." He's played mostly in the Northeast with the band; in the South and out West as a solo artist. Particular fondness was paid to The Basement, a cozy music venue in Nashville, and The Living Room in Lower Manhattan. One might say that Lowell could make a home out of any stage he plays.
Lowell has been writing his songs since before "Lowell Thompson" the musical force was born. Describing his writing style as fairly intuitive, he admits that while he trusts the band to understand his vision for songs, it can be "a scary thing to give up your baby, to set it free and see where it goes." Lowell writes mostly about love and relationships, although he was quick to point out that they're not necessarily born that way, or autobiographical. His approach to song material is more fluid than that. His motto is "if it happens it happens;" if it sounds good, it's good.
He draws from a lot of different influences, giving his style the spur-of-the-moment all-encompassing demi-label of "all-country, steel, classical, folky, late 60s, Americana vibe, with punk and soul influences. Rock n' Roll." One might say he does it all, but he's happy as long as rock n' roll is still the heart of it. Over the years, he says his music grows and gets better. There are always new things to learn and new ways to explore things he grew up with. After fifteen years of ups and downs in the music industry, Lowell says his goal is always to make music he can look back on as having been true to himself.
Lowell has been to SXSW, the music, film, and technology festival before, as he used to live in Austin. He says it's crazy to see how it's grown; "It's a wild scene, a lot of people. It's special." He joked that he is most excited for the authentic Mexican food he loved when he lived there. He's looking forward to seeing friends, and talked about how as an artist at SXSW you always end up talking with like-minded musicians, and stumble upon things you didn't know you were going to hear. It's a truly supportive environment for artists. "Everyone's going down the same rabbit hole," he mused.
Lowell says it's an honor and inspiring to be a part of the group of bands representing Vermont this year at SXSW. In two words, Lowell describes his sentiments about the opportunity: "really cool." Just like Lowell, himself.