Whether producing an angry, young Elvis Costello, marrying a wild and crazy Carlene Carter or playing solo as the opening act for hip rockers Wilco, Nick Lowe is fearless.
The veteran British musicmaker, 63, is probably best known for writing "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace Love and Understanding," which Costello turned into a hit and Curtis Stigers turned into a huge paycheck for Lowe by covering it for the blockbuster soundtrack "The Bodyguard." Lowe also scored a couple of his own hits -- 1979's "Cruel to Be Kind" and 1985's "I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll)." But his latest albums, including last year's stellar "The Old Magic," have been low-key, self-penned pre-Beatles pop.
Even though his voice was croaky from a European tour, Lowe answered questions recently from London, as he prepared to return to Minneapolis Wednesday with his band.
Q What did opening for Wilco last year in the States do for you?
A I think it was really smart of them to ask me to do it. I know that might seem a bit off. But I am the ideal opening act. I'm no trouble at all. I haven't got any drums or thousands of roadies. And I do what I'm told. For me, it was great. Their audience is sort of my audience but they don't quite know it. They're much younger than most of the people who might come see me. I've been working hard to lower the age of my audience. Everybody's welcome. I'm pretty sure I picked up some new fans. I don't have a computer, but people who know about these things say that is the case.
Q Your new album, "The Old Magic," sounds like glorified demos. It's not as arranged and polished as some people might want.
A That certainly I have done on purpose. I like records that have kind of a homemade feel about them so you can hear the human beings at work on them. I think it makes the general public quite nervous. The other reason is that a lot of people who listen to my records are people in the business -- other musicians and producers and people like that. They never buy my records; they get them free. But the payback is I can pick up a cover song if I don't overpolish my stuff. That's how I make my living, is people cover my songs.
Q The song "Check Out Time" seems to address your own mortality.
A I always claim that my records aren't autobiographical at all. I make the whole thing up. I really am an old-fashioned Tin Pan Alley hack, writing what I think is pop songs. The first line came to me: "I'm 63." After that, I can't write about my own mortality. I've done it twice now; there's another song, [1994's] "Where's My Everything." They're not serious. Clearly, it was meant to be ridiculous. If it sounds good, I'll use it.
Q Have sales of the "Bodyguard" soundtrack picked up again after Whitney Houston's passing?
A What a question! I honestly don't know. I wouldn't be surprised if people are thinking along those lines. I haven't heard a thing at all. I've tried to watch the film a few times and I've never actually managed to see it all the way through. It's not really my kind of thing. I'm ever so grateful that my song is in it somewhere. I've never heard where "Peace, Love and Understanding" comes [in the film].
Q You originally recorded "Peace, Love and Understanding" back in 1974 with your old band Brinsley Schwarz. What sparked you to write it?
A That was the first original idea I had. Your first efforts are sort of rewrites of your heroes' stuff. I was fiddling around with a guitar one day and I came up with that line, even though it's a bit of a mouthful: "What's so funny 'bout peace, love and understanding?" I could not believe that I had this original idea. I remember thinking: "Don't mess this up. Keep it a bit opaque here. Don't get too specific or too smart-ass about it."
The idea was at the time I wrote it -- which was about 1972 -- the hippie thing was running out of steam. A lot of people who had been hippies were fed up with it and were sort of rediscovering all these other drugs like cocaine and alcohol and were very cynical about the whole thing. The song was written from the point of view of an old hippie, saying "Oh, you're all deserting a sinking ship and you think that I'm just a throwback. You've got your big clever new point of view now, but all I'm saying is, what's so funny about peace, love and understanding."
That was the original idea. It was supposed to be a bit overblown -- "walking this wicked world." I didn't feel I was walking a wicked world at all; I was having a great time. It wasn't until Elvis [Costello] recorded it, he put that sort of anthemic thing in it and made it sound kind of desperate and that was the thing where everyone connected with it. If he hadn't done it, that song would have gone in the bin with the rest of the Brinsley Schwarz repertoire.
- Follow Bream on Twitter: @jonbream