Low Island

Low Island are a band a lifetime in the making. Carlos Posada (vocals, guitar, keys), Jacob Lively (bass) and Felix Higginbottom (drums, percussion) met at primary school, meeting Jamie Jay (vocals, guitar, keys) in their early teens. They have been bouncing from rehearsal room to rehearsal room with each other for as long as they can remember. Low Island, the most potent incarnation of their musical brotherhood, formed just over a year ago. Practice makes perfect, and the Oxford quartet have concocted a magical sound that is all their own.

There could be no shortcuts to this destination. Low Island make music that only could’ve been made via a route of deep bonds, failed indie bands, successful DJ residencies at house nights, holidays together, techno festival adventures and studios in remote cottages. They belong in the fine Oxford tradition of art-rock bands, from Radiohead to Foals, who want more than chin-stroking appreciation from their audience. They want to make people dance with some songs, lose themselves in others. “Like Thom Yorke or James Murphy, we grew up playing in bands while DJing at the same time,” says Posada. They’d follow shows in Oxford supporting indie-rockers Clock Opera by driving up to Leeds the same evening to DJ at a night topped by dance producer Maya Janes Coles. “The environments felt worlds apart and whenever we were doing one, we missed the other,” says Jay. “There was a euphoria and excitement we didn’t always get from indie gigs, but a connection to the songs and musicians we felt was missing from club nights.” Low Island was the quartet’s way of saying, ‘can we do both?’, a project fusing the atmospheres and grooves of dance music with the more intimate songwriting of their indie background.

They are a band caught up in the momentum of creativity. In less than a year, they have already released 12 tracks over two EPs and standalone single releases. Their songs twist and turn from one sound to the next, gracefully morphing from exhilarating electronica (Holding It Down) to glacial, minimalist soundscapes (I Know You), from experimental, claustrophobic rock (That’s Right) to expansive grooves (The Lines).

The quartet weren’t sure what to do with themselves after the dissolution of their previous band. Posada and Jay began swapping ideas and spark for Low Island was lit. Lively and Higginbottom were the obvious choices to flesh out the exciting new songs the duo were working on, and after a day in their rehearsal studio, Low Island’s sound began to take shape, Posada and Jay agreeing to fill in on vocals until they found the frontman they hadn’t yet realised they didn’t need.

Agreeing that their name should come from a shared sentimental memory, they settled on Low Island, a rock off the coast of west Cork, where they used to visit growing up. “All the other place names there are Gaelic,” says Jay, “which would be a bit problematic as you couldn’t pronounce them. So we went with Low Island.” A decade after the emergence of Foals, the music scene in Oxford was blossoming again, the band feeling the invigorating rush of being surrounded by kindred spirits. “Oxford had its time with Foals and the indie scene,” says Higginbottom. “But we were blown away by how up for it and energetic the audience were at our hometown show,” says Jay. “There’s more artists coming from that area.”

These are songs about life in your twenties, tracks about hope, confusion, love, anxiety, living. Jay and Posada write their lyrics separately but always end up landing on the same page. The pair started writing lyrics just over a year ago, at a time when a lot of their friends had arrived at a moment of trying to work out what to do with their lives, “whilst simultaneously being surrounded by this general climate of uncertainty and fear for the future,” says Posada. “It’s not big fantastical stories,” says Jay, “it’s everyday experiences and relationships in the people we see around us.” Posada has a habit of telling his friends that he’s written a song about them. “You look to people around you and a lot of them are having experiences that are common to everyone, they just don’t know it” he says. “By articulating their stories in an anonymous way, you’re actually articulating something that a lot of people are going through and can relate to.” Their lives and the lives of the people around them has all fed into the band’s lyrical themes.

When a new batch of songs are ready to go, they escape to a remote cottage in Exmoor for a week to record. “There’s no phone reception, no internet, you’re about two miles away from the next house,” says Lively. “It’s really nice to be isolated.” “There was a heatwave when we were there in summer,” adds Jay. “And we were having to light fires.”

The need to keep challenging themselves is what fuels Low Island’s restless creativity. “Every time we’ve done something we’ve tried to do it in a way we find exciting,” says Posada. For their recent Low Island & Friends tour across the UK, they reached out to artists from different fields in each city they visited, collaborating with them on projects that could be performed or shown at the gigs. “Sometimes being in a band can be quite isolating, and a lot of stuff at this level can feel like a real struggle,” says Jay. Their two recent sell-out headline shows at London’s Corsica Studios, for example, were more than regular gigs, featuring performance art and a dance piece before they took to the stage. “It’s about trying to make the band about more than just music. When we were touring, it was about collaborating and pulling everyone into the same pool.” “We love that collective feeling of different artists coming together,” says Posada. “The arts should be about working together to make things you believe in, not being sharp-elbowed and insular.”

They have worked with artists, choreographers, dancers, designers and directors to make a series of bold music videos. For their first, they drew from the four tracks that comprised their debut self-titled EP and made a short film. “For the first video, we wanted to get across the feelings of so many people around us who had moved to big cities and felt isolated and claustrophobic all at the same time,” says Posada. The film tells the story of a man on a night out, trying to find his own space in the middle of a busy, urban life. The group’s second video, for Holding It Down, was inspired by Jon Ronson’s book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. Depicting a room being built in the middle of a forest that’s then burnt to the ground, it was produced by the band themselves.

They are a modern band for whom tradition is there to be broken. “The music industry is supposed to be a crazy and bonkers environment but it’s become more established in how you’re supposed to go about things, which I think is sending people to sleep,” says Jay. Low Island are always looking for ways to keep it fresh, for new ways to turn things on their head. This exciting young quartet are ready to seize their moment.

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