Low Volts may just be the greatest misnomer in the San Diego music scene -- the dirty, rockabilly-singed, fuzzy, hot licks of this one-man band are positively electric, and highly so. Tim Lowman, the dude behind the kick-drum/guitar magic, also shreds with Blackout Party ("We just discreetly released a brand new record on 45 speed double-vinyl for fans and will be having an official release show sometime next year," says Lowman) and has been making sparks fly locally since his 2011 debut, earning multiple San Diego Music Awards since. He’s known in the community for being hard working and good natured, but we haven’t seen his cheshire charm in a while. And if you follow him on social, you know why: Homeboy is on tour with the Brian Setzer Orchestra.
That’s right. A one-man band commanding a room filled with ears anticipating an 18-piece sound led by its Stray Cat namesake (me-ow, by the way).
It’s a huge opportunity for the SoundDiego LIVE veteran Low Volts -- and could be his big break, so to speak -- but it’s also a challenge: The gig is Setzer’s annual Christmas Rocks! tour, promoting the big band’s latest holiday album, and as part of the deal, Lowman had to add some seasonal tuneage to his repertoire, which maybe wouldn't seem a natural combo for Low Volts' stormy sound. But he hustled to choose (and in some cases, learn) the tunes he hoped would captivate the sort of massive, varied audiences that BSO draw, while of course keeping true to the Low Volts' DNA. And time was unforgiving -- he'd been given only a 10-day heads up on the tour.
SoundDiego caught up with Lowman to get the low down on whether Christmas really does rock, how he landed the gig in the first place, and if he’s turned holiday fiend at the hands of Setzer’s enthusiasm. Homeboy had to preserve his voice, which he says was “thrashed,” but took some questions by email as the tour passed through Southern California and up the coast, where it ends in Washington on Dec. 27.
Hannah Lott-Schwartz: You've got this tour with Brian Setzer, and it's to promote his new Christmas record and also serves as his annual Christmas Rocks! tour. Can you give some kind of tour recap? I mean, you're a one-man band opening for this 18-piece orchestra. What's that like?
Tim Lowman: It's all happened so fast I haven't been able to fully process everything yet. It's the most finely tuned, professional production I've ever been a part of. Every day I'm learning something new about what goes into putting on a spectacular show. I'm used to performing at dirty rock & roll clubs where anything goes, and now I'm performing in some of the most coveted music halls and theaters in the country, where you can hear a pin drop in between songs. It's really kicked me in the ass to create an impactful set that keeps people engaged and on the edge of their seats. It’s been a helluva ride!
HLS: How'd you get in on this tour in the first place?
TL: I've been working with ReverbNation's CONNECT program, and when Surfdog Records sent out a request for a band that fit the vibe, my name came up. It's crazy because Surfdog is based in San Diego, and ReverbNation is based in New York, so they searched thousands of bands across the country, and [I] was sitting right there in their backyard! Fortunately, when they played Brian Setzer my music and videos, he dug what I was up to. That, plus hard work, a little voodoo and some good old-fashioned luck helped me get on this tour.
HLS: Given that this is BSO's Christmas tour, does that mean you're playing a bunch of holiday tunes?
TL: Yep, part of the deal was I had to play a couple Xmas tunes with my own dirty spin on them. I found out I got the tour only 10 days before the tour kicked off, so between prepping all my gear, getting merch ordered and rushed, planning out the routes, hiring a tour manager (my handler) and freaking out, I had to choose and learn a couple Christmas tunes. I ended up choosing “Blue Christmas” by Elvis Presley and a hard and heavy version of “The Little Drummer Boy,” and they are actually really fun to play and have been crowd favorites!
HLS: Are you a Christmas fiend? Will we be getting a holiday album from you next?
TL: I'm def not a Christmas fiend, but I do love the festive aspect and seeing friends and family during Christmas time. I recorded one of the sets, and once I have a chance to listen to it, I might release live versions of “Blue Christmas” and “Little Drummer Boy," as people have been asking if I had them for sale after the shows. We shall see!
HLS: Since 'tis the season and all, any holiday jams you personally dig on?
HLS: And for those averse to holiday tunes (though it's unlikely they'd buy tickets for this tour) -- what are you giving them onstage? It's pretty incredible exposure.
TL: I'm headed to Nashville after the tour to make a new record, so I'm road-testing a few of the new songs and playing a few songs off both records to give people a taste of what I do. My sound is pretty dark and heavy, so I'm kinda the black sheep on this tour, I feel. There are 5-year-olds and 95-year-olds in the crowd, so I'm definitely not able to please everybody all the time haha. It kinda got to me at first, but then Brian's piano player offered up some simple, sage advice, "You just be you." Done deal. All the new fans have been really great and supportive. I'm selling a ton of albums and making great new friends in every city. I can't wait to come visit these cities again -- making music and traveling is what I live for.
HLS: Are you and Brian homies now? What's the raddest/best/most surprising thing to come from all of this?
TL: Our schedules on- and off-stage are completely opposite, so I rarely get to hang with him. I watch him every night and get my mind blown every time at how incredible of a guitar player he is. I'm hoping I can at least pick his brain about some guitar licks, pre-show rituals and general performance advice. As far as the raddest thing so far? I think getting welcomed into the Gretsch Guitar family is by far the best to come out of this. They were at the first show in Minneapolis and were genuinely excited about my playing. I think they saw the passion in my eyes and had my dream guitar set up and shipped out to the next show for me. It's the Gretsch Black Phoenix, and it's sexy as hell! I'm blown away and super proud to represent such a historic guitar company. It's unbelievable, thanks, Joe!
HLS: When's the last time you played SD?
TL: Last show in SD was on the Casbah Stage at Adams Avenue Street Fair with my favorite San Diego band, the Creepy Creeps! It was sort of a farewell show cuz I was headed to Nashville to make the new record. Then this tour popped up, and here we are.
HLS: Any plans for a homecoming show on the horizon?
TL: Nothing in the stars at the moment as I'll be making a record in Nashville and touring for a good part of 2016.
HLS: Any other Low Volts news you can share?
TL: I'll be releasing new music come summertime!
Hannah Lott-Schwartz, a San Diego native, moved back to the area after working the magazine-publishing scene in Boston. Now she’s straight trolling SD for all the music she missed while away. Want to help? Hit her up with just about anything at all over on Twitter, where -- though not always work-appropriate -- she means well.