“Hi, I’m Lowen, come as you are and enjoy,” says a familiar voice, the voice of a woman I’ve known since we were pre-bat mitzvah, freckle-faced beauties clad in starchy. This was our uniform at the Hebrew day school in Sunrise, Florida where Emily Kopp and I both attended in the ‘90s-‘00s. She was a few years younger than me, but considering that cohorts rarely exceeded 50 students, everyone knew everyone. (And, in a Jewish parochial school where gossip flies through the hallways faster than enchanted paper airplanes in the Ministry of Magic, everyone knew everyone.)
But, Emily is a world away from South Florida, which boasts a dense Jewish demographic, where in winter it’s not uncommon to see cars topped with menorahs and where in some cities, there are more synagogues than churches. She’s in Nashville now, deep within the Bible Belt, where there are churches on nearly every corner, and where she’s more conscious than ever of her minority status. So, her friendly introduction to concert attendees is an important gesture of inclusivity.
In high school, while I was blasting hippie music and either painting in the art room or toiling away at the yearbook, Emily was playing basketball or evading class to jam in the band room. “I’d skip class to ‘rehearse’ AKA jam for hours and have Zohar [the music instructor] call my teachers’ classrooms so I would be excused… very important band business,” she quipped.
In 2013, we both found ourselves living in Orlando. Back then, Emily was moonlighting as a School of Rock instructor and putting her energy and creative forces into her singer-songwriter career. She was successful: Her name was known and respected around town; she created commercial music that has been used in TV and films; and she even toured with Brandi Carlile. One night in 2014, my partner and I gladly schlepped to the West side of town to see Emily perform at House of Blues. As the big ole lights shined on her beaming face, I remember thinking, “Girl’s got soul.”
Sometime in early 2015, Emily rolled up in her recently acquired tour van she was super proud of, and outside of Dandelion Communitea Café (an Orlando gem), she told me she was head over heels for a woman named Robyn, a talented chef who made her heart sing. The situation was bittersweet: She broke it off with her high school sweetheart, but Emily and her new SO were making moves to act on their revolutionary desire to take off for a year to travel the world. Et voila! @BackpackingBabes was born.
When they returned Stateside, they settled in Nashville. Emily’s burnout was ablaze. “When you’re in a creative field and struggling for so long, when something starts to validate you financially — societal validation — you go for it, and it’s hard to deviate” As a fellow creative, these words seeped into my very soul. Emily and I have spoken at length about how the mainstream, middle-class Jewish suburban lifestyle we were brought up in sometimes doesn’t readily accept creative career choices until there’s a significant financial turnout, which directly equates to success; it’s difficult to diverge from this mindset, until, well, burnout.
From the burnout ashes, Lowen was born. Her new stage name, Lowen, honors and empowers Emily’s story and history and is helping her reclaim herself. Lowen’s music is separate from that created under the name Emily Kopp. “It feels weird not to go by your own name,” so she chose something she felt connected with; Lowen is short for Lowenthal, her mother’s German-Jewish maiden name. All the women in her family are Lowenthals. “I feel like part of the club now,” she said. Like her German ancestors who emigrated to Cali, Colombia without knowing the language or culture, Lowen is an undertaking towards shifting her musical career to a freer space where she can truly be herself. The musical result of genuine self-expression is modernized Woodstock pop with soulful textures, like in Only In My Dreams and in her latest single, the emotional rocker, “Just Fucking Let Me Love You”.
The lava lamps used in Lowen’s brand persona (which Robyn helped design) signify the fluidity in her life. Personally, Emily identifies as fluid, with a soul, mind, and body that can connect with anyone. She is an LGBTQ ally, and has learned from the queer community to strive to be more uninhibited and “lean into whatever I want to lean into.” She has an insatiable thirst for freedom, for fluidity.
Her openminded, fluid approach to sexuality and life in general stems partly from her strong Jewish roots (thanks, Jewish day school). Upon speaking with her queer Christian friends in Nashville who experienced trauma, she became especially grateful for Judaism, which continuously pushes her to be inquisitive and think critically. Emily is profoundly proud of her brand of Judaism, which she worships in her own way. For instance, on Friday nights, she and Robyn either take a moment to recognize Shabbat — even without traditional rituals — or they host an inclusive, alternative version of Shabbat with friends, where they put their phones away, say some blessings, and go around the table as each person sets their own intentions for the following week. (I’d be remiss not to mention their Hanukkah bush topped with a bagel and lox cutout.) Emily connects with the Jewish rituals, stories, culture of family and togetherness, and celebration of independent, critical thinking. Her fluid take on faith is symbolized by the big Magen David (Star of David) she wears whether she’s walking her sweet puppies around Nashville or performing on stage as Lowen.
Whereas Emily Kopp was hungry, driven, eager, impatient, and lacked time to develop her own individual sound and instead emulated others’, Lowen is a more mature creative force, who is uninhibited, unapologetically unique, and has more refined tastes, confidence, and a mindful focus towards the cultivation of patience. “Music under the name Lowen is closer to myself than the Emily Kopp stuff,” she told me, and this mindset evidences the long journey — physically and spiritually — to where she is now.
להיות כָּאן עכשיו — Be Here Now — is tattooed gorgeously on her forearm to remind her daily of Ram Dass’ aphorism she lives by. Lowen is here now. Lowen affords her with the freedom to play, to wander nomadically through the creative world, to focus on where she is at the moment.
Images by Carol Simpson