Despite his growing success, Levi Lowrey announces-just 15 seconds into his self-titled, sophomore Southern Ground album-that he’s every bit as confused and unsure of his place in the world as anyone when he sings, “I have tried and I’ve tried, but I ain’t never satisfied this hunger burnin’ in my soul” on album opener, “Picket Fences.”
His heart immediately laid bare, the 13 tracks that follow are equally confessional as Lowrey explores his own mortality through the eyes of his daredevil children in “Trying Not To Die,” and tries to reconcile his faith with his history of destructive behaviors on “I’ve Held the Devil’s Hand.”
If he has any intentions of shedding his image as an honest, life-as-an-open-book songwriter, the new album will do little to accomplish that, but Lowrey’s sincerity and unflinching willingness to tell his life’s story in public are traits he’s unafraid to embrace. “You gotta get to that point where if it scares you too much, don’t write about it,” he says flatly. “I’ve tried to say, ‘I’m going to scare myself and see what happens. Hopefully the fallout will be worth it.’ And you know what? It usually is.”
Lowrey is hitting his stride as an artist, having toured extensively with the Zac Brown Band to support Lowrey’s Southern Ground debut album, I Confess I Was A Fool, and as a songwriter with a No. 1 hit and several awards and nominations to his credit.
He was nominated for a CMA Award for Song of the Year, and won a BMI Country Award for Top 50 Songs of the Year, both for “Colder Weather,” the No. 1 hit he co-wrote with frequent collaborator Zac Brown. Lowrey and Brown also co-wrote “The Wind,” from the Zac Brown Band’s No. 1 Billboard album Uncaged, as well as the rollicking “Day For The Dead,” from the newest ZBB album, The Grohl Sessions Vol. 1.
As a performer, he has received numerous accolades, as well, being singled as one of its “13 For 13: Ones To Watch in 2013 -The New Artists,” as well as having his debut album honored as its third-best country album of the year in 2011-both by Roughstock.com. True to his reputation as a talented writer, Lowrey penned four of the 14 songs on the self-titled album alone, and co-wrote the other ten. Each brings a brutal honesty that offers insights into different parts of Lowrey’s life. He’s a happily married father of two with a successful career who helps his wife homeschool his children whenever he can, but he’s not afraid to explore subjects that others might find too uncomfortable for casual conversations.
Nowhere is this more apparent than on “Urge for Leaving,” which was written about his birth father who left shortly before Lowrey was born, as well as his adoptive stepfather and his mother, who are no longer together. This song explores the tense dynamic between all four parties, and asks the question of whether the sins of the father have been imprinted upon the son. Lowrey opens the tune with the heartwrenching line “My father left me before I was born, on a cold winter’s night in 1984.”
“It’s kind of stupid to be so confessional in my songwriting, to be honest, but it works,” Lowrey said. ‘Urge for Leaving,’ is a very scary song for me to put out there because I know that my biological father, my adoptive dad and my mom are all going to hear it. But, if I was afraid to talk about that part of my life, I wouldn’t have written a song about it.” Despite his songwriting prowess, Levi Lowrey actually began as a fiddle player. No surprise, since his great-great-grandfather, the late Gid Tanner, was also a fiddle player and today stands as a towering figure in country music history. Despite such a legacy, Lowrey felt no pressure, and he took naturally to the fiddle-it’s in his blood, after all-playing in school orchestra, at bluegrass festivals, in weekly jam sessions in his hometown of Dacula, Ga. and with various relatives.
Lowrey wrote a number of instrumental compositions designed to showcase his fiddle skills, but ultimately left it behind to pick up a guitar and seek rock ‘n’ roll glory. Inspired by Butch Walker and his Atlanta power-pop outfit, Marvelous Three, Problem Thomas became the venue where Lowrey got comfortable onstage and grew into his role as a songwriter. He also began leading worship at his church as the band ran its course-in fact, its core now remains as Lowrey’s touring ensemble, the Community House Band.
Even though he’s now an artist with a sound that’s tough to pigeonhole-perhaps the gentler cousin of outlaw country, or somewhere between classic country, rock and folk-Lowrey’s reputation as a solid performer with a bag full of amazingly compelling songs is growing with each show he performs, each tour he completes, each album he releases.
With all the success that has come his way, Lowrey maintains the importance of keeping things simple with respect to his music. The self-titled album was tracked, start to finish in just two weeks and features Lowrey, his backing band and just a few, select outside contributors, such as Clay Cook (Zac Brown Band), Ross Holmes (Mumford & Sons/Cadillac Sky), Oliver Wood (The Wood Brothers) and even longtime Nashville fixture Mac McAnally.
“It felt like we were making a record at home,” Lowrey said of the stripped-down recording process. “It was really nice, and I’d rather do it this way every time. I just want to knock the record out and get it done in as timely a fashion as possible as opposed to spreading it out for a year.”
An intuitive ability to cut to the chase is just as evident in Lowrey’s daily conversations as it is in his songwriting. If he has lived it, chances are good that the subject will pop up in a song along the way, whether it’s for his own material or during a writing session in Nashville.
However, one subject that has eluded Lowrey is his wife’s diagnosis with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which is now in the early stages of remission. While his career blossoms, he deals with the grim reality of his wife’s health and the difficulties that the situation presents.
“You know, I haven’t written about my wife’s health struggles yet, but there are elements of it that kind of snuck their way into the songs anyway, especially on ‘December 31,’” Lowrey says. “There’s the realization that a change for the better can happen at any second or any minute. There is a hopeful sort of desperation the whole record displays.”
As evidence of this optimism, for all the difficulty he has endured in his life, Lowrey isn’t one to complain or even ponder why he might be experiencing hardships that others don’t have to endure. Instead, he channels his energies, his frustrations and his talent into his craft.
“I think that this earth and its struggles are to build character; we have to be thankful for that,” Lowrey states. “The song ‘Long Way Home’ says right up front, ‘I’ve wasted hours praying for rain, and I cursed the clouds when they finally came.’ We pray for blessings in our lives, but we’re unwilling to go through the storms before we get there.”