Interview: Lowen “I’ve always had a fascination with the Tahrir vocals, and I always wanted to hear part of my culture in this music.”

Having formed in London in 2017, Lowen have been raising interest (and eyebrows) with their mixture of progressive doom metal and Mesopotamian themes. Comprising of vocalist Nina Saeidi and guitarist Shem Lucas, the band (bolstered by two live musicians) have just wowed a packed hall on the second stage at this year’s Uprising festival. Devolution spoke to Nina fresh off stage to discuss the band and mixing cultures in music.

How has your Uprising experience been so far?

It’s been wonderful. This is the biggest venue we’ve ever played, and it’s surreal to be here. We were having Spinal Tap moments backstage, wandering around all the corridors! It was really fun; the crowd was amazing and I’m really enjoying the Leicester welcome.

Your personal history plays into Lowen’s sound. Can you fill us in on your backstory?

I was born in exile. Most of my family fled during the 1979 Iranian revolution, and because of that I’ve not been able to go back to Iran from birth. A lot of people in the diaspora are in a similar situation to me and it’s a unique experience where we are living between two different cultures: where we are not Iranian enough to be Iranian, and you’re not enough of whatever you are to be wherever you are. So, I live in this liminal space culturally where there are bits where I fit into, but I will never be fully accepted by both cultures.

Listening to you on stage today, I can hear a lot of longing in your voice. I wonder, is it longing for the country, or a specific era? Before the 1979 revolution, Iran was a liberal country.

It was liberal, yes. It was the time of the Shah, who was liberal compared to the Islamic regime, however, there was still a lot of problems regarding the way the country was run. I’m not a monarchist, I don’t long for the era specifically when the Shah was reigning, but I do long for an era of freedom in Iran, an era that’s free of non-democracy and tyranny and fascism.

So how did a nice Iranian girl get into heavy metal? What was your introduction?

My introduction to metal was a bit weird. I picked up a copy of Kerrang! when I was 14 and it was the week that Antichrist came out by Akercocke, they’re a brilliant London-based blackened death band, they got a great review and I remember listening to that album and it was amazing. It was the same week that System Of A Down released an album too, I brought that as well, and then I started listening to loads of death metal, loads of different genres, and loads of different fusions.

And when did you realise you could sing?

Quite recently, actually. It was kind of an accident how I became a vocalist; I was a multi-instrumentalist from a young age and growing up in a middle-eastern family, you do every extra-curricular activity: I started playing piano from three years old. When we started Lowen I was originally the bassist, but I sang vocals on a few demos to illustrate how they should be, but then Shem [guitarist] said “You have to sing!”. I never thought I’d sing, and I didn’t think I could for a very long time.

I was listening to ‘In Perpetual Bloom’ from your debut album, and you hold the notes for an impossibly long length of time. How do you do that?

I did mixed martial arts for about 10 years while I was growing up, and lots of weight lifting, so I think I just have a really strong core; you could punch me in the stomach and I’d be OK!

I know so many death metal growlers who have blown their vocals chords, so how do you care for your voice?

I do a lot of warm-ups. I do a half-hour warm-up before the show, throughout the day I don’t have any dairy, I avoid certain foods. I’m extremely neurotic about my voice, so I avoid people before the show, I don’t do interviews and I preserve every drop of energy I have.

What gave you the idea of melding traditional Tahrir vocals to heavy metal?

I don’t know, it all happened by accident really. I’ve always had a fascination with the Tahrir vocals, and I always wanted to hear part of my culture in this music. It’s two things that I really love, and all the complicated feelings that I have inside of me, longing for a country that I may never experience, or a family I may never meet, and those feelings come out of me naturally, and metal is the music that I want to be hearing all the time.

How have you been accepted into the metal community?

Wonderfully. People have been so, so welcoming, and I’m just so grateful for each person who likes our music, it’s always a big surprise to me that people don’t think it’s weird and they enjoy it, and that means a lot.

Do you think that metal is opening up to a wider demographic now?

I think metal has always been open for people at the bottom of society. Going back to its origins in Birmingham, there was horrible working-class conditions for the people who lived there, and I think everyone can relate to that. Everyone has part of them that’s in pain and needs connection, and I think you can find that in the metal community and 9 times out of 10 people will embrace anyone who enjoys the music as much as they do, and if I’d been young back then I like to think that I’d be welcomed as I am now.

With Shem’s western orientated guitar and your middle-eastern vibe, you have an ‘east-meets-west’ thing going on. Do you think metal is a good way for people to break down boundaries?

Totally. I think it’s an international genre, and there’s metalheads on every single continent, and when people play music that is part of them, and they can express themselves, it doesn’t really matter what genre it is, but if it’s heavy, it’s heavy and that’s what drew us together. We’re both very heavy people, and I think traditional Iranian and middle-eastern music is super heavy, the pain in people’s voice is something that many metalheads can relate to when they hear it.

How easy is it to replicate your sound live?

It’s difficult. The first album is super easy to replicate live, that was me five years ago, and my voice has grown a lot since then, but we’re currently writing our second album and it’s extremely complex. We’re a lot, lot heavier and the vocals are really difficult. We played a new song today and it was really, really hard, I had trouble with my voice but we got through it and it was OK.

You’ve also released an acoustic EP. On the flip side, how was it breaking your songs down and performing the acoustically?

The EP includes two songs that were totally improvised in the vein of traditional music where you sort of have a rough idea of a framework, but you have no idea of what’s going to happen. We sat in a room and did it, so that’s how it came to be.

Although it’s an acoustic EP, and performed by just the two of you, it sounds absolutely massive. What’s your secret?

We performed that for a live stream, it was in Brighton and they just miked us up, they kindly sent it to us after the show and we sent it to Magnus Lindberg from Cult Of Luna and he remastered it for us, so I think that’s his doing.

What is next for you musically? You mentioned you’re writing a second album. In what direction are you heading in?

We are very influenced by death metal, and our next album has lots of complicated middle-eastern time changes that are very, very difficult to play. A lot of it is counter-intuitive, so it’s going to be a big step up and it’s going to be extremely heavy.

And your future plans for the band?

Keep playing shows, keep meeting people, and I’d love to play as much music as I can.

Finally, if I had a magic wand and I could let you tour with any band, dead or alive, who would it be?

Queen! I love Queen. Freddie Mercury is a huge influence. His family were Parsis so there’s a big connection. All Iranian’s love Freddie Mercury. 

Lowen – Facebook

Interview by Peter Dennis