Lowest Of The Low To Release Career Retrospective Box Set
The Toronto indie rockers package seven vinyl records and plenty of extras in Shakespeare My Box!!, put out in tandem with Warner Music Canada. Chief songwriter Ron Hawkins explains the project and reflects upon a fascinating career in this interview.
By Kerry Doole
Christmas will come early this year for devoted fans of Toronto rockers Lowest Of The Low. On Nov. 21, in partnership with Warner Music Canada, LOTL releases Shakespeare My Box!!., a hefty career retrospective box set.
Shakespeare My Box!! (the name is a reference to the group's 1991 hit debut, Shakespeare My Butt…) includes all four of the Lowest Of The Low albums on vinyl (a first for Hallucigenia and Sordid Fiction) and a fifth album of unreleased tracks, rarities and outtakes called Thrifty Thrifty Thrifty. The box also includes a 24-page full colour book, handwritten lyrics, a poster and stickers, and sports a list price of $225.
In a press release, the group notes that "after 27 years of fierce independence, Lowest Of The Low has decided to suckle on the corporate teat and partner with Warner Music Canada for the release of their massive box set."
To learn more about the project and the Warner link, we interviewed LOTL's singer and chief songwriter, Ron Hawkins. He explains that "we’d been discussing some kind of box set for a while. When we penned the deal with Warner, it seemed like the right time to consider this kind of taking stock of the journey so far. And with classic Low business acumen, we fulfilled the first album of a two-album deal with our entire f-ing catalogue to date!"
Hawkins passed on a blurb he wrote to announce the signing with Warner. It reads: “Lowest of the Low are pleased to announce we are now part of the Warner Music family. After two decades of bloody battle between The Low and the major labels we have accepted Warner’s unconditional surrender and penned a two-album deal to be christened by Shakespeare MyBox!! - a career spanning 7-vinyl box set.”
He tells FYI that "we have a playful 'us vs them' kibitz going on with Steve Kane and the Warner crew, but to be honest they have been wonderful, and Steve Kane is as big a music fan as there is. After our first meeting, he called me into his office to look at an autographed photo of Joe Strummer he’d received. We both just stood there and stared at it, and I remember thinking 'wow this guy is just like me.'
"My manager Jeff Rogers first said to me 'Steve Kane knows more about your band than you do.' So that’s the dream, to be looked after by someone in the company that likes your band. And it helps that he’s the Prez."
Hawkins also observes that "I doubt we would’ve taken on the whole box set challenge had it not been for the serendipity of also signing to a major."
He is pleased with the set's vinyl focus. "Now that vinyl is 'back' I have to say it is so much more satisfying to release albums and provide full-scale covers and artwork. I didn’t honestly realize how underwhelming it was to release CDs until we returned to the vinyl format. Maybe as someone who is also a visual artist it just provides a better and more powerful canvas to try and send a message."
Putting Shakespeare My Box!! together entailed plenty of work. "We collectively compiled as much retrospective paraphernalia and photos etc. as we could," says Hawkins. "Many dormant hard drives were pillaged, and dusty boxes of photos in basements and garages were retrieved. We handed it all over to the super talented Catherine McRae who put it all together in a beautiful layout. I think she’s done an amazing job of telling our story, as it evolved and morphed from scraggy sarcastic folk punks to… well, whatever it is we are now."
Hawkins defends the sizeable price tag by noting that "It’s seven pieces of vinyl, a 24-page booklet, lyrics, stickers and posters, all in a road case designed box. How inexpensive can it be? We’ve always been a band who demands that we give value for money. Our door prices haven’t risen much over the decades and let’s face it; we’re a band that put 17 and 14 songs respectively on their first two records, so I think we have a reputation for being fair and reasonable."
He concedes that the set "more than likely is a niche product for the completists in our midst, but that said… we have a lot of completists in our midst, so I think it’ll be a mutually beneficial experience."
A bonus for early purchasers of the set is that they are the only fans able to buy tickets for two release shows by Lowest Of The Low at Toronto's Dakota Tavern on Nov. 21. "That was Jeff Rogers' idea," says Hawkins. "He was adamant that we make the initial box set experience an intimate and exclusive one. We’re tailoring the sets for it and trying to add some special moments."
Working on the retrospective has forced Hawkins into a trip down memory lane, and he has enjoyed reflecting upon a musical life well lived. "To be in my 50's with 16 albums under my belt and to be able to maintain a solid schedule of live performance still is the dream I never dared to believe would come true. I couldn’t, with a clear conscience, steer anyone down this path (like suggesting someone try to crash land a plane with one engine) but I have to say it is exciting, it is fulfilling, and it is exhilarating."
"When we started this gang in 1990 we pledged to be a socialist institution and to make every decision democratically. We’ve maintained that frustrating ethos over the decades, much to the chagrin of managers, labels and probably fans alike.
"It’s certainly a more difficult way to get things done and from a certain angle may look like a utopian way to shoot yourself in the foot, but I think the proof is in the pudding. We just played for upwards of 10,000 people at Canalside in Buffalo and the smiles on our faces and the strut in our step could only be disguised by the punk rock poses we took."