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Nick Lowe willingly shows his 'Age'

  • Story Highlights
  • Nick Lowe has steered away from conventional pop stardom
  • New album, "At My Age," another mature work
  • 58-year-old now has a 2-year-old son
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By Todd Leopold
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(CNN) -- Nick Lowe knows something about the fickleness of fame.

Back in 1970, his then-band, Brinsley Schwarz, was scheduled to make a big splash at a New York concert arranged by the group's manager. But the British journalists flown in by the label were late and inebriated, trashed the concert, and Brinsley Schwarz retreated to England.

At the end of the decade, Lowe -- by then a producer or sideman for a host of punk/New Wave acts -- had his own Top 40 hit, "Cruel to Be Kind." But the hits didn't keep on comin', and Lowe spent the '80s trying to find his place in a changing pop world.

Now it's 2007, and the "headmaster of British rock" -- so-called by a clever publicist -- is out with his first album in six years, "At My Age" (Yep Roc). It comes after a career renaissance in the '90s as well as what Lowe, 58, calls "events, events, events" -- the birth of his son, the death of his parents -- that kept him away from the recording studio after 2001's "The Convincer." Photo Gallery: Colleagues of the "headmaster" »

Lowe talked to CNN about his career, "At My Age" and his young son in an interview from New York. The following is an edited transcript.

CNN: What has changed for you since the '70s and '80s?

The Nick Lowe file

Born: March 25, 1949, in Woodchurch, Suffolk, England

Bands: Kippington Lodge, 1965-69; Brinsley Schwarz, 1969-75; on and off with Rockpile, 1976-81; Noise to Go, early '80s; Little Village, 1992; solo, 1975-present

Notable albums: "Pure Pop for Now People" (aka "Jesus of Cool"), 1978; "Labour of Lust," 1979; "The Rose of England," 1985; "The Impossible Bird," 1994; "The Convincer," 2001; "At My Age," 2007

Songs include: "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," "I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass," "I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll)"

Coming up: Working on a one-hour BBC TV special; plans to tour late this year

NICK LOWE: Well, I can best explain it by saying that when my brief career as a pop star came to an end -- I think of it as about two or three years in the late '70s and early '80s -- I was always ready for it to finish. ... And when it came to an end, I was quite relieved, because I was completely exhausted and wrung out and an alcoholic. I'd just had it.

But when I started to recover a bit, I thought ... I'd done pretty well. Why was it [then] that I am now on the scrap heap, when I don't feel as if I'd really done anything yet? So I started to see how I could plan to use the fact that I was getting older ... as an advantage, the same way you see in jazz or blues, where an artist can't BE too old. ...

It took quite a long time to catch on. ... I lost a lot of fans, but I gained a whole new audience, who didn't really like my old stuff very much. So it's quite interesting to see how it worked. Of course, I kept a lot of people as well -- I kept a lot of my old fans as well and I'm very grateful for that.

CNN: As one of your old fans, I see [your work] as kind of all of a piece. Many musicians change styles, try new things, but if I listen to, say, "New Favourites" from Brinsley Schwarz, there's [a throughline] to the songs on "At My Age."

LOWE: That's very gratifying to hear. I know what you mean. I suppose I was lucky in that when I was much younger, I always wanted to be older than I was. I always looked up to older musicians and the styles of music that I used to try to find my own style always kind of harked back to an earlier time. ... So as I grew older I grew into them.

CNN: One thing about this record -- it feels muted. Not necessarily melancholy, but muted. Is that a conscious choice, or were you just not in the mood [for brighter sounds]?

LOWE: I think it's probably just not in the mood. I will actually turn my hand to almost anything if I can get behind it.

When it comes to writing songs -- the longer I do it, the more baffling the process is, the less you actually know how it works. ...

But if you come up with a nice provocative title, or a provocative idea, like in [the new album's] "The Club" -- you know, I thought, "That's a really good idea, this place that people go who are so fed up they don't actually want to talk to each other or hear what anybody else has to say. I actually kind of like that idea." Or the [caddish] man who trained [women] to love him ["I Trained Her to Love Me"]. ... But you're just grateful [for the ideas], is all I can say.

CNN: You called this album -- and it may be true of the three previous ones -- "a diary set to music," at least some of the songs.

LOWE: Actually, that quote from the press release has really dogged me on this, because it started out a misprint. It was a misunderstanding. What I was saying was exactly the opposite, that I DON'T set my diaries to music. I think I said something like, "People THINK I do," but it came out that I do.

But I know what I'm singing about. If I'm faced with terrible tragedy, I don't suddenly say, (loudly) "Bring me a guitar, immediately! I'm going to start playing." ... For instance, in "I Trained Her to Love Me," when I say, "I," I don't want people to think that it's ME I'm talking about. It's a thought that occurs to you, and it's followed shortly by this sad character singing this song that I just make up.

But I do know what I'm singing about, I know what it feels like to feel really blue or really happy. I know what I'm singing about in that respect. But it's not exactly me at all, my diary at all. There's plenty of people who do do that, but I never know what they're talking about.

CNN: Randy Newman has the same situation. He writes these songs about various characters, and people think that they're him. But [as a songwriter] you have to have empathy for the person.

LOWE: Certainly. You do have to have empathy in order to make them sound convincing. Well, Randy Newman is the best. He's the best there is. I couldn't really mention my name in the same breath.

CNN: I understand you have a 2-year-old child now?

LOWE: Yes, he suddenly turned up, quite unexpectedly. Well, not entirely unexpectedly.

CNN: Does that give you new energy or drain your energy, having a little one around?

LOWE: Well, it's an absolute drain on the energy. He's a blooming nuisance, let's face it. There's a tremendous amount of nonsense talked about the joy of childbirth. (mock anger) But especially [for] someone like myself who's led an almost entirely selfish existence up until this time -- I came and I went as I pleased, I answered to nobody -- and all of a sudden along he comes, AND his dear ma-ma. Suddenly, I have to worry about what THEY'RE doing ahead of myself! This is outrageous.

(laughs) He's absolutely super. I adore him, of course I do. But it is strange how nature has it, that you fall in love with this creature because if you didn't, you would just sort of chuck it out or leave it by the side of the road or something, because they're such a nuisance and tiresome. But instead, you can't remember any of the horrible stuff. There I am, changing nappies with a whistle and a smile on my face, which I never, ever thought would happen. ...

So it is quite late in life, along comes my boy. [His name is] Roy. Royston for posh, but Roy he will answer to.


CNN: Well, you certainly have plenty of opportunities now to pick up the guitar and say, "Roy, this was one of my favorites."

LOWE: Oh, well, he'd prefer to hear lots of other people apart from me. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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