Last weekend, Lowertown performed at a party. Besides the few live-streamed performances they’d done over the last year in one of their basements, the group hadn’t played a show since January 2020.
During this performance, and considering the year that had passed, they had been surprised to find they were more excited than nervous. When the other bands had all finished and Lowertown finally went on-stage, the unimaginable happened. Something they should’ve been more nervous about, but were totally unprepared for. A couple of songs into their set, the performance was stopped. The police had shown up and their appearance marked the end of the concert. “A noise complaint…” Olivia Osby, one of the members of the group, tells me recently over Zoom.
Atlanta natives Osby and Avsha Weinberg, 19, can explain this disturbance: since 2018, they’ve been doing this sort of thing. Specifically, making and performing loud, sad songs. Their music has tended to incorporate styles of indie-rock such as Beach Fossils and experimental electronica similar as Gemini –– though their music cannot commit to either genre. Or any, for that matter.
On their Bandcamp, they have tried to describe this sound as “a blend of electronic and lo-fi instrumentation with meaningful lyricism, and melancholy, narrative lyrics.” While that description still leaves a large question-mark when considering genre, it is safe to say they belong to Atlanta’s indie scene, a small subculture in the background of a city that, for the most part, is listening to hip-hop. (In 2009, The Times declared the city of Atlanta “hip-hop’s center of gravity; nearly twelve years later, the city’s official tourism site still sees it as “the hip-hop capital of the south.”)
“It’s gone through a lot of ebbs and flows,” Weinberg says. “There was a renaissance of [the indie scene] at least ten years ago, and it ended four years ago before we’d started getting into it. It was a very solid indie scene, and there were a few people on top that were kind of behind almost all of the venues and encouraged an open scene that said, ‘Anybody can give it their shot. Anybody can play even if you do something small.’” Osby adds that after the scene’s end four years ago, “it’s sort of in a lull now”. “A lot of people moved away from Atlanta because it’s not the most welcoming place for indie music. There’s not a lot of places to go, and there’s not a lot of resources for indie musicians here,” she continues.
What made her and Weinberg interested in making music that would later place them in the ‘indie scene’ collectively took more years than the scene’s renaissance actually lasted. For Weinberg, this started sixteen years ago at the age of three. He began playing classical piano before teaching himself guitar and bass because he wanted to record himself. In the years that followed, he naturally joined a band. This was around the time Osby started to get into music at the age of 12. “I’ve always been emo and I’d always write a bunch of poetry,” she says. “I asked my parents to get me a guitar but I got a ukulele. That’s a secret because I’m embarrassed I started out on the ukulele. I played for a while, and then I played guitar. I made a bunch of music for myself – very singer-songwriter-y.”
In the end, it was Weinberg who introduced Osby to the city’s indie scene as he was already familiar with its in-and-outs because of his band. The idea that the two should start their own band came about in their sophomore year. When it came to adding music as an extra-curricular, they had a schedule that sounded simple and strenuous. “We would finish our homework together, and then we’d work on our music,” Osby said. “It was very busy and very taxing on us, but we both really cared about it. It was hard work, but it was work we really enjoyed.”
That year, when this schedule first started, much of the time was spent trying to figure out what they wanted to sound like. In these early sessions of messing around, which would gradually carry over into their first songs, it was the varied influences from their youth that helped them pick out their first sound. The two acknowledge they grew up on widely different tastes. For Osby, her dad listened to a lot of country and “cheesy” ‘80s music, while her mother liked the “cool music” on the alternative music station. Weinberg listened to a lot of “classical, electronic and Israeli music” – he is a first-generation citizen of the US; his parents are from Israel – so this in itself could describe the sound of Lowertown’s debut EP, Friends, which feels like a culmination of influences from those early sessions.
As they got older, further into their teens, and made more music, a ‘teen sadness’ quality resided within the songs. A couple of months after going into their senior year, the pandemic started. Then they graduated––virtually. (“Horrible. It was so bad,” they said of the experience.) When their second EP, Honeycomb, Bedbug, released last December, it was only natural that it carried several months’ worth of sadness.
“I feel like our music’s always been super sad,” Osby says. “I’ve always been a sad person in general.” With their new EP, The Gaping Mouth, it feels right that their new music is going to hurt. Only, it will do this in an entirely different way. A new kind of sadness. For, in the same way Osby and Weinberg have gotten older, this sadness has had a chance to grow up. To refine itself a little bit. Not to worry – it’s still just as dark, and as hopeless as it was in the past, but the band insists now that it’s different. That this sadness is more mature. One can get a sense of this when they talk about the EP, where, unlike Honeycomb, the name means something significant to them both.
“We sort of chose [The Gaping Mouth] because, I don’t know, it’s a very visceral picture – a gaping mouth. I feel like it’s sort of describing peering into the abyss and the unknown, and that’s how this entire year has felt for me and Avsha. Everything’s been so uncertain and dark, and there’s a lot of fear that comes from not knowing what’s going on,” Osby reveals. On the EP’s cover, there is a figure that seems to represent this: they have pale skin, pointed ears, a large, smeared “mustache” presumably belonging to blood, and their mouth open, the inside black. Weinberg said the EP has a dissociative property to it, where you’re “leaving your body and kind of in a no man’s land, your mouth is open, and you’re staring forward into nothing.”
While they believe the songs can still be described in the same, long-winded way that was – and still is – on their Bandcamp, the ‘melancholy narrative lyricism’ has been able to consider its emotions by looking into what made them so melancholic in the first place. “Before, it was a much less pondered emotion,” Weinberg says. “But now we’ve had a lot more time to think about it and to understand the sadness.”
With these two things at work – thinking, and understanding – came the result of seven, painfully vulnerable tracks. Over its twenty-two minutes, The Gaping Mouth guides listeners through specific scenes that, up until now, had only existed in tucked away memories. From morning dew and grass stains on a favorite shirt to standing outside alone in the rain, these situations are sung by a singer who, despite seeming to be in careful thought, has ultimately become resigned. On the EP’s standout, “Burn On My Own,” this scene-setting heightens to a point with its sinking, surrounding instrumentals. One cannot help but get goosebumps as Osby sings of how cold she is. (“I feel the frostbite creeping in / In my toes and into my chin / It’s hard as stone / I guess this is what it’s like being alone.”)
At one point during our interview, when it feels appropriate to do so, I wonder aloud if, after years of writing about their feelings, it is still hard for them to open up and be vulnerable; if they are ever hesitant to do this. “I don’t know,” Osby says. “Everything we’ve done up until now has been in high school. We haven’t really existed in the entertainment sphere. And it’s a very different experience creating as a job versus as a hobby.” She continues: “Sometimes I feel like it’s very difficult to open up now, just because I don’t know if I can trust people off the bat. Even though we’re not even big artists, I’ve found people will still try to take advantage of that, and it’s heartbreaking when you really care about those people, and you let them in, and it ends up with them taking advantage of you. So I find it hard to be vulnerable now – or that it’s harder now to open up.”
For Weinberg, he’s found that it’s easier to be vulnerable when they’re writing music but less so when it’s given to the world. “The way we write our music, it is easier and more important [to be vulnerable], because it’s a very intimate experience writing the music. But when you’re presenting it to the world, it’s less easy,” he said.
With their answers as honest as can be, I felt compelled to ask if it is hard making music for people who are going through the same rough experiences they sing of. If they find it ever a ‘bummer’… “I just think as a teenager you’re going to feel really intense emotions – positive and negative – because of what comes with the age,” Osby says, with Weinberg in agreement that there’s an inevitability to people thinking like that. “The only difference is it feels more okay to do it when you hear other people talk about it, but it doesn’t make me sad people are feeling like that. It’s gonna happen. The only difference now is they have somebody who shares their experiences with them.”
Specifically, they have Lowertown, who, while hesitant to share these experiences, end up doing so anyway – because they care and do not want their listeners to feel alone. Listeners that they have even started to call their ‘friends’ – proving this sharing of experiences for them is only natural. (It should be noted that “friends” is tentative; they’re still thinking of names.)
Now all they have to do is find a place where their friends can all be together – without the fear of a noise complaint –where they won’t have to listen to Lowertown’s music alone. I suspect they have already found this place. In October, after mostly playing for intimate crowds, they will be performing at Atlanta’s Shaky Knees festival. There, they will be one of the few acts from the city included in the lineup, though not alone in the ‘makes sad music’ category.
“It’s a pretty big jump,” Weinberg says. “I’m pretty shaky about it. Both in a positive and negative way. But I think we’re gonna be super ready for it.” “I don’t know how many people we’re gonna be performing in front of,” Osby adds. “Maybe way more than we’re used to. But I’m excited because our set is so much better now than it was before COVID.” It remains a secret as to what this set will look like, but what is known is that they will be able to play these mystery songs as loud as they wish. It is a festival, after all. For the most part, these songs will be sad ones. And loud, too.