Photo: Brian Rankin

Interview: Low Island guide us through Life In Miniature

Earlier this month, Oxford indie quartet Low Island released their latest album, Life in Miniature on their own label, Emotional Interference. Kristy Sawyer connected over Zoom with lead singer Carlos in his North London studio while the others chipped in over email, telling the story of its creation.

Low Island is an “old-school-friend band”, with some members having known each other since the age of five or six, made up of Carlos Posada (vocals, guitars, key), Felix Higginbottom (drums, percussion), Jacob Lively (bass), and Jaime Jay (vocals, guitars, keys)

For the creation of their new album, Life in Miniature, the quartet spent four weeks in a tiny village in France with engineer Tom Archer (Little Simz, David Byrne, Slowthai), creating an 11-track collection that shines a light on their life experiences, good and bad. Through exquisite lyrical storytelling, meticulous production, and perfectly timed layering of live and electronic sounds Life in Miniature is sure to land in hearts of sensitive pop fans everywhere.  

When I connect with Carlos I immediately see his is flanked by a collection of instruments, including a kitschy Danelectro guitar that gives their tracks those “jangly, distorted, gritty sounds” heard on the track “What Do You Stand For” from their first album. Alongside, a replica of a Höfner bass, the kind Paul McCartney was famous for using, which creates the “nice, pokey sounds.” He laughs as he talks about his “terrible acoustic guitar” aka a “piece of shit [that’s] good for noodling around”, but one he can take everywhere: assuming because there is no fear of potential accidents. I wonder though, just how disposable it is. Finally, an upright piano peeking into the side of the screen – one that I soon learn is perhaps of singular importance.  

Life In Miniature begins with a live recording taken from the band’s first ever jam session for the record. They thought it was “the perfect thing to kick things off”. Carlos wrote the track in Mexico during a time of limerence and “once we’d laid down all the drums and guitars, Felix got his friend George Crowley to record loads of amazing saxophone and other wind instruments over the top. We’d never really worked with these sorts of sounds, so it was an exciting new approach for us.” This textured sax paid off in spades in its Dream of the Blue Turtles-style of warm production and complex instrumentation. Compressed and dirty drums collocate with the sweetness in Carlos’ vocal delays and those ephemeral echoes floating away on affected trills.

Second track “Can’t Forget” is reminiscent of a Kevin Parker classic (can we call those classics already?). Their descending-escalator synth and bass guitar leads into the 70s-vibing vocal. They added saxophone from Felix’s friend Rory Sadler “to hammer home the bassline in the second verse.” They enjoyed the new experience of working with other singers. Midori Jaeger, Harriet Langley and Ella Hohnen-Ford added in the band’s words, “a whole other dimension to all the melodies.” 

Carlos shocked the band with the midway guitar solo which was in the first draft demo of “Can’t Forget”. Not surprising, the band shared: “Carlos bowed at the alter of Frusciante and the Chili Peppers for most of his pre-teen years.” It is becoming clear why they were shocked in the “right kind of way”, by the shredding and “probably part of why it stayed in.” Thankful for that gift, it adds that arena-rock energy boost.

The rest of the group’s musical education is equally detectable; “Jamie upheld for many years that his first album was David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust – an alarmingly cool and credible choice,” they say. “Indeed, almost unbelievably credible. It was only recently that he revealed, in a moment of drunken sincerity, the grim truth that it was actually “Fat Lip” by Sum 41.”

According to the band, “a big theme in this album is the experience of huge life changes all taking place in quick succession over a very short period of time.” “Kid Gloves” is about leaving home. Punchy drums coming straight up the middle and ABBA-esque vocals make for a bouncy energy to counter the simple synth pings that are wedded to Carlos’ vocal. This one might make sense when you know that Jacob’s early music taste included “Pure and Simple” by Hear’Say. We don’t judge and the track has a perfectly pop hook to it. 

“Kid Gloves” is one they hope will become a crowd pleaser, but they admit “it’s been difficult to figure out how best to perform it live, because it relies so heavily on this very particular programmed synth riff that Carlos put together, which isn’t always easy to pull off as human beings on stage… it’s getting better every time though!”

Jazzy-drums and stripped-down guitar introduce “Forever Is Too Long”; a title so true when we think about loss. It fits that it was written about Carlos losing his grandfather, and is a perfect example of Low Island tackling a hard topic but not producing it so heavily that you cannot bear the weight. It includes a promise to talk about him when he can, and the track memorializes the reminiscence for the listener and for Carlos. For the band, this one was “a fun one to do as a song that mostly used guitars rather than electronic sounds, as our comfort zone normally sits somewhere in between these two things.” You can imagine a duet with Arlo Parks on this one. 

“Robin” is named after Carlos’ grandfather and features his old piano and tape cassette recordings of his great grandmother and her sister. When his grandfather passed, the piano was moved from his house to Carlos’ studio. He plays a few keys while he talks about it; his grandfather’s house was his home away from home, the piano lived in the hall. So familiar to Carlos, the sounds from that piano are in his fabric. He shares, “You could play this piano and I would know that it was from there, you know?” He brought up that “really lovely song by Sampha: “(No one knows Me) Like the Piano””. With a pause to reflect, he chuckled about how piano tuners are purist and how difficult it can be to find someone to repair a “not good one.”  What about those sentimental jobs though? Consistently able to turn something grim to something light,  it is easy to see how these themes run throughout the album.

Originally a much slower track, “You & Me” would have been too far from the other earlier track and so “it got a fire lit under and it out-paced the rest of the album.” This song is about falling in love, another one of those “big life changes” – perfect little 80s-style pop. 

“Words Are Out Of Reach” opens with a dark synth bass, Carlos’ vocals, and that simple and now familiar drum pattern, Risky Business vibes projecting their own Tangerine Dream ambience. Then listen closely to the second verse, where you find Felix’s idea of a percussion rhythm done on guitar. This was the second track working with Midori, Harriet and Ella. Their call-and-response against Carlos’ lead melody brought the track to life.

Mid-album highlight “Come A Long Way” includes a happy accident: their so-called “fridge melody.” The studio in France had a fridge that alarmed, as fridges do when you leave the door ajar. After five weeks of recording, they found that alarm echoing the last three notes of the melody at the end of the first verse; the band stuck it in admitting they “were all fraying at the edges a bit” but “it serves as a nice little hidden memory, even if it’s ultimately just for those of us who were out there making the record.”  I will admit, I thought it was steel drums.  

“Wasn’t For Nothing” begins with the prepared piano, Wurlitzer and some amazing breathy saxophones played by Christoph Huber. Christoph had entered a remix competition using their track “Everything Before Us”. The band hark about all of the great entries, but it was Christoph’s “creative use of the saxophone to make all these warm yet fizzy textures” that brought him into the fray of Life in Miniature.

The loungy “Into The Blue” was another written in Mexico. A clear love song to be whispered into the ears of a beloved; it features a stripped-down beat that triggers the heart of the track. Their bed of spring reverb (historically used in Hammond organs) wobbles under backing angelic vocal ambiences. It’s every bit as lovely as early stages of fearless vulnerability: a perfect slowdown for the album.

Sometimes it takes getting away to open the right creative channels. As the band struggled to find the right song to finish, Carlos went off for a day and returned with “Life In Miniature”, which also became the title for the record.

As for the story behind it, Low Island say: “over the last two years, there was this acute feeling of dramatically accelerated change, both in people’s personal lives but also on the wider level of global societies living through and adapting to the pandemic”. Carlos had left home, moved cities, lost family members, lost relationships, and fallen in love, all within a very condensed space of time. The experience of multiple big life changes and events all coming at once led to the album title and the song “Life In Miniature”.  

We close our time with a discussion on what is important to focus on as an artist. For Carlos, perseverance. This album quantifies hope and brightness. It is tough out there in the music industry: so much music is being released, the oversaturation of the concert market, and people having less money to spend. The hope is that a band can keep on, to not give up.

Life in Miniature is out now. Find Low Island on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.