It all sort of comes around," laughs Mike Levin about the circuitous and fortuitous history of his band, the New Lows. As the group releases their second album (Atlantic Pacific) after nearly a decade of existence, it seems like a miracle that the New Lows have managed to hang on as long as they have. But sitting on Levin's back patio, overlooking Hourglass Lake, he and the other members of the band make it clear that it's far less a case of miracles than of simple perseverance.
"There was this house on Yale Street," says Levin as the introduction to the epic tale of the band's history. "And these two bands Shyster and Sunday Morning Revival were kind of happening. Micky `Michalec, drummer` was playing in Shyster at the end of that band, and he was also the drummer in Sunday Morning Revival, with some roommates like Ralph Ameduri `the Rondos, ex-Legendary J.C.'s`, and then that sort of died.
"So we were living together and we had the drums in the living room, so we just started writing songs. We were looking for a bass player and ran into Tyler Gray `ex-Bloodlet bassist, ex—Orlando Sentinel nightlife columnist` one night downtown and then the three of us started playing."
That iteration of the New Lows lasted for about two years, from early 2000 until late 2002, when Levin moved to New York City for grad school. Although Levin continued to write songs, the combined pressures of a new life in New York as well as postgraduate education slowed down the band's progress.
"It took me a while to get it going," he says. "Tyler moved to New York a little while after I did, and we got together with this guy Taro `Baugham` and recorded a bunch of songs."
Those songs became the band's debut full-length, The Low Road, a polished and smart blend of muscular and melodic indie pop that wove in flourishes of the members' (and former members') stints in harder-rocking bands. However, it was also about that time that the lineup entered a lengthy spell of constant upheaval.
"Taro quit," says Levin, "and we got another drummer, then Tyler quit and we got another bass player … and then that bass player quit and we got another bass player.
"But by that time, it had been like five years of playing and writing songs and stuff, so I just established a recording group with Wes `Snowden, from Shyster` and we got Russell Simins `of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion` to play drums.
"`Simins` contacted us on the Internet from a ‘drummer wanted' ad, which was just about one of the most surreal experiences ever.
"We paid him, basically, to record the record; it took a while to do, because I kept running out of money."
Those recordings would become the Lows' latest album, Atlantic Pacific, but even though Levin had enlisted an indie-rock titan to sit in the drum stool, the album was still a few steps away from being complete. Thanks to another bit of serendipity — namely, bumping into Seven Mary Three's Jason Ross on a wet New York afternoon — Levin was connected with well-known indie producer Brian Paulson (Dinosaur Jr., Slint, Superchunk), who, it turned out, grew up in a house in Minneapolis owned by some of Levin's family friends.
Paulson mixed the album at his North Carolina studios with Levin, and the resulting 10 tracks of Atlantic Pacific are an invigorating and forceful batch of deceptively intricate numbers that sound remarkably contemporary given their extended gestation. Still, one question remained: How to get the songs out? Again, fortune struck.
"So I sat around with this master for a while, and this friend of mine who lives in Singapore now — who used to book Shyster shows in New Orleans — decided to put it out," says Levin. "He had just gotten a job at a graphic design company that's got offices in many different places and he was in Singapore. His thing was to do promotions for creative clients. He liked the record and wanted to put together the CD package as part of his portfolio, so he pressed up a bunch of them and gave me most of them. There's no label, there are no contracts or anything, so it worked out really nicely."
Now returned to Orlando and teaching school, Levin is once again cranking up the New Lows as an ongoing concern.
To that end, he re-enlisted Michalec on drums — "It's funny that everyone who ever plays with `Levin` ends up quitting," says Michalec, "and then, eventually, ends up playing with him again" — and Matt Gersting (ex-Sugar Oaks and Bear Country) on bass.
While the release of Atlantic Pacific marks the end of a long — and frequently interrupted — chapter in the band's life, it doesn't look like Levin's luck is going to run out any time soon. The band has already written and recorded several new songs.
Hopefully, they'll see the light of day a little sooner this time.