Interview: Lowlives – Lee Downer “If you stop playing music, it’s miserable.”

Hands up who’s missing a good old fashioned rock band from their lives? With an unstoppable debut album, a desire to play live, and a damn good tale or two to tell while they’re at it? That’s right! You are! And you are! And so are you! Devo sees you right at the back – you too need a hefty dose of guitar music with catchy choruses and a strong ‘this is the music we love listening to, so this is the music we’re gonna play’ vibe. Well rejoice one and all because Jo Wright had a chat with Lee Downer of Lowlives and his band’s got what you need. And yes, he does look familiar…

It’s 8.30pm in rural Lincolnshire and an unenviable scent of dog and sweat is emanating from Devo. Ugh. Thankfully Lowlives vocalist and guitarist Lee is unable to smell her due to being 80 miles east of LA, but it’s equally a shame he and his band are so far away, because while they are based in America, Lowlives are gaining a fair bit of traction over here.

‘I moved to LA, but it was too expensive,’ Lee tells Devo. ‘I moved out of London because I couldn’t afford to buy a house, and I left LA for the same reason.’

So how did Lee end up in America in the first place? Ah, well, it had something to do with his old band touring a lot in the USA and then deciding to set down roots there. And while this band have since called it a day, Lee still calls the States home.

His previous band? Go on then, we’ve kept you waiting long enough, it was The Defiled; the British industrial metal machine which was laid to rest after around a decade at the helm of our nu-metal/goth/heavy scene. Lee did session work in LA for a bit, but, understandably, it didn’t give him the same buzz. ‘I was so used to being the singer in a band, and it was nice to just play guitar, but I decided I needed to start a new band,’ he tells Devo. ‘Then Luke [Johnson, Lowlives drummer and fellow Brit living in the USA] messaged me. I sent him some demos and he was in!’

Both Luke and Lee’s relationships with music had been changing, but the pull of getting back into the game was just too strong to resist. ‘I feel like music is in you from a young age,’ says Lee. ‘If you stop playing music, it’s miserable! I think Luke felt the same. He tried to have a normal job and be a family man, but music is all he’s ever done and it’s all I’ve ever done too. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do – apart from be a footballer when I was a kid! I played football at a reasonable level when I was young, and played for Portsmouth’s youth team, but then I discovered punk rock, and it blew all that out the water! I’ve never had a back-up plan. All I’ve ever wanted to do is be in a band. I was like, ‘I’ll do whatever it takes!’.’

Lowlives’ debut album ‘Freaking Out’ is released in May. It’s a rockin’ and rollin’ hot bed of raw power and real-life lyrics, and blends tastes of nostalgia with flavours of the future. A standout track for Devo is ‘Loser’. The title? 90’s insult. The song? 90’s vibe. Bit of a Bush groove about proceedings, which is cool seeing as the first ever band Lee chose to watch was Rossdale and Co perform in Portsmouth way back in the day. Lee says, ‘The 90’s is when I grew up. I was a grunge kid and then I moved to heavier stuff. In The Defiled I tried to push this sort of music on the band, but it just didn’t work. It got to the point where I was really trying to force being in a metal band. Now I just keep on writing and writing, whereas for the last bit of The Defiled I was having trouble writing.’

You don’t even need to listen to songs by the two bands to hear the massive dissimilarity in styles – just the names are enough of a nod to their differing musical directions. ‘I just wasn’t into The Defiled anymore,’ explains Lee. ‘We did quite well, but it had become just a business at times. We never had any money! We were only big in England so we’d tour on a bus there, but we’d play in the States and end up sleeping in a van. I don’t necessarily mind that, but America is a big place and it’s a long time to be in a van with lots of sweaty dudes!’

Lowlives has given Lee and Luke a renewed zest for making music and sharing it with audiences both live and recorded. Things are going well. But it’s not always been this way with the boys’ new venture. Oh no. That would just be too easy. Go back a couple of years to a time when Lowlives’ songs and tours were underway (‘Freaking Out’ was actually recorded in 2022) and when the band’s future was bright and good to go. Then bloody Covid went and got in the way. And its effects are still being felt.

Lee explains, ‘Since Covid it’s even harder for bands. It’s hard to get slots in recording studios for example. It’s harder to get record deals. People are worried about taking a chance on a guitar band. It’s nice to be in love with music again. We just want to play more! But getting shows is tricky. The internet has given everyone a voice and there are so many bands now. We always lose money when we go on tour! But we have to do it because we love it. So, we don’t go on holiday – touring is our holiday. Going to Download is going to be our summer holiday, I guess!’

That’s right! Lowlives are joining the line-up on The Avalanche Stage on the Saturday. Got a ticket to Download? Get yourself in the pit for that show. Got a pen? Go write ‘’Freaking Out’ released’ next to May 31. Because you need Lowlives in your life.

Lowlives – Facebook

Interview by Jo Wright

Photos by Wil Foster