Members: Rob Lowe, Michael Muller
Interviewee: Rob Lowe
Occupation: Composers, instrumentalists
Current Release: Balmorhea's new album The Wind is out now on Deutsche Grammophon.
If you enjoyed these thoughts by Balmorhea and would like to find out more about the band and their work visit their official website for more information.
Balmorhea have also participated in the 15 Questions series several times over the years. There is a Michael A. Muller interview, a previous Balmorhea interview and a very early interview with the band on our former sister site tokafi.
Rob Lowe: "Our music often evokes natural spaces and images of nature. It’s pretty simple I guess, we believe in the value of the natural world and we fear its destruction and degradation. Greta Thunberg embodies a kind of ideal that we were exploring in this album. Exploration as a means for expanding the territory of possibility or conceptions of the world rather than conquest and dominance. To us she represents someone who does not except the world as she has inherited it. As artists I think we often start out in that same position.
For me, I have been thinking a lot about how I’m ready to start being part of the future that we have been told is coming for so long. I want my next vehicle to be electric and I wand it to be powered by solar panels on my roof. I’m ready for that concrete tangible participation in a decarbonized future.
But in so many ways it’s not up to me, the market for these options has to offer the solution. So I guess the most tangible thing I feel like I can do is support organizations like the Sunrise Movement who are working to apply political pressure to governments to make sure that these markets are developed to deliver on the necessary goals of decarbonization. In short, participating in the democratic process and joining together to force political change.
It’s difficult to cast my mind back 15 years to remember the intention behind what we were doing at that time. There is a feeling when you are young that whatever you do will just innately matter, especially when you are creating something. But for Michael and I, I think that the feeling that we had around those early years of making music was just one of pure excitement and energy around contributing something.
I remember we would just be so absolutely blown away and floored that even 5 people would come out to watch us play these little guitar and piano songs, even if it was in the basement of some dirty house or in the lobby of a random coffee shop in a city we had never been to. The feeling at that age is one of unlimited possibility. Not sure that we made it too far past those feelings into the “change the world” territory in those days.
The political situation that unfolded in this country (and in many Democracies) over the past 5-7 years has had a major impact on us. The world that we inhabited when we were starting out as a band, let’s call it the Obama era here in the US, was one of expanding possibility and global mobility. We were able to travel feely across the globe and share our music with a wide audience. We made friends and confidants in other countries and had a sense that the future was expansive and full of potential.
In some ways the experience of the last 5 years has proven how illusory that feeling was and that certain artistic and political ideals are not innate but have to be defended and promoted. As we watched the society careen towards oligarchy and climate meltdown it absolutely changed the feelings and ideas that we were entertaining in our work as musicians. For us it is not explicit, but we are citizens and we are living in this world along with everyone else; that climate of heat, tension and fear absolutely shaped this album.
It still feels difficult “to try and change things with ideas and feelings,” as we once put it in a previous interview, especially when there is so much tangible suffering and need in the world. But we still believe that art and music have a central role in connecting people and bringing about healing and understanding.
I know that sometimes when I put on a certain piece of music it can have an effect that I will describe as opening up a new place inside of me. Music can really transport you or shock you or thrill you or make you feel turned on or just really happy or sad or so many combinations of all of these types of things that language also points to. I really believe in pursuing that goal of making something that allows another person to have that experience. It can be a very powerful connection.
Activism and protest are essential, but they do not transmit these types of complicated ideas and emotions that music can transmit. I think music and art feed our spirit and hopefully someone who is full in this way can take that energy and apply it to a society, live a better life.
I don’t think this is an album “about” climate change or activism. We did not set out to illuminate any specific ideas or concepts or themes, rather (as we always do) we set out to create some music that arrives at an intangible and undefined goal of being “finished.” For me its very difficult to put into words! And at the same time that this musical work was being done we were also living through 4 years of the Trump administration, growing fires, floods, freezes and droughts. So it all gets mixed in together and for us what came together was actually quite tender, something I think that we could all use more of in our time.
Very little about the creative process is concrete. All I know is that these ideas were swimming around at the same time as the ideas for the songs bubbled up. Their interplay is a mystery."
Books, websites, articles or other sources of information recommended by Balmorhea:
My favorite book on making art: “The Gift” by Lewis Hyde
On climate change:
- The writing of Elizabeth Kolbert