WITCHPOLICE RADIO: Welcome to Witchpolice Radio. One of the things that I do, kind of over the past few years of the podcast, is I've been almost obsessively tracking down anyone who's playing music in Winnipeg on social media and following them, and just on every platform I can find just to kind of keep track of what's going on in the city. Because there's so many bands, there's so many artists. And it seems like every week there's, like, a half dozen new artists that have never heard of that are coming up. And so the guest on this show is someone that I've been following for a while, but haven't actually talked to you before. So I'm really glad to have you on the show. And I think that the best way to start this off is if you want to just introduce yourself and give a bit of background about what it is you do as a musician.
BL: Okay, well, my name is Ben Lowe. I am the son of Garry Lowe, the former bass player of Big Sugar. And what I do is I've kind of filled in the spot for my pops and carrying on a legacy of thumping the bass for them.
WR: So what is your connection to Winnipeg? Because now you're international, right? In that you're going to play these shows all over the place with Big Sugar. Did you grow up here?
BL: Yeah, Winnipeg has always been home for me. We moved here when I was super young. We used to live in Toronto, and Toronto is super expensive.
BL: My mom grew up here. She went to Vincent Massey, and my grandparents were here, my family were here. So we moved back here. And it's kind of just been swim sailing ever since.(DOG BARKS)
WR: Cool. I got one too. Barking in the background. I get it. So what was your, I guess, introduction to the music scene here in the city? The reason I ask this is because I talked to so many people on the show, all different age groups, all different musical backgrounds, and just trying to kind of place people in my head as to sort of where they fit in within the local scene. Were there certain bands that you sort of grew up going to see or you're interested in?
BL: Well, it started… I'd see my dad playing a lot. That was a big thing. I've seen him play the Burton Cummings Theater, the Blues Festival, and then I've seen their acoustic show. So that kind of got me situated with the idea of the music scene. And then, I mean, I played a lot of football in high school, and with football comes injuries. So I knocked my head and could only do one thing and that was play guitar. Right. So I decided that I was done with football after three long years and I switched over to Kelvin which is where I got associated with some old friends from elementary that we always played music together. And I used to start on the drums but they were like, hey, do you want to come out and check out some stuff and play some shows with us? And that kind of got me into the scene.
BL: It never started off as music, but one thing led to another and I ended up joining many bands in high school.
WR: What kind of stuff were you listening to then, when you first started playing music? I mean, I know going to see your dad obviously in that band, they were doing the heavy blues rock thing, but then also strong reggae influences, which is what I always got into with Big Sugar. And that's sort of how I found your dad's other music from his previous bands, some of the session work he'd done, things like that, is through kind of first hearing him in Big Sugar and liking when they had those elements… and then being like, oh wait, this guy has this long history of playing with everyone in Toronto.
BL: Exactly. I wish my list was as lengthy as my pops and all that stuff. I always knew Big Sugar songs -- I grew up and I just naturally knew everything. That's why this gig worked out so well because it's like I've been listening to this stuff since the Big Sugar record, Heated, I believe, was put out. That's my year. Okay, so all of that onwards, Turn the Lights On. Everything was in my head. But then my dad also encouraged me to go the Canadian route and listen to Canadian music because born and raised Canadian, so one band that I was listening to and I've always loved and have loved since I was big, was Billy Talent. So I got into the Billy Talent scene and was really obsessed with the first three albums, so it kind of started my journey along Canadian punk rock, stuff like that. I hop on the drums and shred everything out, and then through high school and stuff, I got more into like funky stuff. A drummer that I was really obsessed with was Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, so a lot of that stuff. And one thing led to another where I started playing bass again. And got into all sorts of things where Gordie from Big Sugar would send me lists of things to listen to and play and check out and stuff. So it's varied over the years, but it's helped me develop a serious appreciation.
WR: Yeah, I think that's the way you do it, right? The more you absorb from all different stuff is the more you're going to be well rounded, at least, for sure. In the relatively recent past, I guess I remember seeing a lot of photos of you on social media, and it looked like you were leading your own band, you're playing your own shows. What kind of stuff was that? What styles were you doing?
BL: So I started a trio. I started doing some trio stuff. I had, like I still do I still have a very busy drummer. Amazing guy. Root Valach and Jordan Sankar on bass. Super wicked musicians. Yeah.
WR: And those guys have the reggae connection, too, because, I mean, Martin (Valach, Root’s father) is an incredible drummer as well.
BL: It was like a match made in heaven. Because my friend Sean recommended Jordan to me, and I checked him out and I looked on a stage and I seen him playing to a Big Sugar track. So I was like, dude, let's start talking and do that stuff…. and then Jordan, he can do any style. And so what we were doing was like just blues, rock, reggae , from what I know, From what I have learned from Big Sugar, I've used a lot of the blueprints and all the knowledge that has been fed down to me try to apply that. But it's also just become our own thing, when we can get together. Because Root and Jordan are very, very busy musicians this summer.
WR: Right. And obviously so are you, because you're now in a much more high profile band.
BL: Well, it's a whole another realm because we're all buddies and stuff. We all get around and we can play a gig here and there. But when it becomes like a professional gig, it changes the reality. And it takes a whole new approach. But it's also still fun.
WR: Yeah. That's how you want it to be, right?
BL: Exactly. That's all music should be. It should just be fun, and I've definitely had a lot of fun with playing with Big Sugar and playing with my guys here. It's just a cozy feeling back home.
WR: So with Big Sugar, though, how did this end up happening? Obviously, you're a natural fit. You have the family bloodline and everything. And it makes complete sense that to have you there. But I think the first time that I saw anything about you playing with them was that tribute show for your dad that happened.
BL: Yeah. So I was playing guitars, doing that thing. My dad left me his original, like, his Music Man Stingray bass from the first year production. And I didn't know what to do with it because I was playing guitar at the time. And I was like, Gordie, hold onto it for me. And he's like, Okay, I'll hold on to it. Here you go. Here's the guitar. And he gave me one of his guitars. And so I started this guitar journey. Guitar journey. I was living on a ski resort, just constantly practicing music and stuff. And then I got called to do the tribute show, and that was amazing, guitar and stuff. And that was super fun…and then it all started. This is how it all started. I knew how to play bass because I'm the youngest of, like, eight kids, and my dad was determined to at least make, like, one kid play bass. Baby of the family. So, of course I got it. I was in Toronto visiting with my sister, and while I was there, I thought I'd pick up some instruments to write songs. I do all sorts of stuff. And I asked Gordie if he has a bass in storage. He said, Oh, yeah, of course. Yeah, okay. Yeah, no problem. Okay. Yeah, sure. He's like, you're playing the bass now? I'm like, here and there, try it out and see what happens. And he's like, Okay, well, here's the deal. I'll give you this bass, but you got to send me one video a day of you playing. So he sent me these tracks to play along James Brown, all sorts of people, and I send him the videos, and he'd give me these pointers and these tips… and then it came down to it, where we came to a phone call, and I said, Are you getting me to play all this because you want to make me the bass player or something? Like, obviously, as I say crazy things and don't expect them to come true, he goes, Actually, that's exactly what I'm doing. So whenever you're ready, let's get this going. So we started it, and we haven't stopped ever since.
WR: That's awesome. I like that he had this plan all along to get you in the band.
BL: Well, you know, with my dad. Me and my dad go back and forth because I just got out of high school. I didn't know what I wanted to do. So I talked about joining the military, talk about playing football again or doing stuff. And my dad was not having that. So I think him and Gordy made a pact to get, , me to play music. And naturally, it just happens.
WR: What's the reaction been from fans of Big sugar, to having you there. I assume the family thing helps in terms of people just willing to accept you right away.
BL: It has been so, like, spiritual and super healing, because I would always see the way that people would react to my dad, because I love my dad, the big, strong figure on stage. , so for them to even look at me in the slightest bit similar, it gives me a sense of belonging, in a way, because I'm getting even closer to my dad than I thought I ever could. People have been responding to it really well. Like, I get a lot of handshakes after shows and been taking a lot of pictures and speaking with a lot of great people about that. And we just recently played in Newfoundland at the Iceberg Alley Fest. And the show went great. It was amazing, but afterwards, we headed to a pub where a lot of people knew my dad, and their reaction was like, they're in awe. At the same time, I was in awe because how could you not be, right? It's an amazing experience, and it's brought a lot of joy and healing and all sorts of stuff to the picture.
WR: Well, it's kind of, I think, a unique experience for anyone to be, first of all, starting out in a band that already has that reputation and that catalog and that kind of place in Canadian music. But then, also, because of your dad, everyone probably feels like they know you to a certain extent, and he worked with so many people that are iconic. And you have this connection now as a young guy, to all these artists that most people wouldn't have the opportunity to get to work with or no.
BL: It's really awesome. That's the one thing I can say I'm really blessed for today to even have conversations with even the guys from Bedouin Soundclash… amazing. They're such an amazing group. And Eon, he's so amazing. I remember I messaged even just to be able to message them before the pandemic. I messaged them and they came to Winnipeg, and it was like, Hey, what's going on? Do you have a spot available? And he said, Dude, dude, come down and play two songs. Whatever. No problem. That was amazing in itself, just to get that experience and to meet all these people. I'm very, very fortunate, and I'm very, very blessed to do so.
WR: Am I right in assuming that Big Sugar has a very revamped lineup at this point? It seems like there's a lot of new members. You're not the only one.
BL: Oh, yeah, it's pretty revamped, and it's got a new feel, and I really like it. We've got two amazing musicians, they’re husband and wife.
WR: Yeah, I saw that. That's cool.
BL: They've already connected, too. So, on top of that, we're all connecting, and it's amazing. Joe and Cat, they're two really cool cats, I'll say that, I guess.
WR: What is different about this incarnation of Big Sugar? Because it's one of those bands that I think anyone, whether they've owned a record or not, they've heard Big Sugar in Canada. It's a band that's just been on the radio so many times over the past few decades that it's kind of in the musical DNA of the country. What's different about this incarnation of the event, sound wise?
BL: Exactly what you said. Like the decades. The decades is how I'll put it, because things change over time, and what once was only blossoming, it's led into so many different directions and gone up and down and left and right. I bring something different as I'm not 100% my dad, but I still have elements of him, but I also do things myself. Cat, her being the female in the band, she is amazing. Like, she brings so much to it. Her voice, her keyboards, everything. And she plays harmonica. She's a really wicked soul. And Joe, it's a next to none connection that I have with Joe, because even off stage, we're all getting together. It's a light energy. You can feel things. We all want to be there. And whatever direction we turn, it's for the better.
WR: I think it's an interesting situation to be in, too, for all of you, because it would be not that unreasonable at this point for a Big Sugar to be sort of a legacy band that just plays the hits and just plays off that for the next 20 years. And there's lots of bands that got the start around the same time that are doing that. Right? I mean, they got replacement members, they're just going through the singles. But it seems like you guys are actively doing new stuff and working on new things and everything, which is cool to see.
BL: Well, exactly that. And even the vocals, when we sing live, and the vocals are happening, we're doing these four piece harmonies that Gordie has never done before. Yeah, and it's got us locked in and it's revived the hits. And in a new way, though, it's brought a whole new life to the group. And it's one way that I can describe it is whenever we're around to come see it, because I can't put it into words. It's just like a connection, next to none.
WR: Well, that's maybe goes into another question. What is the plan with Big Sugar? Are you guys touring in the near future? What's going on?
BL: So, to give it… since we're new, we did a line of shows in Toronto, Ontario, we got fortunate enough to go to Newfoundland. Amazing place to go for shows and we're going to Vancouver next month. So it’s shows here and there. But because of the pandemic, all of the shows that were booked in 2021 are all now.
WR: Yeah, of course they've all been pushed back, exactly.
BL: So to book a whole list of shows, there's a waiting list. So we're eventually hopefully going to be touring, like Gordie said. He said hopefully we're going to be doing 200 shows a year.
WR: That's pretty good.
BL: That's a lot of shows. I mean, even after four, I'm like, how does this guy do this? Because he's been in the business for so long. He's such a professional. It's such a learning experience that I'm in love with. But it's also, wow, I really got to be on my feet for this. It's amazing. And hopefully there's more shows to come, though.
WR: Yeah. Are there any Winnipeg shows scheduled at this point? Or is that sort of to be determined?
BL: It’s in talks. I've been bugging them. Like I said, Winnipeg’s home for me, I've got a lot of loved ones and family here. The one thing that I would love to see is to have my friends and family all out at the Burt or wherever. I hope so. I really hope so. Crossing my fingers.
WR: Yeah. Does having this gig with Big Sugar, does this change anything for your kind of desire to play shows with your trio, with other people? Sort of been on a smaller level here in Winnipeg.
BL: It's really ignited things for me because I'm an average human being. I have a job, of course. I do the usual. So it's very easy to just work and work and work and work, and then, okay, well, we can do shows another time. But I've come home, I have my guitars. , I pick it up constantly. And it's got me into the mind of playing live. So I was actually just talking to my guys today. When are you guys free? Because we need to do something because it's in my blood right now. Like, we need to do something. It's also ignited the desire to play bass here.
BL: I've got some stuff that I'm going to go check out on Sunday. Some funky stuff to go see if we can do something with that. See if I can play some bass shows here.
WR: Cool. So it's basically the instrument now. Have you fully moved on to it? It’s your blood, right. You're kind of born into it.
BL: As much as I love guitar, and as fun as it is to shred and play some solos and some nice pocket riffs and stuff to play the bass, it is second nature, especially because the hours that I put in with it, yeah. To pick up the bass, it is the way that I communicate now.
WR: That's cool. And you obviously never assumed this would happen. Like you said back when you were doing football and stuff, this was never something you would have anticipated.
BL: Yeah, well, my dad was a musician. Who wants to be why would I want to be a musician? My dad was a musician. My dad got sick and I went and spent a lot of time with him and watching his face light up when I play guitar, that was like, I can score as many touchdowns and whatever as I want. That's irreplaceable. So it got me into the mindset that music is the way to be.
WR: Again, Big Sugar is kind of the known quantity here, right? I mean, like I said, they're kind of built into the Canadian music. They're just there. They've been around for so long. But if people want to find out what you're up to, like, whether you're playing shows with anyone locally or things like that, what's the best way to sort of track you down and see what's happening?
BL: You know what? I use Facebook a lot. I use Instagram too, those are my main ones. I've got two very different names on either one. Ben Santeria on Facebook, and @ibalove28 on my Instagram. But I also have a Manitoba music profile. Hopefully, when we do have shows coming out, then I will be posting a lot more stuff.
BL: I don't know if people want to reach out to me happily, I'm here. I'm cool.
WR: Which is kind of awesome because it's a very Winnipeg thing, too, to have that kind of attitude. And it seems I think a lot of people would think, oh, Big Sugar, they're a huge, successful Canadian band. But you're just a guy from Winnipeg who happens to be the bass player for Big Sugar, right?
BL: Same time, yeah, I'm in Big Sugar, but at the same time, I was here before Big Sugar. And, I mean, as much as Big Sugar is before my time, I'm all about just being real. You know, Winnipegger, man, I've had my opportunities to go elsewhere, but I love Winnipeg. I've seen lots of places that I’d love to live, but I love Winnipeg.