It has been several years since anything has been heard from singer-songwriter-producer Nick Lowe. Now he's back with a new album titled Party of One, a lively collection of country rock songs that picks up where such previous solo records as Pure Pop for Now People and Labour of Lust left off.
But it's an album that almost didn't get made. "I went through a real crisis of confidence, both professionally and personally," Lowe said. "I just couldn't think why I should continue making music, to the extent that I seriously considered giving up the whole business and getting a regular job."
It's hard to believe that Lowe—the man who formed cult favorite Rockpile with Dave Edmunds in 1977, and who later enjoyed a successful solo career as well as producing hits for the Pretenders, the Fabulous Thunderbirds and five classic albums for Elvis Costello could ever doubt his abilities.
"I had my own very definite ideas about the way I wanted to record, and they weren't trendy," Lowe said. "I felt people were just humoring me, patting me on the head when I said I didn't want to use huge banks of synthesizers and drum sounds like everyone else.
"At the same time, I didn't just want to make a 'good old days of rock 'n' roll' type record. I felt frustrated and angry because on paper I was written off, as a has-been.
"Yet I felt that I hadn't really started. So I just sunk into this big depression for a couple of years."
Lowe also blames the separation from his wife, country singer Carlene Caner. "We're still married to each other, and we adore each other—we just can't live together," he said.
Sitting in an office at Warner Brothers Records in Burbank, Calif., and running a hand through his thatch of white hair, the singer seems anything but depressed today. He's upbeat and chatty as he talks about Party for One and credits friends such as Costello for helping him through his slump.
"He encouraged me to go on tour with him and just play a solo set with an acoustic guitar to get back in shape," Lowe said. "At first I thought, 'I can't do it,' because I'd been living this hermit-like existence for so long. But he kept asking me until eventually I said yes.
"Touring with Elvis was a lifesaver, because I met all these great musicians like [drummer] Jim Keltner and [guitarist] James Burton," Lowe said. The two later worked on the Party of One album.
Next, Lowe got a call from John Hiatt to play on his album Bring the Family. "That's when I met guitarist Ry Cooder," Lowe said. Cooder also joined in on Lowe's new LP.
Rejuvenated by these projects, Lowe started writing songs again. "It all happened very quickly," he said. "Suddenly the light went on, the block cleared, and all these songs poured out."
Lowe turned to another old friend, Dave Edmunds, to produce the album. As it turns out, the ex-Rockpile partners hadn't spoken in years. "The truth is we'd actually fallen out over Rockpile when we decided to quit," Lowe said. After one album, Second of Pleasure, and five successful U.S. tours, the group broke up in 1981.
"But when I thought about why we'd fallen out, I couldn't remember the reason," Lowe said with a laugh. "Then the Fabulous Thunderbirds, who are mutual friends, got us back together again when they asked us both to play at their annual T-Bird River Fest in Austin last year. It's such hard work holding grudges anyway."
The result of the reunion is a refreshing blast of grass-roots rock with country shadings that Lowe happily calls "my best work in years."
"It's very dangerous talking about your own records," he said, "but I'm very pleased with it, and I've made enough bad records to know when I've made a good one. ... It may not be a huge seller, but I'm happy."
Lowe denied that the title, Party of One, carries any deep significance because of his recent troubles. "I really didn't think that deeply about it. It was purely a joke about eating alone," the Englishman said. "I just find it really strange that American restaurants seem to think there's something wrong with you if you eat alone, and they have that silly phrase 'party of one.' "
The veteran performer, who turns 41 this year, began his career in the late '60s as lead singer and bassist for seminal British rockers Brinsley Schwarz. When the group disbanded in 1975, Lowe pursued a successful career as a solo artist and a producer for such emerging talents as Graham Parker and Costello.
"I like being able to bounce between my own projects and others and keep a fairly low profile," said Lowe, who is considering touring. to promote Party of One. "I never wanted to be a huge star anyway. If I do tour, it'll be small, intimate clubs only. I hate stadium shows, and I wouldn't change places with Phil Collins or Bruce Springsteen for anything. Honest."