Atlanta newcomers Lowertown – aka teens Olivia Osby and Avsha Weinberg – are a charming prospect. Across their new EP ‘Honeycomb, Bedbug’ – their first for Dirty Hit – they spin properly lovely pop tunes that are a bit like if The Big Moon were more lo-fi. With a handful of singles and a debut album (2019’s ‘Friends’) already in the bag, they’re well on the way to carving themselves out a pretty special spot in the ‘stuff to get excited about’ list everyone obviously has pinned to their noticeboard. (That’s a thing, right?)
Words: Sam Taylor.
Hi guys, how’s it going?
Avsha: Hello! Things are going pretty well. Everything is really crazy at the moment, but we’re definitely not the only ones feeling that right now. We’re in London at the moment to record our next EP. We arrived a little while ago, quarantined for 14 days, and just as we finished quarantining, the lockdown was announced, so we’ve had a little bit of bad luck, but we’re making it work.
Olivia: We’re just grateful we’re still able to record and meet people outside. We’re going out to different parks and walking around the city a whole bunch just absorbing the new environment around us. It’s been really nice to get out of Atlanta for a while.
You guys met in math class, right? What were your early conversations about music like?
Olivia: We would both listen to stuff in our headphones while working on classwork. At first, we kept to ourselves, but then the second half of the year, we ended up sitting next to each other every day. We would check out the stuff the other one was listening to and find the similarities in our tastes and also give recommendations to each other.
Avsha was in a band with some Georgia Tech kids at the time, so he would talk to me a lot about the indie scene in Atlanta and about the shows that would go on all the time downtown. He ended up inviting me to one his band was playing at the beginning of our sophomore year, and that’s how I got introduced to the Atlanta scene and the community that’s a part of it. I thought he was the coolest person at my school for all the new stuff he showed me and all the great places we went to together. We ended up going quite frequently to shows after that first one.
My 15-year-old self would always look up to the college kids playing and putting on the shows, and I hoped I could be playing with them one day too. I really wanted to be part of a band from that point on. We were the only ones our age there, and no one else from our school went. We would share all these experiences and had all these friends from outside our school. It felt like our little world outside our high school bubble. It definitely was one of our first bonding experiences.
How did you make the jump from chatting about it in school, to making music yourselves?
Avsha: When we were 16, during the summer before our junior year, we took a trip to Canada together as we were becoming really close, and it ended up being the place where we became best friends. One night, we were sitting on a beach in Ottawa after stumbling upon a Lebanese Culture Festival. We were listening to music together through headphones and talking about each other’s solo projects. I told Olivia that I had some demos saved in voice memos that I thought were okay, and I asked if she wanted to hear them. We ended up listening to many of the ideas I had over the past few years. I told her that I thought that it would be awesome if she could sing on them because I really loved her voice and maybe we could write our own stuff together. She was really nervous but excited at the idea because she told me she had always wanted to be in a band, but she had never sung in front of anyone or made music with anyone before, and she knew I had a lot of experience with collaborating and playing in bands. But we both trusted that we’d both figure it out because we could see a lot of potential together. That trip pretty much solidified our friendship and started our music career at the same time.
Had either of you been working on songs previously?
Avsha: Yeah, we actually both were working on separate solo projects before we came together, and I honestly think that was a factor in how we ended up working together. I loved Olivia’s voice in her solo project Olivia O. I thought she was a super talented songwriter, and she really enjoyed the songs that I released under Avsha the Awesome. The Avsha the Awesome stuff was pretty experimental with a lot of weird sounds and time signatures and stuff, and Olivia’s stuff was really focused lyrically and showcased her amazing voice. I think that our experimentation and the learning process we went through developing our solo projects formed the foundation of what Lowertown is now. You can definitely see aspects of both projects in the music we now create together.
Where do you look for inspiration?
Olivia: People who are very close to me or have affected me (like friends and family), current things happening around me or in the world, and formative experiences and phases in my life, also music, pieces of art, films, and especially the books I read really touch me in certain ways that nothing other than a piece of art could. Seeing the way others express events, thoughts, and feelings is really inspiring to me, especially if it’s in a way I’ve never seen before.
Avsha: Friends and family and experiences that we’ve been through. I feel like change is something that impacts everyone’s lives, and especially when you’re young, the changes are really extreme, and there can sometimes be a real sense of instability, so I think that that general instability is something that pushes our music, and it’s something we try and present. I think entertainment is really important to my creativity as well. I put myself into the relationships and stories told through movies and music, and it tends to be where I get my weirdest ideas, myself put into awkward and uncomfortable situations. I’m sort of introverted, so my tendency to picture the worst possible outcome of a social situation is one of my most imaginative and inspiring states. It’s sort of a bittersweet experience for me because I can make myself laugh at the possibilities that I really think could happen to me while being social or talking with others.
What was the process of putting your debut album together like?
Olivia: It was a new and uncomfortable but also a really exciting learning experience for us. We set out with the goal of writing something that would be a timestamp of our experiences and our challenges at the time. We were both 16 when we started making the album, and the innocence and immaturity definitely shows in many ways, but I think that’s why we both love the project so much. It definitely feels like a glimpse into what it’s like being a teenager: first gaining freedoms and having all these new, exciting experiences as you are growing into a young adult. Everything feels so cool and new, and you just can’t wait to get older so you can experience all of it in even greater depth. You have all that excitement in the album, and then that’s countered with the intense insecurity you feel at that age, on top of struggles with making and keeping friends and dealing with people growing really close to you or grow distant. Everything starts to get more real and more complex at that age, and a lot of time at that age is spent figuring it all out.
Avsha: We had basic ideas recorded in voice memos (including some of the demos that we listened to on the beach), and we would record the general ideas in the makeshift studio in my basement, and I would either build different instrumental structures, or Olivia would write melodies or lyrics, we would record a song over 2 or 3 studio sessions. It took me forever to produce, but we were super proud of the project and we sort of just put it out.
Since then, you’ve signed with Dirty Hit – how did that come about?
Olivia: One of my long time friends from Instagram signed with Dirty Hit and ended up showing our music to Jamie Oborne. Jamie then reached out to me on Instagram, and we talked for a while about music and who I am and everything else. He asked me about my solo project and Lowertown, and I sent through some demos Avsha, and I had been working on for a while. Jamie was really into the demo for ‘Tourist Trap’, and we ended up talking seriously about signing.
Avsha: Right when we were about to meet the team and then sign, Covid hit, and everything stopped for a bit. Because we wanted to meet everyone before signing, we continued sending demos and doing zoom calls with the team. We realized that we wouldn’t be able to meet with the team for a while, so we decided to really try and get to know everyone through Zoom calls which was tough but necessary. We loved everyone and the whole family feel of the label and the artists. We ended up signing electronically, and worked together putting our new EP ‘Honeycomb, Bedbug’ out before we even got to meet anyone. We’re finally in the UK now meeting everybody for the first time, and they’re just as great as we thought.
What can you tell us about the creation of your new EP, was it put together during lockdown?
Olivia: This EP was a long time in the making. We started working on ‘Honeycomb, Bedbug’ right after we released Friends, and we’ve gone through 3 completely different versions of this EP: one with a more aggressive, punk sound, another with many soft and sad songs, but the final version ended up mostly being written right before and during the initial coronavirus lockdown in March. Corona definitely impacted the entire writing process of this project. The emotional state we were both in at the time resulted in us throwing out many of the older songs and replacing them with newer ones written at the time of lockdown.
Being cooped up and isolated for months, on top of finishing up high school online, created many shifts in the dynamics of our close relationships, our perceptions of ourselves, and our art. A lot of the songs that we had written for the EP did not resonate with us as much anymore listening to them again after all of these changes. Because of the dramatic changes, it felt like a new phase in our lives had begun and we wanted to release songs that resembled how we were feeling and what we were going through as closely as possible. Hopefully, these songs resonate with others out there who have a hard time getting through the changes brought one by corona. Writing them definitely helped me cope and process many of the events happening around me and the powerlessness I felt with the situation.
How do you approach curating the tracklisting for a project like that?
Avsha: That was honestly one of the most significant parts of this project because we had a crazy number of tracks spanning over 2 years, but we wanted to choose only songs that reflected who we are and how we feel currently. We needed songs that encapsulated anxiety and confusion that we were feeling just as quarantine started as well as something that felt like growth from our last project. We wanted all of the songs to take risks and to try things we’d never done before but also still feel familiar and not too far from home from our older stuff.
Olivia: From the beginning to the end of the EP, our goal was to put the songs in an order where you feel you’re taken on a journey through several different coherent themes and emotions. The emotions flow into each other naturally, and by the end of the record, it hopefully feels like a complete thought, and there’s nothing more to say.
What else are you working on at the moment? Do you have ‘big plans’ for 2021?
Olivia: We’re working on another EP right now that will hopefully come out soon after Honeycomb, Bedbug!! I feel like our growth as musicians is documented every project we release, so hopefully, this next project will be our best yet!
Avsha: We’re also crossing our fingers for things to be safe enough for us to be able to tour near the end of 2021. We’ve played shows in Atlanta and North Carolina and New York, but we’ve never had the opportunity to tour until this year when we had a tour scheduled opening for Wavves at the beginning of 2020, but to our utter disappointment, that got cancelled due to corona. Touring has been one of our dreams since we’ve started the band and hopefully, it will become a reality soon. We’re really excited to play shows again because we’ve been working really hard on our live set and our visuals and everything in between, so hopefully, it all works out!
Will you be making any New Year’s resolutions?
Avsha: I think we definitely will. I’m going to try and appreciate social interactions and people and being outside more. I’m definitely an introvert, and my room at home is my favourite place to be, but I don’t want to regret missing anything when I’m a crazy old man.
Olivia: Yeah, for sure! I’ve been struggling a lot with my confidence in myself like with how I look, my singing voice, or my general playing ability. I’ve been working on improving my self-image over the past few years, and I’ve definitely made some progress, but I have a long way to go until I feel comfortable with myself and my musical abilities. I’ve been doing stuff like singing in front of more people and showing others my music and not immediately leaving the room from being too shy or embarrassed. Also, photoshoots and playing live shows has really boosted my confidence in many ways, and hopefully, I’ll have more of those in the future to force me outside my comfort zone.
Lowertown’s EP ‘Honeycomb, Bedbug’ is out now.