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Provincial government shows off proposed $100-million Ontario Place transformation
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Are Lowell and Her “Power to the Pussy” Mantra Canada's Next Big Thing?
Toronto singer's empowering music is too good not to gain recognition on home turf

All images created by Lowell herself

Lowell hasn’t even played her debut hometown gig yet, but the Calgary-cum-Toronto performer has already found herself on 2013 must-watch lists across the world. Her “power to the pussy” mantra, as she tells me via Skype from her studio in London, England, has been earning her supporters overseas, sparking a tour across the Europe and the UK, and studio space with famed super group Apparatjik.

It’s music that enters the chakras of your heart in the form of a young songstress dancing to a montage of nostalgic homemade videos, lace-up boots and female empowerment. Pulling on the strings of Lana Del Rey and frequently likened to Lykke Li, the 21-year-old Lowell amasses her own punk rock edge with a pink-lipped pop kiss and a messy bob of blonde hair. The aesthetic is important because while Lowell portrays that don’t-give-a-fuck attitude, her essence is in fact deliberate. She has a message and an agenda:

Don’t sit back. Fight back. 

“I want to start some sort of movement. I want to encourage girls to feel powerful and speak out,” she says. 

It’s a theme that echoes throughout her music. Her debut single “Shake Him Off” repeats the lyric “I’m not going to let him hurt me anymore” over tribal percussion recorded in her bedroom in Toronto using pots and pans. It’s partly influenced by her struggles as a young female artist, but also by an incident that occurred after she was roofied at Toronto’s Dance Cave. When she reported it to the police, she says they just accused her of being drunk. Nothing happened beyond that point.

She started using the hashtag #thismeanswar across her social media channels following posts such as, “When a man takes away your power, earn it back” and “Fuck being shamed for being shamed.” It became her mission to encourage women to speak up, stand up and be powerful.

“I think anybody who’s in the public eye has a duty to be a role model,” she says. “When you look at Rihanna and Chris Brown, I don’t know the whole story, but at the same time I’m looking at this like there are girls out there who worship her and might make decisions based on what she does and I don’t think [her method] is the way to go.”

Her slew of homemade music videos feature powerful female imagery superimposed by Lowell’s dancing, which she records after projecting her montages onto draped sheets then dancing in front and behind them. She’s working on a video for her track “Cloud 69“, which will feature her naked in a desert fighting off assailants. The effect has spread. In Norway, fans are already asking for her autograph. But will it resonate here in Canada?

Lowell just wrapped recording her debut LP with Martin Terefe (Jason Mraz, KT Tunstall), Justin Broad and Paul Herman (Dido, Emeli Sande). She was invited to record a song for Apparatjik — comprised of Terefe, Guy Berryman (Coldplay), Magne Furuholmen (A-ha) and Jonas Bierre (Mew) — after being introduced to Terefe by Michael Dixon, manager of Ron Sexsmith, whom she met through her publicist. The collaboration lead to her EP If You Can Solve This Jumble, released in October 2012, then to the recording of the debut album. She has since started writing pop songs for other artists including some huge stars that we’re not allowed to mention at this time due to legal reasons.

She’s been working and living in London, England on and off following what she called a “year of panic” where she found herself dropping out of school and working multiple, odd jobs before a friend in Toronto sent a beautiful track she wrote when she was only 14, “The Birds,” overseas. The impact snowballed.

“I was told that the only way I could do [music] was if I went to school for music,” she says.  She moved to Toronto at 17 to study at the University of Toronto after being accepted into the program based on a singing audition. “I decided I would drop out instead and do music my own way.”

She’s since recruited her brother Will Boland to perform keys and create sound effects in the band. He was one of her earliest musical influences. “He always used to listen to crazy punk music which really affected my songwriting,” she says. He introduced her to the Ramones, and more recently Canadian musicians such as Chad VanGaalan and Born Gold.

The two of them grew up with parents who listened to nothing but classical music, when they listened at all, enrolling them both in piano lessons as toddlers. They studied classical through to levels nine and 10, as well as the Suzuki method until grade six.

“It’s almost because we lived in a non-musical house, we had to go search out the music ourselves. Our parents just didn’t listen to music when I was growing up, so it was your own little project,” Boland says. 

Lowell has dates scheduled in Spain, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Scandinavia, to name only a few stops on her current tour. On March 20, she’ll headline a show at New York City’s Rockwood Music Hall. It’s telling considering her first live performance was only this past summer at the Roskilde festival in Denmark, where she opened for thousands of people.

Canadian artists have a history of not being recognized on home turf until they’re noticed overseas. Things are already happening for Lowell across the Atlantic, so hopefully she’ll soon see success here, too. Being backed by Apparatjik has clearly helped propel her; “Shake Him Off” receives airplay on BBC Radio 1 and was the single of the week in Canada just after it premiered, but it is her unique sound, Canadian roots, and empowered stance that set her apart.

Lowell will play her debut Toronto gig at Lee’s Palace on March 22 as part of Canadian Music Week alongside Besnard Lakes, Imaginary Cities, Lucy Rose, and Reuben and the Dark. She hits the stage at 9:30 p.m.

____

Sheena Lyonnais writes for Toronto Standard. You can follow her online @SheenaLyonnais

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