NEW YORK — Pop musician Nick Lowe says the trick to producing records by top acts such as Elvis Costello, Graham Parker and the Pretenders is knowing how to lie as well as listen.
The British rocker leads a dual professional life — as a producer and performer His "Cruel To Be Kind" single was a hit in 1979, but it is as a producer that Lowe has gained the most renown.
It is a role Lowe, 35, first adopted when he helped start the now legendary Stiff Records label in England in 1976. He quickly learned good performances must be extracted from musicians "without them noticing."
"Some people, for instance, love to be closeted and fawned over and told how wonderful they are. Even if they know you're lying, they react to it," he said recently, sipping mineral water at a Manhattan hotel,
"Other people like to be bullied, believe it or not. There's all sorts of tricks, like if you want them to do something, getting them to think it's their idea. You have to be a real professional liar."
Lowe's humor and rambunctious personality are reflected in his infectious, pun-ridden songs, which have gained him a modest but loyal following in the United States.
He recently opened for Bob Dylan and Carlos Santana during a few stops on their European tour. Lowe will tour the United States this summer with Costello, whose sound he helped shape.
Lowe earned the nickname "Basher" for his ability to break a song into pop components. With Dave Edmunds and their band Rockpile, he virtually reinvented the phrase "pop" in the late 1970s songs such as "So It Goes."
They parted ways in 1981 and, for at least two years, were not on good terms. Lowe said the rift has now healed, although "it's very unlikely" he will work with Edmunds again.
He is disarmingly modest about his abilities, an attitude reflected in the title of his fifth and latest album, Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit.
"Cowboy outfit" is a British phrase from the construction trade. It describes builders who "use chem.) materials and botch the job, or they knock down the wall and then bugger off and leave it for a month or so," Lowe said.
Costello persuaded Lowe to include the song "LAFS" on Cowboy Outfit and let him produce it.
The album was a personal comeback for Lowe, who confessed he is not very fond of The Abominable Snowman, the album that preceded it. "It was tiresome," he said. "I thought the jokes and things in it weren't funny."
The new album is filled with humor, ranging from his favorite track, the "Half a Boy and Half a Man" single, through songs such as "Hey Big Mouth" and "You'll Never Get Me Up in One of Those."
Lowe occasionally off-beat humor has sometimes been a source of frustration. After he recorded "Marie Provost," about the actress whose dog nibbled on her dead body, he was deluged with unwelcome requests to record morbid songs.
"I always warn people when they come and ask me to produce their record," he said. "I say, 'Look, you realize it can be the kiss of death to have Nick Lowe. You'll probably get great reviews for it, and you'll love to play it in your dotage, but it's quite likely it won't sell anything.' People still have a go. While they do, so will I."