Low Island are a Gang of Four fresh off the Oxford Tube touting their newest creation, ‘Search Box.’
Made up of musicians Jamie (vocals, guitars, keys, electronics), Carlos (vocals, guitars, keys), Jacob (bass) and Felix (drums, percussion).
Low Island started out as an accidental by-product of a theatre score composed by Jamie and Carlos. When the pair, who had previous form with a residency at The Warehouse in Leeds, began developing something more meaty and long-lasting, they hooked up with old pal Jacob and percussionist Felix to form a four-piece.
Think broken down house and heart-gutting harmonies offered up as the perfect nocturnal prism refracting and sharing the band’s inner workings and muted world.
It’s a formula that has attracted comparisons to Caribou, Radiohead, Grizzly Bear and even Arthur Russell, and garnered praise from BBC Radio 6 Music’s Lauren Laverne and BBC Radio 1’s Huw Stephens.
I caught up with the guys as they wound down from their festival season which saw them take the stage at both Kendal Calling and Latitude to talk about what is to come, Jamie’s mum’s makeup bag and a startling revelation about the sheer amount of loo roll that four boys need to make it through a festival…
When and why did you start playing/performing?
For me personally, my older sister Bea introduced me to Nirvana and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers when I was about 10 years old. She went through a grunge phase and got an acoustic guitar so she could learn how to play Smells Like Teen Spirit but lost interest pretty quickly. I’d go into her room while she was out, take the guitar and teach myself.
For Low Island, we formed three years ago. We are all childhood friends and were in previous bands together in various combinations, but this is the one that stuck. The singer had left the last band we were in, so it fell on Jamie and I to work out how to sing (it’s an ongoing process). Jacob was playing in indie bands, Jamie and I were DJing, playing in bands and writing music for theatre, and Felix was touring with jazz artists as a percussionist. Low Island was a way for us to pool together all of those experiences.
What are the top 5 searches in your Google history?
Is earth wool safe?
How much is a Swiss Motorway Vignette?
Reflections with Peter Hennessy
What is the secret to Jake Gyllenhal’s hair?
What band name alter egos have to tried out on your musical journey?
We did three gigs under the name Small Talk before we performed as Low Island: one at the Jericho Tavern in Oxford, and the other two in Manchester at The Pen and Pencil and at Gullivers. I couldn’t sing for shit and there were so many cables that you couldn’t see the floor of the stage. We all still have nightmares about how bad those shows must have been.
If you could thank one person for the path that you are on, who would it be and why?
Our school drama teacher and now great friend Lucy Maycock. She taught us about the value of art and how fulfilling it can be to be part of a collective creative endeavour.
Is a Jaffa Cake a biscuit or a cake?
A cake in disguise
What was the first tune you learned?
Seven Nation Army – The White Stripes
You’re taking on the world at an insanely unstable time, how are you using your platform to make a difference?
It is incredibly unstable, but it also feels like a period, certainly in my lifetime, where issues surrounding equality and the environment have never been given so much exposure. We need to capitalise, demanding big structural change from governments and instigating small but cumulatively large changes as individuals. As a band, we could always do more, but we do ask promoters to book female supports when we tour so that the nights are more gender-balanced; we ensure that our merch is fair-trade; we ask for no plastic bottles on our rider; we have a longstanding relationship with the autism charity Prior’s Court, and a lot of our songs deal with issues surrounding mental health. These aren’t things that we tend to shout about on social media because that’s not why we do them, but since you asked…
What is the most embarrassing song in your music library?
The Fame soundtrack. I had to play guitar in a production once. Very upsetting experience.
How do you handle a fuck up on stage?
There are a variety of responses:
Small fuck up (wrong note) – laugh, shake it off.
Medium fuck up (sing a song out of tune) – pretend like you meant it. Silent period of self-reflection on van journey home staring miserably out of the window.
Maximum fuck up (gear failure which means we can’t carry on) – reconsider career choice.
Who or what is your ultimate influence, musical or otherwise?
What scares you most in the world?
The death of my parents. I will be lost without them.
How does Jamie’s mum feel about being the star of the video, and, did you buy her a new lipstick?
It’s actually my mouth in the video, and no we didn’t buy her new lipstick. We probably should have done. Jamie’s mum’s role in the band stretches much further than lending us some lipstick though – she drove us to gigs when we couldn’t drive, she’s introduced us to music (Foals and Arthur Russell spring to mind), and she always gives us honest feedback.
Who is your favourite fellow bandmate?
Our tour manager Jake.
Which Spice Girl would you be?
Ginger Spice – I like how sassy and unpredictable she is.
Where and when would you travel back in time to perform?
I read Meet Me in the Bathroom last year, all about New York’s music scene in the early noughties. The birth of DFA, people DJing CAN and Bitches Brew in clubs, LCD Soundsystem, The Strokes. It sounded like an exciting time.
If I gave you an elephant where would you hide it?
In our studio to piss off Jamie (he lives there and hates it when I leave my stuff lying around).
If you could choose one song that you wish that you had written, what would it be?
Cucurrucucu En Paloma – the orchestral arrangement of Alberto Igleisas’ version from Almodovar’s Habla con Ella, sung by Caetano Veloso. That sounds pretentiously long-winded (because it is) but it really would have to be that specific.
If you could have anyone locked in a room so that you could torment them for a day, whom would you choose and how would you torment them?
I would sit Boris Johnson down in a room with a Cumbrian farmer, an Eastern European fruit picker, an academic/student part of Horizon or Erasmus+, a resident of Derry and whoever else I could fit in there. I’d get him to look them all in the eye, one at a time, and say: ‘You will be absolutely fine in the event of a no-deal Brexit.’ There has been no true accountability for his lies. It’s shameful.
Why is a raven like a writing desk?
Carroll allegedly wrote a lot of Alice in Wonderland at a pub called The Ravensworth Arms in Gateshead, so the raven was a writing desk for him. It’s a boring but sensible answer.
What is your greatest vice?
I am always late, I interrupt people and I’m a commitment-phobe. Copied straight from my Tinder bio.
What is the best answer to the single’s journey to answer life’s biggest and smallest conundrums?
You’re not the only one. Putting together the lyrics for Search Box and reading Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’s Everybody Lies emphasised the fact that we all share so many of the same concerns and anxieties. Commonality can relieve us of shame.
If music is the answer, what is the question?
What gets you through the day?
Tell me one thing that you wouldn’t want your mum to know?
How much we got paid for our last gig (think small not big).
What 10 things are ALWAYS in your backpack for a festival?
A portable charger that’s out of battery
A lighter that doesn’t work
An empty water bottle
A spilt beer
The debris of an anonymous wrap
How do you deal with band politics?
We’re not one of those autocratic bands with a frontman and his mignons. It’s a group effort and everything is decided democratically. If we can’t get consensus, we vote.
What is the best album ever made?
Today, After the Goldrush by Neil Young? Tomorrow, something else.
Daisy Sells | WRITER