15th April | Louisiana
Having sung “for forever,” and played the guitar seriously since he age of sixteen, Devonshire Lucie Bowles, aka China Bowls comes cross as serious, focused and driven. She studied theatre design in London, with the idea of doing music on the side. Having realised this would have been an unrealistic workload, she moved to Bristol four years ago and devoted herself to her music career.
Two years ago, she was the first artist signed to the city’s women’s label and artist development company, Saffron Records, with whom she released her first EP. She recently returned from her first Australian tour and is now preparing for the Welcome To My City Tour with Punch Records which reaches Bristol on 15th April at The Louisiana.
I caught up with her amidst a manic day of rehearsals and recording to discuss the inequalities of the industry, playing on the other side of the world and her new lease of writing.
How did you manage to organise all of your gigs in Australia?
I met someone at Shambala who runs a festival in Aus. He’s now a good friend; he helped us organise the rest of the tour. We played three festivals including his, Jungle Love. I went over with my keys player, who also plays keys for Snazzback. He linked us with some musicians for the Jungle Love festival, so we had a full band for that.
It must have been pretty interesting playing with a brand-new band over there?
Yeah, firstly you hear your songs completely differently, particularly with the drums. I find that they’re bringing their own style to it, so it means you play differently too, which is good. It keeps you fresh. And also it was just really nice, because it meant that at the festival, we had a bit more of a connection to the local scene, playing with loads of musicians from Brisbane. We felt more like part of the festival because of that.
Is it similar to playing festivals over here?
The first two festivals we played were venues in towns, really well attended and the audience was really engaged. I think people were attracted to the international stamp and wanting to see what we were about too.
I guess it’s refreshing to play at a festival with people actually listening?
Yeah it was! And Jungle Love put us on their playlist online, so someone heckled at us to play a song and sang all the words with us.
You play a lot with Snazzback and Waldo’s Gift. How do you find playing with all-male bands?
It’s something that I have become more aware of, that my day-to-day life is pretty much spent with all guys but it’s not something I used to notice. I think after travelling and having conversations with people, I’m becoming more aware of it. Definitely, within the Bristol music scene, there is quite an imbalance.
You play guitar as well as sing. I’m always excited when I see a female play an instrument.
I am actively trying to work with more female musician. For instance, I’m hoping to work with a female harpist on some new tunes. But then at the same time, the guys I play with, I do so because they are amazing and my friends and I love them.
Working with Saffron has allowed me to work with loads of amazing females in the more behind-the-scenes roles, so I kind of feel like there’s a balance in my music role. There are more men in the playing but more women behind the scenes.
Yeah, there’s huge amounts of disparity in the tech world as well.
And also when I go to panels I often find, if I go to anything about inequality in music, it’s a room full of women, which is obviously good but I’m going to make more of a conscious effort to invite my male musician friends to those events. I think they feel it’s not their space, but that’s not the point of them and they need to be more balanced. Also everyone needs to see female role models, not just women, so that it becomes more normalised.
What are your summer plans?
I’m going to be doing quite a lot of gigs with Snazzback, but for China Bowls, I am going to be focussing on recording. I haven’t released anything for a while, but I have been writing and formulating. Now I have a lot of stuff that I’m ready to start making real.
Do you feel like you’re going in a certain direction?
I think I have different stuff to say, a slightly folky approach – not so much musically but lyrically driven. When I first started working with the band, I got more sidetracked by the instrumental route, deeply exploring that. So now I have those tools, but I was writing a lot when I was away and now I’m going to start shaping the ideas. That all sounds very vague doesn’t it…
Basically, all I could write about for about four years was grief. I lost my dad seven years ago, so I didn’t really have anything else to say for a long time. In everything I wrote, that would come out and when I got through that, I didn’t really know what else to say so got a bit stuck with writing. Over the past year, I’ve found it again and it’s kind of exploring what comes after that: forgetting, remembering, learning.
So it’s definitely still a sense of your journey?
Yeah, I think it’s always going to be that. When I’m with Snazzback, it’s not so autobiographical. It’s eight people in a room. I’m way less precious lyrically, but with my own stuff it’s definitely cathartic.
Listen to ‘Belong’ here: