A new Lowe: Yep Roc Records helped Nick Lowe find his place in the new century

Nick Lowe

Nick Lowe

Nick Lowe has to pause when asked what he would consider "a perfect song."

"There's so many, aren't there?" says Lowe in a phone call from his home in England. "Doesn't that happen to you all the time? Something will come on the radio and you'll just say 'Aww, that's just the greatest!' Something you haven't heard in a few years and it'll hit you in some way. You think 'That's just absolutely perfect!"

For an immediate answer he picks "Clean Up Woman" by Betty Wright, but it's obvious Lowe has a vast catalog of "perfect" favorite songs.

Lowe himself has reached music perfection many times. His best known works are the songs "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" and "Cruel to Be Kind." That latter was a hit for Lowe in 1979 and the former has become a pop standard, best known from covers by Elvis Costello and Curtis Stigers.

Yet some of Lowe's strongest material has been released during the last decade on albums by North Carolina's fiesty independent label Yep Roc.

Lowe visited North Carolina this weekend to help celebrate the label's 15th anniversary. Since its inception the label has become what used to be known as "an artist label" — a company that champions talent rather than expecting every act to sell a million. Some of the artists are newcomers and others are acts that were established on major labels but weren't selling Taylor Swift-like numbers. Lowe belongs in the latter category.

In the early 1990s, Lowe made an album called "The Impossible Bird."

"I had really been out of things for a while. I'd had a difficult time, I think you could say. I wanted to reinvent myself to accommodate becoming older in the business. I'd had my turn in the charts and a pop star and I wanted to try something else."

Major labels weren't interested. Independent labels passed, too, except for one called Upstart Records, who put out the disc in 1994. It not only received critical acclaim, it sold better than Lowe's last several discs. The company, however, did not last.

"They made mistakes with other acts, which they freely admit," says Lowe. "They signed only people they liked. You've got to sign some real (junk) if you want to make money! They made a fundamental mistake, so they went broke."

Co-founder Jake Guralnick got out of the record making business, but became Lowe's manager in the United States. Co-founder Glenn Dicker moved to North Carolina determined to try again. Lowe says he was happy to sign on.

Lowe says he certainly isn't bitter about his time with the majors.

"Why would I be bitter? I had an absolutely fantastic time. But there's no doubt that the way things are now it's a do-it-yourself attitude. You can make a pretty good record in your bedroom. The result is we're living in a tsunami of pretty good, which is the new (garbage). It's incredibly hard to find anything exceptional. In fact, if you hear anything that's really, really terrible it's like a breath of fresh air! 'Wow! Real talent!'"

Lowe says he's in no rush, but he's thinking of making an album of happy songs.

"I don't mean exactly like 'Oh, honey, Sugar, Sugar,' but not far off that, but they're very hard to write. It's much easier to write songs about how fed up you are. And with the cheerful songs, you have to make them so you want to hear them again. I don't hear optimistic and cheerful songs these days ... I'm the sort of bloke who's going to revive that style!"

Lowe laughs.

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