Lowertown on How the New York City Punk Scene, ‘Down by Law’, Illness, and More Inspired Their Debut Album ‘I Love to Lie’

    Around this time last year, Olivia Osby and Avsha Weinberg released The Gaping Mouth, their second EP since signing with Dirty Hit. Originally from Atlanta, the duo recorded the impressive 7-track collection in London with producer Catherine Marks, with whom they reunited for their studio debut, I Love to Lie, which is out today. When I talked to them about the making of the EP, they described it as an intense, isolating experience, which only added fuel to the fire of songs that were already boiling with frustration and uncertainty around youth. (The only song they wrote in London was the devastating ‘Burn on My Own’, and by the time they got the right vocal take, Osby said she “felt like a broken man.”) They were also just months away from recording their debut album, again in London in the wintertime, and the first thing I want to know was whether this time was any different. Weinberg smiles and shakes his head. “Honestly,” Osby admits, “it was worse.”

    It was a confluence of factors: Osby had just gotten through a bad breakup, they both caught COVID at the end and were generally sick “the entire time,” and the longer recording process meant they had to spend more time away from New York, where they had just settled into a new lifestyle. Moving to New York ended up shaping the new LP in a lot of ways, be it through their direct experiences or through the art they consumed, which evoked a time when the city was artistically flourishing and equally chaotic. To reflect their volatile headspace, they drew from a newfound appreciation of punk, channeling feelings of anger and disarray in a way that’s raw and visceral – but they also lean into the sadness that permeated their lives in London by embracing a more bare-bones, intricate songwriting style reminiscent of their earlier material. Even when it all seems to be going downhill, though, I Love to Lie avoids falling into a pit of despair; Osby and Weinberg sound incredibly locked in and more confident in their strengths than ever, knowing, without saying a word, when to turn away and leave the dirt behind.

    Below, read our interview with Lowertown about the New York City punk scene, aging and mortality, illness, Down by Law, and other inspirations behind their new album I Love to Lie.

    John Lurie’s memoir A History of Bones

    Avsha Weinberg: I’ll let Liv speak on the lyrical inspirations, but I think mood and tone-wise, a lot of the record was initially spearheaded by our living in New York for the first time. That scene was just opening up to us, and we were beginning to fully understand it. We knew these artists, we knew these musicians, but living there and being immersed in it, we were able to feel the energy and the blood that ran through that scene. And it really inspired us a lot. So that memoir, there was a couple of different angles that we really liked about it, but everybody had an experience with every other person in that scene. Like, the punk scene wasn’t as big as it really seemed, everybody knew stuff about other people. We also read Please Kill Me a little after, which is the anthology of punk, and learning about that scene and learning about the connections and the pure art that was being made during that time was really inspiring to us. But with specifically that memoir, he’s a very dramatic guy, and it’s really interesting to read a memoir that you can really see that it’s –

    Olivia Osby: Biased?

    AW: Exactly, that’s it’s biased. The kind of untrustworthy narrator aspect of the book.

    OO: Which I really liked.

    AW: Yeah. There’ll be points where he claims that he started something or knew about something before something else, and you’re like, “Okay, I’m reading your memoir right now.” You know, a lot of like things are going to be said here that potentially might not be true to other people. But it’s just really interesting to hear somebody’s emotions and thoughts about the scene and things that he’s had held in that he wanted to say.

    OO: He’s also so salty sometimes, I love it. He’s throwing shade a lot, and it’s really funny. I feel like we’re gonna be really crotchety old people like John Lurie. He’s one of our biggest inspirations, I feel like.

    AW: Yeah. I mean, he’s been through so many different life experiences and met so many people who went on to do really great, cemented in greatness things. And it’s really interesting to hear his perspective about the time and what he didn’t like and what he did like, and how it felt to really be there. It’s really inspirational to just see somebody speak their mind.

    OO: I also feel like it’s sort of humanizing for some of these people that I look up to so much. He talks shit about some artists and directors and shit that like I’m a big fan of and I’m like, “Oh, they are just a person that was sort of a scumbag sometimes or just fucked up.” And then I realized that a lot of people we know – they’re probably going to go on to do amazing things in this scene, and everyone’s literally just a person, and I don’t know where their life’s going to be in like five years. It’s interesting, we’re at the budding stages of all these artists right now and all these people, and it’s going to be interesting to see how it all shakes out.

    AW: There’s this point in the book where he kind of talks shit on Jim Jarmusch a little bit, whose movie we use later on in the inspirations here. But Jim Jarmusch’s movies were so huge to us, like he’s untouchable. And then to just hear him be like, “Yeah, he kind of fucked a lot of people over.” It’s like, these people were not flawless and not untouchable.

    OO: Not gods, just people.

    AW: And everybody had all these problems – that’s one thing I think people are going to be a lot better with in this generation, because mental health a lot is focused on a lot more, so people are going to be understanding and hopefully solving their problems. But you can see so many instances of just people making the wrong decisions in this time. It’s just interesting to see these untouchable people break down into real people.

    How did reading about this scene in the ‘80s help you understand living in New York now?

    OO: It feels like there’s some things that are sort of mirroring that time, in a way. The anger with how society is now, I just feel like there’s a lot of punk music and sentiment that exists here. I didn’t listen to punk music until I moved to New York, and then I understood it, and I really liked it. That was all I was listening to when I was writing the record when we were living here, because honestly, living here makes you angry – at least me, it makes me really angry and defensive. It brings out the best and worst in people, and it makes you mad at some of the intensity that you have to sort of suck up and take. Especially as a woman, I hated being in New York sometimes because of how unsafe you feel and how people treat you. Also, it sort of puts into context what artists are. They’re just people, and honestly, artists are some of the weirdest – some of the worst and best people you’ll ever meet. And it humanized them for me.

    I haven’t read A History of Bones, but the closest thing I can think of is Patti Smith’s memoir, Just Kids, which sounds like it has a very different tone but is also humanizing in that way.

    AW: Just Kids would have made our list.

    OO: Yeah, we were actually reading that while we were writing the album too. I honestly felt bad, while you were talking I was like, “Oh, we should have put that book.” That one really impacted us a lot.

    AW: Yeah, it’s because that was a direct reflection of what we were going through, just the two of us living together for the first time in New York. So it was a lot of mirrored experiences and feelings. It was really enlightening to read it and honestly very helpful for us navigating some situations of living in New York for the first time with somebody.

    Aging and Mortality

    These are themes that you’ve touched on in the past, but I’m curious what made you think about them this time and whether you approached them from a different angle.

    OO: Living in New York for the first time definitely brought out a lot of emotion. We wrote half this album right when we turned 20, and so that was a really weird experience because everything we’ve done in music and just existing – we were, like, teenagers or whatever. Turning 20 was a big deal, for me at least. I was freaking out because I sort of built up my whole personality around the fact that I was young and I was a teenager – and 20 is really young still, but that sort of marks, Oh, I actually am getting older, and I can’t just keep doing the same things and giving myself slack because I’m young. Like, I have to start trying to mature and grow as a person, and my art needs to grow with me. I definitely think we came into music under the guise of like, We’re figuring it out, we’re 18, we don’t know anything. But it made me realize, we’ve been doing this for two to three years now “professionally,” and it just freaks me out realizing that we are getting older and there’s going to be a point when we’re really old, and I want to look back and be proud of who I am and what I’ve done with my music and everything. I was freaking out about that the whole time.

    AW: I also had a different sort of crisis at 20 – more just like, we can’t be the kind of wonder child’s case of getting signed at 18 and being really young in music. But I think the difference between what we would have used as an adjective for other records and this one is, before we’d probably use “youth” or “growing up,” whereas now we’re kind of using more “mortality,” which is less navigating being younger and more seeing age impact us. It’s not really as much the confusion of trying to navigate things, and more just how things land as we’re getting older. It’s more defensive – looking at how how things are impacting us rather than how are we going to go about doing this.

    You’ve also cited feeling like an outsider – how does that tie into the theme of aging?

    OO: When we moved to New York, everyone we hung around with had been in New York for a while, and they’re much older than us. The average age was like 26 in the group of people we were hanging out with. And we were treated like kids as well, because we were like 19 when we were living there. So people would treat us completely normally up until they learned our age, and then they would start being really weird to us, which made me feel really bad. Also, we aren’t in college right now, so all the people our age group we couldn’t really relate to. We would go to some of our friends’ college parties, and it would be sort of the worst because everyone’s like, “What classes? What professors? What university do you go to?” There’s no talking points where we could find something to relate to, which was really awkward. We just stopped going to those.

    And then when we were in London, we were like Americans in London. And I also found that really hard to relate sometimes and culturally integrate into London that way. I think I’m sort of intense and forward with how I communicate, and I think British people sort of get rubbed the wrong way by me. [laughs] In any group we were in, I just sort of felt like I didn’t belong, or I didn’t understand the social structures of it. So I just felt really awkward and like I didn’t fit in, like I needed to be this kind of person that I wasn’t.

    AW: London in the wintertime, people just became really closed off and a little reclusive a bit. And that’s not a great thing to have for somebody who’s in a place for the first time, trying to meet new people and trying to develop their personality. It was a little against what we needed at the time. Because we were so open to that happening and in a pretty sensitive place, it was really impactful, just the fact that we were not really seeing people and not being taken in by any friend group. It just made it all the worse during the recording process, because we were really just alone. We needed a way to let off steam a little bit from the recording process, and we didn’t really have any. We’d kind of go straight from the studio back home, from home to the studio.

    OO: Maybe to a pub by ourselves. [laughs]

    It makes me think of that line from ‘Goon’: “I’m putting myself on display/ Hoping someone will talk to me today.”

    OO: Yeah, that was definitely about that. [all laugh]

    AW: You’re not supposed to tell them!

    The Underbelly of Human Nature

    This one reminded me of ‘Scum’, where you sing, “Red lights are all that I see/ Dirt and filth hidden underneath/ The smell of smoke and dead leaves.” There’s this dynamic where the same thing that’s enticing about it is the same thing that’s poisonous, even though it’s hard to say what “it” is.

    AW: Yeah, I totally agree. That one was definitely heavily inspired by our time in New York. When we moved to New York for the first time, I think we just both went insane, because we’d never been adults in sort of a “post-ish” COVID world – it was the summer where COVID was sort of led off because everyone had gotten in already, so everyone was sort of immune, and we had just gotten vaccinated. We moved there for the first time, and it was summer, and everyone – I’ve never seen something so crazy, the streets are always busy at night. And the group of people I fell into the first time we were living here were genuinely insane and really chaotic. We would go out every night and stay up till six in the morning, everyone was doing really bad things. It was really fun, but also really horrible, and I didn’t understand how toxic these people were because I was 19 and I was just excited that I was around all these cool people.

    We’d drive in a cool car around New York and hit all these crazy places and just stay out and meet all these crazy people, and I’d never experienced something like that before. But at the end of every day, when I’d wake up, I would just feel so bad about myself, and I’d feel disgusting because I’d been drinking every day. I’m not a big drinker too, so that was really taking a toll on my body. The highs were so high and the lows were so low. I’m glad we moved away because that was not a sustainable lifestyle. Some of the people we were around were definitely sort of acting in a manic state most of the time, from substance use and other things. It was just so intense and toxic, but really enticing.

    AW: Yeah, that lyric is a good representation of what was going on in New York at the time. It felt very crazy because everybody was like, “Alright, it’s over. Let’s do this thing, let’s catch up on these two years that we missed.” I’m glad that we were able to have that point in our lives to try out that unhealthy lifestyle and realize that it’s not for us and try different things so that we can figure out a healthy middle ground.

    Downward Spiral

    This is connected to the previous point, but it’s maybe more to do with your personal experience, which is something you evoke throughout the record. 

    AW: [To Olivia] You meant Downward Spiral the album, or?

    OO: No, like actually.

    Yeah, I assumed not the album.

    AW: Although I was listening to the album in London.

    OO: That’s big London vibe. For me, I put that on there because when I get into a bad headspace, my feelings about myself and my bad behaviours are self-perpetuating, and it just pushes me to go further downward into this weird, neurotic place. I’m like, “Well, I shouldn’t be hanging out with people if I’m just really shit,” and that will make me feel bad because I haven’t had anything to ground me and I haven’t seen anyone, and then I’ll just start spiraling down because I’m just fixating and I’m so in my head that all of my negative behaviours thoughts about myself just start building on themselves. When I’m at a point like that, I start to isolate, and that’s when I start to go out of control with what I’m thinking about. Especially living in New York, it started out so pure and innocent and it just started perpetuating these negative things. You start to chase this high and you don’t really get much back from it at the very end, and it’s this perpetuating cycle of negative on negative and you can’t escape from it really easily.

    AW: I think that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to see a lot more viscerally the kind of graph of my life or graph of the year for myself. And honestly, the downward parts are the most inspiring parts, but it’s pretty difficult when you start to realize that you’re in it while it’s happening.

    Paris, Texas

    Paris, Texas is one of my favourite movies ever, and I think it’s because of the movie’s ability – not only what’s written, but also with how it’s shot – to completely understand loneliness. Loneliness is something that I think about almost every single day, and it was something I thought about a lot because I wanted to understand how it was able to capture loneliness in this way that feels warm and feels like it’s not the end of the world, to be lonely. The idea of this man deciding to be mute and wandering in the desert, discovering more about this man and understanding the multitudes that is his character was so eye-opening for me. His loneliness didn’t completely wear him down the entire movie. It was something that shocked him, and he kind of had a bit of a breakdown – and that’s how the movie starts. And then you see his emergence back into life and his own journey that happens with very little dialogue coming from him. So it’s all emotion, and the movie’s ability to lock into that emotion was something that I wanted to put into the record. He felt sick almost, which, illness was pretty prevalent in the making of the record.

    OO: Yeah, that was a really nice way of putting it. Loneliness is not inherently a negative thing, and it can be beautiful. Also, John Lurie’s in the film.

    AW: He plays a pimp.

    How did you go about capturing that loneliness sonically? Was it something you talked about?

    OO: I think sonically, especially with songs like ‘Waltz [in Aflat Major]’ – that one feels a lot like ‘Burn on My Own’ from the other record, they have a very similar feeling to me. I think we both were separately feeling very alone, and he would come to it with a very – that song is very bare bones, it’s just a piano vocals. Honestly, I think that’s one of the sadder songs we’ve written together. The piano itself is so emotive, and we didn’t want to add anything more than just the bare vocal of me singing about this thing that I was really upset about and really sad about. ‘Burn on My Own’ and that one were ones that we had to get a million vocal takes of until I was really worn out and really sad, to the point where my throat hurts and everything. I think I had just got COVID when I wrote that, and I didn’t know yet, so I felt really crap and couldn’t catch my breath. Avsha was just playing the piano over and over and over again, trying to make it capture the right feeling and not be too grandiose and schmaltzy and just sort of reserved in a way that allows the listener to put their own emotions and feelings onto it. I feel like we both were in that headspace the entire album, so it was really natural.

    AV: What’s so great about us growing up together so closely is that any tone or feeling that a record is going focus on, it almost always goes unspoken. We line up in that way where we are feeling the same things at the same time, and saying it doesn’t really do anything.


    You mentioned being sick a lot around the recording process. How did that influence the record?

    OO: We were sick in New York all the time, too, and in London separately. A lot of people have told me, the first two years you live in New York, you’re sick 24/7 because it’s just so gross there and your immune system is not used to it. But I literally just felt so bad all the time, also we weren’t sleeping and we weren’t treating our bodies well. And then in London, we were separately sick, where we had COVID and I think we also had an upper respiratory infection before we got COVID, so the entire three months were there, we were really sick. Avsha did some crazy shit where he took so many extra-strength Advils, and he would drink – not a lot, but he would have a beer or something, and then it thinned out his blood a lot, so he was having nosebleeds all the time.

    AW: Like every single day.

    OO: Unstoppable nosebleeds for like over an hour. And he was losing a lot of blood, which was very visceral. I remember, there was one time, he came home at four in the morning, we both felt really bad, we had a friend over. And then his nose started bleeding really bad. We went to the toilet, and it just wouldn’t stop for over an hour. And we’re like, “Hey, sorry, I think you may have to leave, this is going to take a while.” So we were up till five in the morning with his nose bleeding over the toilet. And we went to the emergency room because we both felt so ill, we were scared that there’s something really wrong with us. We took a rapid test and it said negative, so we went and sat in the urgent care, the A&E. And we’ve been turned away from multiple urgent cares because we were foreigners, and you have to have special insurance.

    AW: NHS stuff.

    OO: Yeah, and we were walking around, trying to find a place that would take us in and we were both just so deathly ill. We were sitting in the urgent care for hours, and there’s some guy screaming, talking to himself and all these people hacking and coughing, and I was trying to not cough and holding my breath. The doctor finally called us in and he was like, “Uh, I don’t know.” He saw for like one second, and he’s like, “Maybe COVID.” And I was like, “Okay, I’ll get a COVID test, but I’ve been sick for a long time, I don’t know.” He’s like, “Nah, just go and get a COVID test.” And then Avsha was like, “He’s gonna say something different for me, maybe.” I was like, “We have to wait another hour for him to see you, he’s probably gonna say the same thing.” And we finally waited another hour, the doctor saw him. And he’s like, “It’s probably COVID, I don’t know.” And we left. And then his nose started bleeding in the doctor’s office, and the nurses were like, “Come in here, come in here. You’re with him, right?” So he was bleeding all over the doctor’s office and the doctor’s like, “I don’t know what to do with him.”

    AW: He’s like, “You can’t do that in here.”

    OO: Yeah, he’s like, “Maybe if it’s bleeding for another 30 minutes, we’ll cauterize your nose, like burn the inside of your blood vessels so it stops.” So he was bleeding everywhere in the urgent care, and I was just like, “Okay, we need to go in the bathroom.” I locked the bathroom door, and he was bleeding everywhere, just gushing blood. And there was this banging on the door, the British accents are like, “Excuse me, excuse me, you can’t stay in here.” And we’re like, “Bro, he’s bleeding everywhere. You’re gonna get blood all over your floor if you don’t let us keep staying in here.” So we’re just throwing all these bloody towels in the bathroom and shit. It was horrible. We’re like, “Fuck this place.” After it got stopped to a certain point, we just called an Uber and put a bunch of paper towels underneath his face mask. And we just rode the Uber with him holding all these bloody towels under his face. It was really disgusting.

    AW: I also lost a lot of blood, so I was really tired, but every time that I would fall asleep in the car, my hand would go down, the tissues would go down, and the bleeding would start going down. So I had to shake myself awake every five minutes to make sure I kept the tissues against my face.

    OO: And we hadn’t eaten all day either, because we just didn’t have time to eat. So it was really a recipe for disaster. That story was the whole vibe of being sick, because we also just didn’t know what to do, this insurance and everything’s just so weird. So we felt very helpless. Neither of us had gotten COVID before, so that was our first time getting COVID, and we both got so sick with it.

    AW: It ended up being COVID.

    OO: We got something before, and then we got COVID on top of that. And we recorded a few songs in the studio before we knew we had COVID, and our little COVID bubble in the studio, we all got COVID at once. And so some of the songs on the record, I have COVID and I’m singing them, like ‘Goon’ and ‘Waltz’. And some of the punk ones I’d lost my voice from New York, I was screaming and I was really hoarse because I had tonsillitis. So most of the songs on the record, I was sick and I was singing them. Sorry for the long-winded story.

    AW: That story, after we got home from the hospital, we just kind of like laughed and looked at each other. And we were like, “We’ve hit the bottom. This has to be the bottom.” And it was, because then we got a little better after that.

    OO: Yeah, that was definitely the worst moment.

    Down by Law

    AW: Paris, Texas, it’s not all the way in that punk scene, it is kind of that 70s generation of  filmmakers and musicians, but Down by Law was the first real late ‘70s, early ‘80s New York punk piece of art that we connected with really intensely. And it’s not because we heard and saw other things that weren’t good, it was literally just because that was the first one that we saw together that we were like, “Wow, this is an amazing piece of art.”

    OO: You watched it the day before, and then he was like, “I need to show you this movie.” And he watched it again the second day just to show it to me.

    AW: And I rarely ever do that. I rarely ever watch movies twice.

    OO: But that was definitely our introductory film. It also has all these musicians in it that we love, it has Tom Waits and John Lurie.

    AW: And I think the balancing between funny and drama and kind of campy a little bit – there’s just so many different tones that I feel really amazingly expresses the time period.  There’s a lot of emotion but it’s also really fun, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. And I think that’s why we connected with it and connect with that art scene so much, is because they make very serious and great art, but they don’t take themselves very seriously.

    ‘70s and ‘80s New York City Punk Scene

    We’ve talked about it from a cultural perspective quite a bit already, but I was wondering if you could talk about the musical side of it, too, because that’s definitely coming through the record.

    OO: Honestly, I think of most of our inspirations as people and musicians are from that scene and time, at least right now. I think that even though the lives they lead were pretty fucked up and dangerous, it’s sort of inspiring because they were trying so many new things and they weren’t trying to impress anyone. They’re just trying all these weird things and were so open-minded about art in general. I really look up to a lot of the artists here we know now, because they are doing things that remind me of that, and it makes me honestly really appreciative and really excited to be here in New York. We know so many people doing really weird, interesting, cool things, and they’re not trying to just get clout, they’re just doing it because it really means a lot to them. A lot of the time it’s just so much work and they’re not making any money from it. It’s just a labour of love, and it inspires me to try to push myself to do things for me and for art and not for the appreciation or the money from it. That was what we went into music doing, and it helps me keep that in mind when we go about growing as musicians because I feel like that pressure starts to build, to be a certain way or keep on doing what you know works well.

    AW: Also, the way that the city was a place where it allowed for these things to grow because there were spaces and venues and opportunities for people to just do the shit that they wanted to do, because people were really excited about new and upcoming art. And I still feel like New York is that in a lot of ways, and that spoke to us a lot. We envisioned a world and a community that would be as open and as fertile with opportunity as it was then.

    OO: Everyone romanticizes and looks up to artists before, and it’s made me realize how great everything is now in terms of music. There’s so much cool stuff happening now that people and the generation that comes after us are probably going to look at and be like, “Wow, it was so cool back then, what about now?” It’s made me realize you don’t appreciate things until they’re gone and until it’s too late. A lot of these artists at that time didn’t even realise how cool everything was until they look back 10 or 20 years later, and they’re like, “Wow, we really were doing amazing things just out of this weird, stupid studio apartment infested with rats or whatever.” It’s made me really appreciate the now.

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

    Lowertown’s I Love to Lie is out now via Dirty Hit.

    Arts in one place.

    All of our content is free, if you would like to subscribe to our newsletter or even make a small donation, click the button below.

    People are Reading