In 2000, legendary Toronto band Lowest of the Low reunited to play a concert at the Warehouse. The show sold out almost immediately, and as more dates were added, the little reunion show snowballed into a tour, then another, a live record and a new full-length album.
Although they have no plans for anything major this time around (FYI: they didn’t back then, either), the 20th anniversary of their first and most popular album, Shakespeare My Butt, was enough of an incentive for the band to get back into the rehearsal studio in preparation for two sold-out shows at Lee’s Palace this month, with more to come this spring.
“Every time we have a reason to come out of hiatus, we always have a little trepidation that this will be the time we hear the crickets in the background and everyone has forgotten who the band was,” says Ron Hawkins, who founded the band along with Steve Stanley and drummer David Alexander back in the early ’90s.
“And every time it’s great. I think it’s a testament to the fact that, when people became Low fans, they became fans for life in a way that doesn’t always happen. It really brings home to us that we built something cool.”
Before “the Low,” as they are affectionately known, Hawkins, Stanley and Alexander were known as Popular Front.The band was typical of the U2-influenced ’80s — big Bono hair, songs about politics and world events, and loads of attitude. But, according to Hawkins, it wasn’t working. “For the last year and a half only our girlfriends would come to our shows,” Hawkins says and laughs. “And not even to every show.”
After the band took a step back, went acoustic and started writing about what they saw on the streets around their east end Toronto homes, their flagging careers picked up momentum. Renaming the band Lowest of the Low completed the revival. And when Shakespeare My Butt was released, local radio station CFNY played the hell out of it and the band’s popularity skyrocketed, kickstarting a made-in-Toronto indie music renaissance.
The album — which Hawkins and Stanley admit is no great feat of production — is filled with songs that are smart, fun and infectious, written about the band’s Toronto haunts from the Carlaw Bridge to their beloved Only Café. The album went gold and is one of the best-selling independent releases ever released in Canada (next to the Barenaked Ladies’ first release, The Yellow Tape). Chart magazine dubbed the album one of the top ten in Canadian music history.
“Artistically, to date, on a sonic level, that is the worst sounding record we’ve ever made. It was small and boxy, but it is the most beloved record in our catalogue,” says Hawkins. “It just goes to show that the music is important: the vibe that you set up and what you’re trying to say.”
“As I go through life, on a weekly or monthly basis, strangers I meet tell me how much that record meant to them, and I can relate to that because we all have records like that,” says Stanley. “It must make you jump back a bit and say, ‘Wow.’ It is amazing that we had that kind of effect on people’s lives.”