Val’s Chat with artist Lowell Thompson

He has one of those brains that can do sports and music. He claims they’re very similar disciplines in terms of strategy and passion. Add to that his ruggedly handsome looks, his love of the outdoors, and a sensitive side that sees the world differently, and you’ve got yourself one singer/songwriter worth a listen. Meet Lowell Thompson, an alt-country troubador who hails from Burlington VT and will grace the stage of Grace Potter & the Nocturnals’ hometown fest, Grand Point North in just a few weeks (Sept. 13/14).

Q: Grand Point North fest does a great job every year of putting together a stellar lineup, placing big emphasis on emerging local talent. You seem to fit the bill perfectly.

LT: Yes, this is a pretty special place. My parents moved here when I was born. I grew up here. I’ve left Vermont on a few occasions, but like a magnet, I always come back…

Q: What music did you grow up on?

LT: I grew up on my parents’ music – Rolling Stones, Little Feat, things like that. I listened to it more than most new music — I guess I was born in the wrong decade [chuckle]. Then I played guitar in punk bands in high school (my friends’ older brothers would take us out to those shows), introducing us to that style of music.

Q: What next, onto college?

LT: Right after high school, I was 17, I moved out west and worked at a ski shop (I learned to ski right after I learned to walk) taking a year off before college. I had my guitar with me and spent time teaching myself and trying to emulate certain artists… But I was never that comfortable with my singing voice. Then I started getting into artists like James Brown, Townes Van Zandt, Jeff Tweedy – and wanted to be like them; their imperfect voices made it work. I started to be okay with mine.

Q: I know you played D1 Lacrosse in college. I would imagine you were pretty busy; did you still find time for music?

Music and sports always fit together for me; my yin and yang. I was an English major in college, and I was doing more serious songwriting by the end of school. I ended up releasing an EP, and (reluctantly) entered a few singing contests – my buddies signed me up for them – and I won. That’s when things started to gel and I thought I could do this.

Q: You say that sports and music are similar disciplines. Are their industries similar?

LT: No, quite the opposite. The music industry is pretty fickle. It’s impossible to predict who will be a star… The sports world is more black and white: if you’re good, you’re good. It’s a more objective world.

Q: You’re an introspective thinker [as most songwriters are]. How would your friends and family describe you?

LT: I guess you could say I’m sort of a humble, introverted person. Like the John Hiatt song, I’m easy “Old School”. I have all sorts of friends in all sorts of fields, all different personality types. My introspective side allows me to understand that everyone is going through something – good or bad – and my line of work allows me to connect with people more. I might seem a bit reserved at first, but I’m interested in real life and real people.

Q: How did Grace Potter discover you?

LT: We’ve been buddies for a long time. We met, gosh, a long time ago and she’s been very supportive of me. I know all the guys in her band. She sang on my last record! I play backup guitar for other bands as well, and I played GPN fest last year with her guitarist Scott Tournet, singer/songwriter Joshua Panda, etc. This is my first year on the official line-up with my own music – I’m very honored.

Q: You play with a band and you play solo. Which suits your personality more?

LT: I love both, that’s why I do it. When I’m playing with my band, I’m so into it and get off on shairng the stage and the moment with them. Playing solo is a completely different beast. I love that too. I also like playing with outside bands; let’s me get outside of my own head for a bit.

Q: If you weren’t a musician, what would you be?

LT: [chuckle] Oh, I’d be dreaming of being a musician… Well, I was an English major – I’d probably be writing somewhere.

Q: Back in the day if an artist sold a song, say to a Cadillac commercial, it would be called “selling out”. What do you think about artists doing that today?

LT: I hate to poo poo anything artists do to try and make a living. Because people aren’t buying music, getting a song on a TV ad could be an important way to supplement an artist’s income. [chuckle] Of course as I think back, if my favorite Pete Townshend would have put his song on a car ad I would NOT have been happy about it. Haha. But truthfully, song placement lets fans know about you and then they can go check out the rest of your catalogue…

Q: Where are you more at home, in the studio recording (ie: making it perfect) or on stage live (ie: changing it up a bit)?

LT: Neither for me are the most ideal situation. Some live performances feel like it is… when things are going well and you’re in the zone and the audience is engaged… that thing you’re trying to chase feels within reach. Then again, I’m never totally satisfied, and that chase keeps me going.

Read more of Val’s artist interviews

Val’s Chat with artist Anders Parker

Val’s Chat with artists Dwight and Nicole

Val’s Chat with artist Rayland Baxter

Val’s Chat with artist Caroline Rose