Before Nick Lowe made the six albums that his American record company, Yep Roc, is set to reissue this summer, the British rocker sat himself down “to have a good think.”
This was in the early 1980s. Lowe — who will perform at the Sellersville Theater on Monday night — was getting set to record the underrated run of records that began with 1982’s sharp-edged Nick the Knife and culminated in 1990’s firecracker Party of One.
“I found myself in quite a bad way,” the songwriter says, talking from his hotel room in New York, where he was set to pick up a lifetime-achievement trophy at the American Association of Independent Music’s Libera Awards.
“Healthwise, I’d been drinking too much,” Lowe, 68, recalls. “The classic stuff. And I felt like my shtick had run its course.”
Modestly, he says, “I’d had some hits, and I’d produced some things.” His songs “Cruel to Be Kind” and “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass” were FM radio staples, and he produced a run of classics by the Damned, the Pretenders, and a fabulous string by Elvis Costello, including 1979’s Armed Forces, whose American version included the Lowe-penned enduring protest song “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.”
Then, in his early 30s, Lowe felt the need to shift gears “to see what I could do to prolong my career. At the time, there was no such thing as a pop singer in their 40s. Now, you can’t move for all these geezers still banging it out. And some actually banging out great stuff: Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, till recently, Leonard Cohen.”
“But back then, I wanted to avoid having to behave the way I did in my 20s for a lot of old fogies. I didn’t want to be a conduit for people to relive their youth through me, which is what a lot of people do in this game. And which I thought would absolutely be my idea of hell.“
So he began experimenting, touching on country music in 1984’s Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit and shrinking his sound down to skiffle size on 1988’s Pinker and Prouder Than Previous. (All of Lowe’s out-of-print 1980s albums, including 1983’s The Abominable Showman and 1985’s The Rose of England, will be available digitally as of July 14, and all will be out on CD and LP by October.)
He intended to keep it quiet on 1990’s terrific Party of One — perhaps best-known for its cheeky attack on Brit crooner Rick Astley on “All Men Are Liars” — but that record came across more forcefully thanks to production by Dave Edmunds, Lowe’s partner in the 1970s pub-rock band Rockpile. “He kept saying, ‘No, let’s turn it up, leave it to me.’ ”
Like many Brits “of my vintage,” Lowe says, “I heard American pop music at an early age and fell completely in love with it.” His mother exposed him to “quality singers singing quality songs, like Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Doris Day, Peggy Lee, and Dinah Washington.”
That sophistication is reflected in his song craftsmanship, and the mellow sounds and sharp wit that have marked his white-haired, gentleman-rocker phase, from 1994’s The Impossible Bird to his most recent studio album, 2011’s The Old Magic.
Lowe was also shaped by his older sister’s Buddy Holly records and other early rock and roll. She was “the only person I’ve ever met who was of the opinion that Pat Boone was better than Little Richard, but nonetheless she brought a lot of Elvis and all that home. And then, of course, came the Beatles, and everything changes.”
“My generation went through a time of thinking that their music is the only music that’s any good,” Lowe says, disapprovingly. “You know: ‘Rock and roll is good; everything else is bad!’ ”
Lowe, who lives in London with his wife, Peta Waddington, contrasts that with the healthier attitude of the generation of their son Roy, who was born in 2005. Lowe credits him with “making me change my habits quite radically — I’m in rude health thanks to him.”
“Young kids today have got amazingly open minds to music of any kind,” he says. “My boy can listen to Bing Crosby alongside something that sounds to me like a washing machine in its final rinse. He likes both. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
Nick Lowe with Eli "Paperboy" Reed
8 p.m., Monday.
Sellersville Theater, 24 W. Temple Ave., Sellersville. 215-257-5808. st94.com. SOLD OUT.