Half Japanese and half New Zealander, Mark de Clive-Lowe is musician, composer and producer now based in LA. Having now settled into the US music scene, Lowe took some time to chat with Globetrotter about Church.
Globetrotter Magazine: It’s been a little while since the release of Church. What have you been up to lately?
Mark de Clive-Lowe: We had our Church LA party last night and I spent today teaching some music production stuff.
Globetrotter Magazine: You’re teaching music production?
Mark de Clive-Lowe: I’ve been teaching some introductory music theory and music production. It’s a nice way to be connected with some younger crew and you know, each one teach one, keep it moving.
Globetrotter Magazine: Music Theory. That’s interesting?
Mark de Clive-Lowe: Yeah right. I’ve found that a lot of people that want to get into production, especially electronic music production, often have no musical background at all. So to empower them with some knowledge, and some concepts and systems so they can use it to explore their creativity is a really cool thing.
Globetrotter Magazine: Your background, in terms of your records, spans a range of genres. On Church there’s a definite jazz influence. Are you classically trained in any particular genre or instrument?
Mark de Clive-Lowe: Yeah. I started piano when I was 4 years old in New Zealand.
Globetrotter Magazine: And jazz?
Mark de Clive-Lowe: There was a lot of jazz in the house. My dad had big band records and my older brother was into early bebop piano. So I was influenced by that and then I started pursuing jazz when I was 11 or 12. I didn’t really know what I was doing with it but I was curious about it. And then in high school everything opened up when one day a friend walked up and put his walkman earphones on me and it was the first Guy album, and that blew my mind. I’d never heard anything like it. I think it was the combination of the production and the harmonies. The harmonies more than anything, they spoke to me. From there it was like a short step into Native Tongues hip hop. But as a musician I had a really strong aspiration to be a jazz piano player and that was pretty much where my focus was. It wasn’t until I first heard Jungle that I really started going down a different pathway. When I heard Jungle I heard so much organic potential in the electronic music. That eventually got me to the UK. Through Phil Asher and the West London Crew, Bugz in the Attic, IG Culture, Dego, that really became home for me. They were making this music that was like the sum total of everything I’d grown up loving. Kind of blending together and moving forward in a way where it had that jazz vibe without being jazz music. I spent 10 years in the UK where I totally forsook the piano. It wasn’t until I moved to LA about 7 years ago that it started to come back into my life. It was the debut show for Nia Andrews, she got me to play piano. I was like, I’ll play Rhodes but she insisted that I play acoustic piano. So I played the baby grand and it just reminded me of this instrument that I had grown up with that I had forsaken really. So the LA chapter got me back into the jazz mentality and the musician mentality more than the DJ, programmer, remixer vibe, and it allowed me to bring those worlds together into what is now a very cohesive whole with Church.
Globetrotter Magazine: I’d always envisioned you in London, what made you decide to move to LA?
Mark de Clive-Lowe: After a decade in London I was done. That chapter was finished. London brought me so much in collaborations and friendships and really shaped me as a producer and a musician in many ways, but it got to a point where it was time to leave. My aspiration growing up was always to live in New York. I was gonna be a jazz musician in New York. Later on with hip hop, everything I listened to was from the States. Going back to soul music, funk music, it’s all American music, and so for me it was always an aspiration to be in the US. So ultimately when it did happen it was about a new chapter. It worked out perfectly (laughs). I grew up swearing that I’d never live in London and I’d never live in LA and those are the two places that I call home.
Globetrotter Magazine: You’ve always had great collaborations on your records. What new talent have you come across since you’ve been in LA?
Mark de Clive-Lowe: There’s so much amazing talent here. Nia Andrews has become a really key collaborator. There’s an artist named Low Leaf. I brought her in on the Church album playing harp. I did a studio session recently with a young singer named Gallant, he’s dope. He’s got this whole sort of edgy, indie, underground alt-soul thing going on.
Globetrotter Magazine: Church got its name from your monthly set in LA by the same name. Tell me about the Church experience.
Mark de Clive-Lowe: The basic premise when we started it was that I wanted to share my journey as a musician with the audience over one night. We'd start the night very much on the Jazz tip, acoustic jazz, tables and chairs, like a jazz club. As it would go on I’d start flipping it and resampling myself and the band, and building more beats in it, and the music would kind of evolve into a dance party. The tables and chairs would go away and the music would get more uptempo, more electronic heavy. Then, before you know it, it's basically an all live, remixed, live produced, kind of house party. That's basically the story of my life. It’s gone through these stages of jazz, and hip hop, and soul, and house, and broken beat, and I wanted to show that it's all one story. They’re not separate to me.
Globetrotter Magazine: Why Church?
Mark de Clive-Lowe: In calling it Church it's about celebrating music, and life, and dance, and raising the vibrations through that. It's been really fun where we'll see the dancers come down early and they'll see me flipping some Ornette Coleman or Thelonious Monk on the piano and then they'll see that morph into some dancefloor vibe, and they get it. They see the context. By the same token some people who might be more on the jazz tip will come early and stay late, and see it morph into a dance party where suddenly there's a cipher with like poppers, and capoeira crew, and all sorts and it all makes sense. It's like, ‘Wait a second, this was just some Duke Ellington and now it's some house shit.’
Globetrotter Magazine: How long has it been running?
Mark de Clive-Lowe: It's been running 4 years. It was monthly in NY and LA for a while and now we scaled it back to monthly in LA.
Globetrotter Magazine: Sounds like a pretty big set. What’s the turnout like?
Mark de Clive-Lowe: We typically get like 2 to 3 hundred. I had Jody Watley and Leon Ware together on one, and that was one of the bigger ones. I like to bring in different guest, and sometimes that dictates how big the parties going to be. But I like to keep it on a relatively intimate scale so it’s about the music.
Globetrotter Magazine: So it starts out as one sort of event and then it transitions into like two other events. That’s a lot to fit into one night.
Mark de Clive-Lowe: I personally can do all of that in the space of like a minute. But to not overwhelm the audience and make sure the story is heard it will usually be like a 3 or 4 hour vibe, the whole time maintaining the integrity of live performance. It's all in the moment. That's the essence of the jazz aesthetic to me, being spontaneous and in the moment.
Globetrotter Magazine: How is Church the album similar or different from Church the party?
Mark de Clive-Lowe: The album is a direct byproduct of the club night. When it started there was more of a distinct separation between the jazz side and the dance floor side and the more I did it the more cohesive and assimilated the concept became. At the club night it gets deeper into the house vibe where the album is more concise. There’s more space for it to breathe and get deeper into a groove on the club night. Anything can happen. We've had people just jump up, like Jean Grae, Coco from Quadron, Kimbra, and it's just like ‘Ok cool, let’s just flip it and get on a vibe.’ I'll react to that a certain way and they'll react to me a certain way and then we'll just be in a whole other space.
Globetrotter Magazine: Sounds like you’ve had some impressive guest appearances. How did you go about selecting the features for the record?
Mark de Clive-Lowe: Nia's been part of the set since the beginning, in fact she was the one that christened it with its name. And in making the album and really capturing the vibe and the voice of what Church is, she was really the only vocalist I wanted on there. And then as the New York night evolved, John Robinson became resident. He's an amazing storyteller. I'd hit him like the day before the gig and be like ‘yo I'm gonna flip this Coltrane thing I want you to jump on it,’ and the next day he jumps up and does this whole vibe on Coltrane. Teaching people through his rhymes but still being so funky with it. So for him, as a storyteller, I wanted him onboard. I hit him up and he was like ‘What do you want me to rap about?’ I was like ‘It would be cool if you could like tell the story of church.’ And he did it. In a few verses he told the story. I was amazed. The Kid Icarus turned up at Church LA and started jumping up on the mic. He had this cool little swag and rhythm about him. Tivon Pennicott, who plays sax on it a lot he just turned up on stage one time in NY. There were two or three other really dope sax players on the gig and he just turned up and started blowing and I was like ‘Who the hell is that?’ He has this kind of Sonny Rollins kind of calypso but hip hop swag to his shit. It just became natural to reach out to him. It was a very organic cast and I wanted that. I wanted it to be true crew, the people who are a part of it and who get it. I think if there's one difference with the record, it's that I wanted the record to be a listening experience.
Globetrotter Magazine: Miguel Atwood-Ferguson [the LA based multi-instrumentalist and session musician], is also on the record. How did that come about?
Mark de Clive-Lowe: Miguel's part of the fam. Early on when I first moved to LA a mutual friend was organizing a secret jam session and he wouldn't say who was gonna be there. He called me up and he was like, ‘Yo there's this jam session tonight downtown do you wanna go?’ So I go down and there was Shafiq from Sa Ra, Miguel, Zap Mama, Nia Andrews, Todd Simon, a great trumpet player from Breakestra, a whole crew. It was crazy. We just played all night. I remember Miguel and I connected over this one fully improvised jam basically. At one point I started doing like a Love Supreme kind of vibe and Miguel just looked at me and heard it and just jumped on it and we just connected from that. We started playing together after that, and we toured together in Dwight Trible's band and we basically became homies. So when it came time to record I definitely wanted him on there. Often when I compose music I might just name it sketch one, or whatever number of sketches it is in the day or whatever. Once I was in Johannesburg, I had a day off, I was in my hotel room and I started writing this piece of music and I heard him on it, specifically, so I wrote Sketch for Miguel at the top and that ended up being the name of the track.
Globetrotter Magazine: That sounded like one hell of a jam session. Are any of those moments recorded?
Mark de Clive-Lowe: That Love Supreme moment is actually on my Soundcloud.
Globetrotter Magazine: When you travel now do you travel more as a performer or do you still travel more as a DJ?
Mark de Clive-Lowe: When people ask me to DJ I always perform. I have a solo live set. Like a live remix set. It's similar to Church although instead of the band I'll have acapellas and flip those. I'll basically do like a 2 to 4 hour DJ set but everything you hear is being created as you hear it. It's completely spontaneous.
Globetrotter Magazine: What is the current landscape for a set like that? It sounds dope but the challenge with most crowds is getting them to buy into the journey. They generally want to hear what they know, the way they know it.
Mark de Clive-Lowe: Well it's a very different kind of set…. The fact that it's unique helps me. Once it's put in front of people, they love it. If it's a dance floor set I'll definitely be forming the kind of house, or broken beat/Afro beat kind of vibe, yet hip hop heads will love it because they're seeing live beat making and they relate to it. Whereas if you just put on a Masters at Work record they’d be like 'Ah, I hate house.' It kind of opens up people's perceptions because they see the creative process so naked. Once I'm put in front of an audience I don't really care what they do and don't like, I know they're going to dig it. It's really just finding a promoter who's willing to make that happen.
Globetrotter Magazine: You tapped into crowdfunding to finance the Church record. What led to that decision? What was it like?
Mark de Clive-Lowe: I needed to make this record, and I didn’t want to make a bedroom record, or a basement record, I wanted to take the band in studio and do a lot of things properly, which was going to take funding. So Kickstarter seemed to be worth a shot. To be honest, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It was stressful, intense, very work intensive. It wasn’t easy but I learned a lot about social metrics and how online stuff works on a deeper and more mechanical way than I was aware of before. At the same time that it succeeded, was really encouraging. It was like a vote of confidence from fans. It was like them saying go and make the record that you want to make. We believe in that. It was very liberating.
Globetrotter Magazine: If Church was the culmination of your musical journey to date, do you feel at all like you’ve done it all now?
Mark de Clive-Lowe: For me, I’m not about to make a next record that’s gonna be like Church Part 2 - as far as being made the same way, the same instrumentation and everything. But there are other things I want to make. I’d love to make a kind of twisted acoustic electronic trio record with a string quartet. I’d love to do a straight electronic record. For me, it’s never been about doing one thing. But I really appreciate getting the chance to make Church, and that it’s really allowed me to reclaim my jazz roots and aspirations and show how I hear that in a cross pollinated kind of genre context.
It’s also brought a lot of musicians to me. Pretty much all of my favorite jazz musicians I can call up and they’ll play with me because they can relate to the musicality of what I’m doing, but they love how it’s something really different. Harvey Mason and I play together a lot and he’s my favorite drummer of all time. That kind of thing has been really amazing to connect with people like that. It feeds my artistry more than my bank account. But I’m a huge believer in the artistry being the priority. The financial remuneration will follow.