A few die-hard Mirage fans will remember the Winter Warmer night a few years ago. We had performances by Dan Southward, Anna Milat and Jason Lowe in the loft space above Sol Inviticus Motorcycles in Hunter Street Mall (then known as Melisah May’s art studio), back when the mall was cool. That was the first night I really saw a local performance with a silent room. All three performers had everyone in the palms of their hands. I thought everyone up there had it all sorted. We were all hypnotised. It was really special. That was three years ago now.
Jason didn’t seem to let on back then the turmoil he was going through at that time in his life. Looking back, he sees it slightly differently. A career as a professional musician doesn’t just fall into your lap, it seems. Romantic struggles and lifestyle shifts have created a dramatic home for the songwriter. It turns out the sailing wasn’t as smooth as Jason was sharing with us that night.
Across the conversation we had, Jason explained to me how he’s transformed musically and personally throughout the making of his new record – Sorrow and Splendour. Although he has gone through many hardships (as we all do) to get this far in this life, but Jason isn’t one to share any burdens. As he says himself, this record is about transcendence – not self-pity. He has found a silver lining.
I saw a comment on Jason’s Bandcamp page just recently, saying that this music feels like the equivalent of a Bob Ross episode – and I can confidently say I have experienced that in every encounter I have had with him. We caught up at Goldbergs for this interview and Jason seemed as peaceful as ever.
So the launch is locked in for April 7?
Yeah, at The Royal Exchange. I am quite excited, and terrified [laughs].
After all this time you still get terrified?
Because it is a launch, yeah. If it was just another gig I'd be completely fine. I really love to play in intimate, quiet spaces, especially with these new songs. Having rapt attention, you can tell stories, you can hear the nuances, and you can really translate what you're trying to get across. The fact that this is a proper event is really getting to me, though. You have to hope that people will come, and if they come you don't get sick or something [laughs]. That's probably my greatest fear.
Would you say the album has been a long time in the making?
Oh yes. It’s been six years since the last one I released (Self-Titled in 2012). Three days after I released that record I decided to disappear to Canada for two years. I did all the promotion and shows and everything over there. By the time I came back, I had had my heart severely broken. I was looking for a sanctuary to hibernate and heal in after that. I didn't really play. It was four years ago that I came back to Newcastle. Everyone was telling me how much material I was going to write out of the experience, but I wasn't really interested. I was shattered. I wanted to go through and feel the depth of everything in full. I wanted to approach it from a place of transcendence, rather than self-pity. That was really important to me. And I needed time to do that.
It takes a long time to get to the other side of a big shift in your life like that.
Indeed. Once I was ready, I was trying all kinds of different methods to spark and stimulate the inspiration. Finally one or two songs came, and then a few more came in quick succession after that. It was a truly marvellous unfolding. It was such a relief. Years of really dense and traumatic experience were becoming instilled in these songs. It reminds me of something David Crosby said once: ‘You come here into this life as a kind of rough-edged boulder, and you slowly chip corners off of yourself until you're smooth like a river stone.’ I really came to understand that writing this record. I came out of this messy, confusing and devastating scenario with these songs as summarisation of the growth. All of the shifts, transcendence and wisdom that came with it. And then it took even longer to record [laughs].
Time to make a final decision on things.
When the time came to get into the studio we ran into a few roadblocks – engineers and musicians in and out. Adam [Miller], who was working on the album with me, is travelling constantly. The strings took six and a half months to finalise. I knew it all would be worth the wait though.
How long did everything take from start to finish?
Over a year and a half [laughs].
So you weren't doing nothing that whole time between albums.
I certainly felt like that at times. I was pretty hard on myself. It's one of those experiences when something really monumental is coming toward you in the distance – that distance can fly by and at the same time feel agonisingly slow. Once that final moment is upon you, it can feel like it was only yesterday that you started that journey. That moment was your focus the whole time. It’s very strange.
The hard copies of the album must feel like a very tactile representation of that time.
It is very surreal.
And you're disappearing to Melbourne next – are you making the same move as with your last album?
Yeah [laughs]. There have been a few difficulties lately it seems; The Commons closed its doors as well as the Black Malabar. In terms of getting an intimate performance space, which is really necessary for someone like me, it's really hard. I've been playing in loud venues my whole life, and I don't mind it, but at this point in time, after eleven years of doing it, I can't endure the pain as well as I used to. I want to be able to perform in an environment that enables me to do what I do best.
What are all the people who use you in their bands going to do when you leave?
I don't know! At one stage there I was in so many different bands – James Thomson, Dan Southward, Demi Mitchell, Georgie Jones, Grace Turner, Anna Milat and Lachlan X. Morris, just to name a few. It was a really busy time. I loved every minute of it. There's no pressure when you're in that role. It's great to be able to just colour other people's music. No promotion either [laughs]. You just get to enjoy playing. I hope they miss me [laughs].
I feel like I’ve seen you pop up by surprise a great deal. Do you see your return any time soon?
I'm by no means abandoning Newcastle – it will always be my home – but right now I'm going out on a limb to try something new. It’s necessary for my growth. It happens to me every two years or so – a ‘call to adventure’, as Joseph Campbell would put it. I've been solely focused on this one thing for so long, and happily, but now is the time to get some more living in. I know I will always be creating; it's a great part of who I am, but right now I'm trying to understand where I will be if this career in music doesn't work out [laughs]. I'd love to travel further, Canada or Europe, and just be a citizen of the world for a while. In the meantime, I’m hoping I’ll have a little bit more luck sharing this stuff in Melbourne.
There seems to be two kinds of people when it comes to creativity – ones who don't have a problem creating, and others who don't have a problem telling people about what they've done/marketing themselves. I think it's really rare you get both.
I really struggle with the latter side of things. I have had times when I've been able to do it in the past and enjoy it, but it's been very seldom. I literally find it painful to do [laughs].
I feel like it’s a fear that once you go too far down the self-promotion road, you'll lose focus on how to create as passionately as you have in the past.
It's a real problem. It's scary to think about maintaining the public persona that manifests, also – the one that's always playing it cool or something. You need to have a balance between the two.
I've noticed you've been painting with John Earle as well.
Yeah! John has been a wonderful friend and supporter of mine for a long time. I remember needing a place to do work experience in high school, and at the same time seeing some of his paintings in the Newcastle Gallery, which floored me. As an amateur landscape painter, seeing his work was profound. I'd been searching for a long time for a place to do this work experience and I'd mentioned it to my Biology teacher. He knew John from his old surfing days and so he mentioned to him my need for somewhere to do this assignment. He then passed John's details on to me and John took me on as his studio assistant. He taught me how to frame and make canvases at first – it was fantastic. We then became really good friends.
So if you were working with paint before you picked up the guitar – are you a painter who plays music?
That's what Joni Mitchell would say – she labels herself as a painter derailed by circumstance [laughs]. I would like to say that I'm both, but I know that my music gets more time and effort than painting does. I'm still trying to work out the balance with that.
Check out the soulful sounds of Jason’s new album at jasonlowe.bandcamp.com