Fascinating guy, Rob A.A. Lowe. Without knowing him or who he is, you might spot him at a rock show, wandering around the crowd, a tall, gaunt black man with an unfettered mane of a beard, wearing a perfectly unaffected secondhand suit and a jaunty, tilted cap atop a prodigious 'fro and think, Whatever that guy does, I betcha 10 bucks it's interesting.
That would be a bit of an understatement.
Leave a message for Lowe on his answering machine, and there's no Hello, no Leave a message at the beep. Instead, he quotes a passage from Aleister Crowley's Magick in Theory and Practice, an odd, mystical bit that starts, "It is just possible that the magi wrote their conjurations on this crude hypothesis," and gets more opaque from there. Ask him about his worldview, and he'll bring up Buckminster Fuller and synchronicity.
Lowe is the frontman for Singer. No, there's no relation to the alleged nanny-fondling actor, and yes, the band's name is Singer. Don't even bother Googling them unless you have too much time on your hands. Singer's shtick isn't easy, and Lowe's band isn't likely to be asked to open for, say, Jack Johnson in the near future.
Drawing members from Drag City postrock mainstays U.S. Maple and the remnants of St. Louis-bred 90 Day Men, Singer takes a willfully progressive approach to redefining musical boundaries — sometimes challenging and angular, sometimes eerily harmonic, at times drony and percussion-driven.
It's hard to capture this type of music without resorting to some vague and ephemeral adjective similar to a wine critic's use of the word jammy. So let's keep things simple. Let's just call Singer art rock, with an emphasis on art.
"I think we all have a fairly similar vision as far as rock music is concerned," Lowe says of bandmates Todd Rittmann and Ben and Adam Vida, all of whom have collaborated in the past under various incarnations.
"We're trying to create something that's not ever been heard before. It's the idea of trying to push things in a progressive direction, to try and create a new musical vernacular that we can speak in, a vernacular we enjoy," he says.
Singer's debut album, Unhistories, came out earlier this year, and the foursome will hit the Record Bar on June 20 on the tail end of a monthlong Midwestern tour.
At the center of the act is Lowe, a multidisciplined creative force who possesses the type of energy and wide-eyed fire you rarely find, though fellow Drag City acts Will Oldham and Bill Callahan (Smog) share a similarly prolific work ethic.
Lowe recently returned from Europe, where he toured under the solo moniker Lichens in support of like-minded Austin, Texas, postrock act Explosions in the Sky. As Lichens, Lowe focuses on hypnotic, looped vocals and sparse percussion; the music is all long pauses and meditative wails. With Singer, Lowe is more likely to utilize a falsetto reminiscent of TV on the Radio vocalist Tunde Adebimpe, and the crashing din is a far cry from contemplative.
The group challenges concepts of traditional song structure, at times sounding more like avant-garde jazz than rock, but Singer uses melody in spots and harmony in others, which wasn't always the case with Lowe's most prominent project, 90 Day Men.
With Singer, Lowe says, "We're trying to have fun. We put it out there in a manner where we're giving a real performance and trying to convey where we're at and how we feel about it. It's not something confrontational, which might have been the case in some of the other bands we've been involved in to a certain degree."
Beyond his work with Singer and Lichens, Lowe recently released a book through Thrill Jockey alongside his wife, Rose Lazar, with accompanying music. Keeping with the theme of magic, the book is titled Gyromancy, and it features drawings and artwork from both Lowe and Lazar.
"It's just another facet of what I do," he says.
"I really enjoyed it and hope to be able to put a lot more focus on visual art in the future. It's just a matter of maintaining focus and managing time."
For now, Lowe's focus is on Singer and putting in full-throttle performances for crowds throughout the Midwest that "aren't always huge but usually quite appreciative." At one of the group's first tour stops, in Bloomington, Indiana, Lowe and his bandmates trudged with their equipment through flooded, muddy streets to play for a small group of fans at (thankfully) a third-story bar. Living on the fringes of rock isn't likely to bring arena-sized crowds in glamorous locales, but it clearly doesn't bother Lowe.
"The way I feel about it is, I need to do what I feel is right for me," he says. "I like to place my music in a context that is pushing a limit for myself. If people are along for the ride, then great. If not, so be it. I'm not out to make people like what I do, nor would I want to make them. Whatever you do, it has to be on your own terms. That's where I'm coming from."