Having the fortune of growing up on the musically fertile ground of Oxford pathed the way for electro group Low Island instilling a notion that an artistic career could be a handsome reality with self-belief and endurance. Lead vocalist Carlos Posada's kindly gave his time and insight to set the scene and travel back further: "Oxford has been an important city for us. When we were growing up: Foals were playing their first shows at what used to be the Zodiac and is now the O2 Academy, and a little later on Glass Animals started to take off."
"There was always the shadow of Radiohead too - definitely the most important influence for us Oxford-wise, both in terms of the emotional resonance of their music and also in their approach to the more artistic and technical side (artwork, music videos, production etc.) And whilst the bands were all totally different in style, the one thing that connected them was a free-spirited approach to the way they made music - not feeling bound by a particular genre, just making music that felt true and exciting to them." That, it appears, is the heftiest influence that the home environment has had on the Lows and their approach to their craft.
Existing for four years now as an outfit, Jamie Jay, Felix Higginbottom, Jacob Lively and Carlos' involvement together predates that by a lengthy stretch. He recalls, "We’ve all been playing music in various combinations since we were 13 years old, Jacob and I even earlier- from the age of 10 or so- sometimes together, sometimes apart. Felix was involved with jazz, touring with artists like Snarky Puppy, and Bill Laurence, Jamie, Jacob and I were playing in indie bands. Jamie and I were also DJing a fair amount - we had a residency named Filth at The Warehouse in Leeds (it lived up to its name)." Forming Low Island was a process of assimilating their experiences by taking their favourite aspects from their involvement in the various projects and stitching them all together." The natural springboard for that was looking at ways to have synths, electronics and guitars side by side," he extends.
Conceiving a bubble in rural France, the band rented a barn together, allowing them the freedom to continue writing and recording music when a number of society had to pause. "We were very lucky to have access to a beautiful space for relatively cheap that we could turn into a studio, and also film live performances. It was very secluded, and also meant we could just lockdown together and not worry about being separated by any restrictions arising from the pandemic."
Posada goes on to relay the fun they had to me: ”Lots of funny memories; I arrived before everyone else on my own and had to get a cab from a train station; the driver had rigged the meter which meant the price was going up 15 cents a second. I ran out of cash about an hour and a half’s walk away from the house with all my bags. The taxi driver left me on the side of the road to walk the remaining distance on my own through the French countryside. Lovely guy!"
Another win for the lads is found in the song Don't Let The Light In, reaching new audiences far and wide across the land when it was selected as part of the soundtrack for video game FIFA 21 in a tradition spanning over twenty years. However, this sensational newsflash did not arrive with a fan fair and pomp. "I wish I had an exciting explanation! We are very fortunate to work with a great team at AWAL (who we distribute all of our music through). Our music was pitched to FIFA, and they said yes. We don’t have a manager, and we aren’t signed to a label, so whenever someone takes a punt on a DIY band like us, we just feel very grateful."
Recent single In Your Arms is eerily beautiful, swirling and misty. It manifests a peculiar yet satisfying atmosphere, with the synth and guitar lines blended without edge. The electronic rhythm enables the track spun in a DJ set, yet, it also could sit comfortably played in any space imagined. The songwriter shares his thoughts: "In Your Arms is dedicated to my childhood bedroom. We stayed in Oxford working on music after all of our friends left and moved to other cities; they all got real jobs, started moving in with partners, getting promotions and doing adult stuff."
Meanwhile, Carlos was still in the bedroom he grew up in trying to write songs that he was not convinced anyone would ever hear. "Over the course of the 25 years I’d been in that room, the view changed; the old lady living behind us died, and a young family moved in; 3 different families passed through as next-door neighbours on one side, two on the other; people my age who had lived around us were coming back home on the weekends with their kids; all my siblings moved out; various relationships ended, or crashed and burned before take-off; seasons would come and go, but there we were, still working in Oxford on music that we were never sure (and still aren’t sure) would get us anywhere."
His chamber took on this ominous heaviness - a constant whilst everything around it changed, but also a stark reminder that life was not moving forward."It sounds lame, but that room means a hell of a lot to me. And I know everyone has spaces or things like that, loaded with nostalgia and conflicting emotions. In Your Arms is an attempt to capture those feelings and celebrate that relationship, with whatever it might be."
The video, animated by Bristol's Patrick Atkins, uses surreal imagery brought to life where grainy, crackled footage follow a lone figure on his wander over and under differing muted landscapes. With some ridiculously brilliant animated videos around at the moment (Everything Everything, Strokes, Myd etc.), our deep thinker ponders about whether this is due in part to the pandemic. "It has been practically easier to work with animators because of everything going on at the moment, but that actually wasn’t our main motivation. We’ve always loved collaborating with artists outside of our own field, and animation is a really fun medium to work with because there are fewer limitations and more scope for imagination; you can have levitating objects or a character dancing in a field, which turns into an ocean, which turns into a motorway, without completely blowing the bank!"
"We’re fascinated by the process too, there’s so much craft involved which we still don’t understand. In the case of Patrick, we talked about the themes of the song, exchanged ideas about artists we felt were relevant, like Rachel Whiteread and Robert Kipniss, and then pretty much left Patrick to it. He is a genius and total joy to work with; he captured the song beautifully."
When COVID-19 hit, the boys figured the best chance they had of still existing as Low Island at the end of it was to become as self-sufficient as possible. Part of that included releasing music through their fresh from the oven label Emotional Interference and managing themselves. Carlos concludes our natter, "It’s upped the workload A LOT. I do the management and accounting, Felix is in charge of everything to do with the label and merch, Jamie is in charge of the live show and production, Jacob oversees the campaign. It also means we’ve had to start using words like campaign. And in that I think is the hardest bit of doing it all on your own - not losing your head in all of the business stuff. Ed O’Brien once said in an interview that the art comes first, the commerce follows. I say that to myself most days."
Article by Beverley Knight