T.O. Snob: Thanks for doing this. Shakespeare...My Butt came out when I was 14 and I've been a fan ever since, so this is a thrill for me. You've got your new album, Straitjacket Love coming out next week and you play a pair of shows tonight and tomorrow at Graffitti's to kick it off.
RH: And I'm touring with a new band in June and July, including a residency at The Drake. The Graffitti's shows are all acoustic.
T.O. Snob: What can fans expect from the new songs?
RH: I consider it a continuation of the last album I made called 10 Kinds of Lonely, which was very much more down a country road than I had ever gone. I dabbled in that genre, on all the records there has been something that was country or folk based, but this was the first one that went totally down that road. The last one was more stripped down. The new one, Straitjacket Love, is a continuation but it has more full band arrangements on it.
T.O. Snob: What keeps you motivated to write songs and do you come from a different place now when you write?
RH: The glib answer would be poverty. It's not a matter of coming from a different place but whatever things launched me as a songwriter when I was 16, 18, 20, and breaking through at 25 with Lowest Of The Low, I'm just doing more of now. I'm just more assured. There have been 12 records so I have more colours on the palette or tools in the toolkit, whatever metaphor you'd like to use, I just have more ability to get the things out of my head and onto the disc.
T.O. Snob: Do you find that it makes the entire process easier or more enjoyable for you?
RH: It's never easy, at least for me. I never know if I'm going to be able to write another song. I'm not being disingenuous, after writing this many songs I never know if one's coming out again. When it does it surprises me and surprises me about where it goes. Every one is like the first one you write, I get excited about it.
T.O. Snob: Do you have a favorite song on the new record?
RH: Yeah, there are a couple, for different reasons. The last twos songs. There's a song called "Diamonds In the Water" which is a metaphor I started playing with. Like someone having a handful of diamonds and dropping them and watching them slowly sink and trying to reach in to get them. But the farther they reach the farther they sink towards the bottom. I thought it was a cool image and I started writing lyrics around that. At the same time my grandmother had been going through late stage Alzheimer's. She died with very disorienting Alzheimer's. The two things came together and became a metaphor for someone losing their powers of memory. She was a very smart woman and a very quick woman. So the song began to make a lot of sense to me as a song about her. The very last song on the record, "Prairie Girl", is about my partner Jill. She was born in Winnipeg. Often times I'll start a love song as a song that starts out light and there's darkness in it at some point. With this one I joke with people on stage that this one's light and it just continues to be light. It's an anthem to her and how fantastic she is.
T.O. Snob: You really set an example for independent Canadian artists, and the Canadian indie scene is stronger than it's ever been. Do you take some pride in that?
RH: Not anymore than I would just liking bands and pulling for someone who's trying to get their music out, especially if they're trying to do it themselves. We, the Lowest Of The Low, sometimes get a lot of big statements written about us being part of that movement. From our point of view we were just a bunch of guys in a band trying to do our best.
T.O. Snob: It's funny you answered that way because this week on Toronto.com I noticed they have you in the running for the online voting for best Toronto band ever. I think they pitted you up against The Sadies to begin with.
RH: I thought that was kind of rough to go against The Sadies to begin with. The first week I saw that I think it was Rush vs. The Four Lads. It was like grapefruits vs. iPods and didn't make much sense to me.
T.O. Snob: You guys also played Massey Hall recently and it's been seven years since Sordid Fiction, so it begs the question: is there any chance of a new LOTL record?
RH: I don't know I really am in the dark about that as anybody is. We've said after a few reunion situations that we'd stop saying never, because we've embarrassed ourselves a few times doing that. Two months later some happens and we end up playing together. So I would never say it's not going to happen, but there's no real plan for it right now. If something happens organically that's one thing. The tour we just did was sold out. We started in a 60-seater Irish pub in Kingston that we always used to play and the last show was at Massey Hall. So it was really a Low tour, play the smallest places and the biggest places. We're all very aware that this was all about the 20th anniversary of Shakespeare...My Butt, which was by far our most popular record. Whether there's even a desire out there for a new Low record I don't know. If it happened organically I could see it happening. But it would have to add to the story. If it's just to get more Low songs out there, I don't know if that's enough.
T.O. Snob: I know you do a lot of painting as well. Of course, everyone I want is sold already. What got you specifically interested in doing portraits of musicians?
RH: I've done some abstract painting, I've done some landscape painting, I've done some industrial cityscape stuff. But if you look on my website the vast majority of the stuff portraiture, and it's usually very close up portraiture, faces and people. I think it's for the same reason song-wise, that I'm really interested in people and how they interact and the quirks, what separates and makes them different or similar to each other. There's a great quote for this painter Alice Neel, who all her life did portraits. For most of her life she was not well known, until the 70s. She was in her 60s when she was sort of discovered by the feminist movement. She was a very sharp woman and she always referred to herself as a "collector of souls", because she painted and apparently just talked to people and got into their heads as she was painting them. I see her as a kindred spirit that way.
T.O. Snob: One last question and it's been a bit of a pet peeve of mine for a while. I grew up about 6 blocks from the Carlaw Bridge and I'm pretty sure that The Only is a little more than 4 blocks away. How do you explain the discrepancy?
RH: I believe you call that poetic licence. I like to contract things. I can't explain EVERY block between the Carlaw Bridge and The Only, it would be a 7 and a half minute song.
T.O. Snob: Alright I give you that. Thanks for doing this I really appreciate it and thank you for all the music all these years. Good luck with the shows and the new album.