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Exclusive Marc Lowe Interview, Part 1

When I asked Marc Lowe to describe himself (“who are you?”), I was expecting an answer similar to the opening of the biography he’s posted on his own website, which is: “Marc Lowe is a composer, an electronic musician, a guitarist, a singer-songwriter, a drummer (since middle school), and a videographer. He does all of his own album covers, editing, sound design, and mixing/mastering for all recordings via Logic. Marc also teaches both American and Japanese literature, as well as current events, translation, and other types of language classes as requested at the university level in Tokyo, Japan, where he has lived since late 2019.”

But that’s not how he answered the question.

In the wake of this blog’s first-ever interview, with mashup artist DoM (link to that here), I reached out to Marc Lowe, whose cover of Bowie’s “I Can’t Give Everything Away” (link here) I selected as “cover of the week” not too long ago.

Thus began a fascinating back-and forth that has produced more material than is suitable for a single post. So we’re in for a treat— today through Monday I’ll be rolling out a three-part interview with Mr. Lowe, each day featuring one of his videos. Today’s post will focus on the board question, “why Bowie?” as well as Marc’s discussion of today’s video, which is an original (not a cover). Tomorrow will feature Marc’s views on Bowie, and Monday will come back to Marc telling us more about himself, including his answer to that question, “who are you?” Astute readers of this blog will know that Monday is “Cover of the Week” day, and sure enough I’ll feature one of Marc’s Bowie covers.

(By the way, you can link to his web page, which has an enormous amount of material, here.

Q. Why Bowie?

A. That’s a great question, and I’ll try to be as succinct as possible, though first I need to give some background as to how I came to be a fan back in my late teens (around ’90/’91).

My introduction to Bowie — aside from seeing him during the ’80s a lot on MTV, though I wasn’t particularly a “fan” at that stage, and to this day it is my least favorite period of his — was not via the usual route, such as the aforementioned “Let’s Dance,” nor was it “Ziggy Stardust,” for that matter, nor even Jim Henson’s Labyrinth! Rather, I had been listening a lot to prog rock at the time, especially King Crimson, and one day I learned that Robert Fripp had played guitar on two of David’s albums, “Heroes” and “Scary Monsters.” At that time, which had already been a period of obsessive CD-buying for me (I went through periods of buying prog rock stuff, Ryuichi Sakamoto, David Sylvian, Indian Classical Music, Classical and Jazz, etc. before the Bowie bug bit me – unfortunately, living now in a tiny apartment space without even a single closet, I’ve since sold off about 85% of my former CD collection, since I listen to almost everything via streaming these days…), the U.S. Indies label RykoDisc were in the process of re-releasing Bowie’s “classic” ’70s catalog in remastered form, starting with “Space Oddity” in ’69 and ending with “Scary Monsters” in ’80. His entire ’70s output had not until-then been available in CD format, as most of the albums that had previously been released on CD via EMI, I think it was, without proper “full digital” mastering (they were labeled “AAD,” in other words… Do you remember those labels they used to put on the back of CDs, John?), had gone out of print.

This seems almost unimaginable now, considering Bowie’s current standing– which goes to a question about the younger generation discovering Bowie today you asked me, so I’ll get back to that topic later — but keep in mind that this was before Bowie had returned to the fray with his first solo album since the ’80s, “Black Tie, White Noise,” and was starting to look like a washed-out “has been” after “Never Let Me Down” and then two poorly-received Tin Machine albums, though I personally believe both had some brilliant moments on them. In any case, Tin Machine was not exactly a favorite among Bowie fans of nearly any stripe at the time, and many believed that he had lost the plot by the time that ’91/’92 or so had rolled around.

In any case, at that particular time I was especially interested in hearing “Scary Monsters,” one of the two “Fripp plays on it” LPs I had learned about, but it had not yet then been reissued by the label — it was the last one in the series to be published, in fact, coming at the very end of Bowie’s run of ’70s albums, a bookend of the decade, really, and, as I recall, there had been some sort of delay (CD pressing issues, perhaps? I really don’t know…) before its eventual release via RykoDisc. And so, I ended up buying “Heroes” as my first Bowie CD instead. Well, let’s just say that from the first notes of “Beauty and the Beast” I was intrigued, and by the time I had listened to the entire CD, including the mostly-instrumental “B-side” (or what would have been the “B-side” of the LP or cassette version, I mean), I was completely converted to the (Non-Denominational) Church of Bowie.

For the next several weeks and months of that same year (it was ’91, if memory serves), I ended up going (up the hill?) backwards and then forwards, buying each and every album in his catalog eventually, via the aforementioned RykoDisc series, most of which were also bolstered by “bonus tracks” from the vaults, things that, at the time, had either never before been released or, if they had been, they had only before been available as rarities or b-sides, and without the digital remastering. I also purchased the “Sound & Vision” boxed set, which featured tracks from the entire catalog and additional rarities. My favorite LPs from this period in his career ended up being, and still are (perhaps you can guess?), firstly, the Berlin Trilogy — though “Heroes” of course holds a special place in my heart, having been the first one I ever heard in full. From the earlier part of the ’70s I’d say “Diamond Dogs” (I am a sucker for dark concept albums, which I’ll return to in just a moment) and “Aladdin Sane” (I much prefer this album to “Ziggy,” as it is much more experimental and loose, in large part thanks to Garson’s piano flourishes and improvisations. I might also here add that I was born in 1973, the year of “Aladdin”…)

Of course I do love them all, with the exception perhaps of “Pin Ups,” which is a music-of-the-’60s covers/tribute album anyway and so not really, to my mind, a bona fide “David Bowie Album” (Notice How I Used All Caps There!), if you will. But now I am digressing again, indeed…

The second part of my answer to your question “Why Bowie?” is that, having become a sort of obsessed fan and, at the time, privately bemoaning the fact that Bowie had perhaps become a sort of “has been” (as so many others had — rather mistakenly — believed at the time), and that I’d probably never be able to see him perform live as a solo artist or hear new material that would be worth my time or money, things of course began to shift in the mid-’90s. This shift really started with “Black Tie, White Noise,” as early as ’93 (though, admittedly, I didn’t love that album the first time I heard it; it grew on me over time, however…), then the nearly unadvertised (though rather excellent) “The Buddha of Suburbia” of the same year, which, having been marketed as a soundtrack, managed to evade my usually keen radar until it was republished with a new cover after the release of the Outside LP in ’95… And then, of course, there was that LP, too, the vastly-underrated/misunderstood masterpiece “1. Outside,” which was released in late September of ’95.

I won’t go into too much detail here, since it overlaps, again, with another question you asked me about my life in Japan, but this album, in particular, made me an even more “rabid” Bowie fan than I had previously been when greedily devouring his ’70s catalog (devouring with my ears, that is), and, although I realize that this is not one of his most “beloved” works on the whole, and also that it garnered many mixed — or, perhaps, just confused or uncomprehending — reviews at the time, I feel that it was and is, as the slightly hyperbolic PR went at the time, his “Best Album Since Scary Monsters.” (And, at the time, indeed, it really was! It’s funny how this phrase was repeated again by many reviewers in 2002 for “Heathen,” at which time I thought, “Yeah, but what happened to ’95’s ‘Outside'”? A bit of revisionist history, perhaps!?)

It was also then (from ’95) that I began listening heavily to Nine Inch Nails (who were more popular than Bowie was at the time, with their award-winning, super-negative hard Industrial-rock album “The Downward Spiral” in everyone’s ears, or at least nearly everyone of a certain age who was living in the U.S. in those days), and through NIN I then also discovered other alternative or avant garde artists, especially electronic and Industrial music artists, such as Coil (who did some of the remixes for NIN on “Further Down the Spiral,” and the title of whose album “How to Destroy Angels” some years later inspired Reznor to endow his side-project, featuring Atticus Ross and wife Mariqueen Maandig, with the same name, presumably in tribute to Coil), Skinny Puppy, Massive Attack, Bjork, and so on. These artists too, then, in turn, have influenced the music that I myself have been making since around 2017 as a solo artist and/or under my solo side-project name, This Dark Shroud.

I finally saw Bowie live for the first time in ’97 on the Earthling tour at The Electric Factory in Philadelphia, P.A. in the States. (I had badly wanted to see the Outside tour, but I was staying in Japan at the time and so I missed the U.S. leg of the tour. Then, when he was finally on his way to Osaka, Japan, in 1996, to promote the Outside album, I had to “go back home,” as my study abroad program hours had run out, so it was rather unfortunate timing for me all around!). I was also lucky enough to catch him on the brief summer festival tour for Heathen he did with Moby in 2002, and then twice on the Reality tour over the following two years in Colorado, where I was studying for an MA in Japanese literature. I never imagined it would end up being his very last tour, so I feel extremely lucky to have been able to see the tour twice.

When Mr. Jones died in January of 2016 I was on a train to meet a friend. I can now still vividly recall the moment I learned of it. (It’s sort of like, “Where were you when JFK died?” for people of my parent’s generation, you know?) I was reading my newsfeed on my iPhone when I saw the headline, from David Bowie News, I think it was, and my eyes just filled with tears as I read and reread the short headline, followed by several minutes of my frantically trying to confirm (or, hopefully, debunk?!) the news, to make sure that it was, in fact, legitimate, that some prankster hadn’t hacked into the Bowie news account just to mess with people a bit, since, as I’m sure you yourself will recall, no one outside of Bowie’s inner circle had any clue that he had been ill. Well, once David’s son, Duncan, announced publicly that same day that, yes, unfortunately, his father had indeed gone on to the Other Realm where Starmen and Spaceboys dwell, that marked the end of an era, not only for me, obviously, but for all of us who had followed his career so steadfastly when he was alive and active musically. Everything had changed.

That night, or perhaps it was the following day, I sat down and composed an original tribute song to him on my acoustic entitled “Immortal.” This track appears on my “I’m a Blackstar” LP, and I also rerecorded it just a few months ago at home on my classical acoustic. I included this new version on my LP “We Miss You, Spaceboy,” released this year on January 8th in tribute. Actually, I have been doing some sort of tribute to David and his music for several years running now, releasing a single, EP, or LP every year on January 8 (and/or sometimes January 10, the “day he died”). You can find music videos for some of the songs on this year’s tribute LP on my Official YouTube page, including “Warszawa ’24,” “Loving the Alien,” and the title track, another original tribute song (though it is very much “electronic,” with beats and synth, rather than acoustic, like “Immortal”).

Q. Would you like to recommend one of your videos for me to post along with this interview? Why did you select this one?

A. This is actually a very difficult question/problem for me, since I have over 400 videos on my YouTube page currently to choose from (it’s quickly edging toward the 500 mark, it seems)! Should I include a link to a live video? a documentary? a music talk? a “regular” music video? Hmm. I’m really not sure what is best. So…

What I’ve decided to share here, after much thought, is this:

“The Dial Is in the Bathroom ’23” (This Dark Shroud)

This song was originally included on my first-ever LP completely recorded using the software (Mac-only) I currently use for all of my audio recordings (as well as to do mastering for my videos): LOGIC (PRO X). It was the first LP I recorded with a Midi keyboard for inputting synth and piano parts, synth basslines, and so on, as well. Before that, all of my recordings were guitar-based, basically. Actually, it’s a bit more complicated than this…

The song itself has, since 2017 — when it was first conceived and recorded for the first time — gone through many arrangements, mixes, and versions. The one I am sharing is the most recent one, from last year, and it was released under my dark electronica side-project name, This Dark Shroud, rather than as Marc Lowe, though other versions of the song have been released under my own name. The recording of this particular version can be found in context on last year’s LP “9” (again, under the artist name “This Dark Shroud”).

There is no one style I can claim to be “my style,” much as if you shared “Let’s Dance” with someone you couldn’t say that all of Bowie’s music sounded at all similar. And so, I’ll just go with this song and the accompanying video I made for it last year (which actually draws on two earlier versions, one of them live, layering them and adding different effectors to the visuals). It, along with my songs “Black Nail” and “Chaos,” both written before I had started using LOGIC and the keyboard, has been something I have come back to again and again over the years since it was written, and I have also performed it many times live in different versions, both solo and collaboratively.

Come back tomorrow for part 2, in which Marc delves deep into Bowie…

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