Childhood memories run deep. Mental snapshots of nostalgic times gone by capture a moment in time, their clarity and poignancy brought back to life sometimes by a smell, sometimes a smile, sometimes a song.
For Lauren Bevins Cahill, singer and frontwoman of Charleston-based band The Lowhills, the twang of bluegrass melodies floods her mind with memories of being with her father as a child and where her love for music began.
Cahill vividly recalls when her father would take her to local bluegrass jams as a child—intimate, spur-of-the-moment get-togethers among Southern bluegrass musicians who just wanted to play their favorite songs. Once a month they’d choose a location outside city limits to gather and play bluegrass.
“It was usually in a big, old house, and on one Friday every month, everyone who wants to play bluegrass goes and plays,” Cahill said. “They were beautiful places out in the country where people get together and bring food and play music together all night. That’s where I learned to love the mandolin and, of course, bluegrass.”
Cahill was a naturally gifted musician from an early age—she played piano starting at just seven years old. But it wasn’t until she reached her formative years that the twangy hum of the mandolin took hold of her, and it’s a hold that remains just as strong today.
She’s one part of the four-member group whose fresh, sultry sound she describes as “jazzy soulgrass.” Cahill laughed immediately at her description of the band’s music saying, “That’s just the way I describe it because it’s sort of like R&B, but it’s based in bluegrass, but also super jazzy. It’s hard so I make up our own genre,” she said, laughing again. “But it’s really rooted in Southern soul music.”
The Lowhills have been making waves up and down the Lowcountry coast and across the South at weddings and events as well as at their own performances. The band caters to its crowd, playing feel-good covers everyone knows as well as original songs too, some of which aren’t even recorded or released yet.
Cahill is the lead singer and mandolin player of the band, joined by singer/songwriter Joe Marlow, bassist/drummer (and her husband) Matt Cahill, and drummer Wes Towers to form The Lowhills. Together the group forms a dynamic combination of raw musical talent and unique melodies truly worthy of its own genre of music. And each member has their own story for how they ended up in the group.
Joe and Matt have been best friends for years, growing up together in Nashville, Tennessee. The duo played together in a variety of bands and dabbled in different musical genres, even performing in a rock band at one point. They moved around together across the South, finally landing in Charleston, South Carolina, where they first met Lauren, and then Wes, through mutual friends who hosted bluegrass jams. After playing together—or “picking,” as it is known in the bluegrass world—they decided to form a band.
Fast-forward six months, and Matt and Lauren began dating, and then another six months, and they were married. The pair just celebrated their five-year wedding anniversary in August 2017 and have a four-year-old daughter together, Mona, who loves to play the drums. And even though Matt and Lauren are married, Joe and Matt remain best friends, and their families vacation together.
“They are like brothers. They were married first, and for way longer!” Cahill said.
Their family vacations serve a dual purpose: to get away and make memories, sure, but also to write songs. Joe’s wife, Andrea, will watch the kids (they have two), and the songwriting process begins. Joe usually writes the song lyrics and then together they create a song piece by piece—first creating an arrangement, then lacing together the harmonies, and finally forming a real song.
“We really like to put three-part harmonies on our songs that we write together. That’s our favorite type of harmony,” Lauren said. And their favoritism shows—these original tracks spin together a medley of their voices to produce a soulful sound that hits all the right notes. So far, they have produced two EPs for a total of 10 original songs, but they have plans for much more.
“We’re thinking about doing a live album where we can record all the tracks in a live studio with a bigger band to back it up—that’s what I want,” Cahill said.
And throughout it all, they keep their Southern roots at the forefront of all they accomplish.
“Being in the South, I think it has a real impact on us. For our type of music, I feel like there is a lot of it in the South. It didn’t originate here, but it’s rooted here . . . . Cooking and playing music and hanging out—that’s my favorite thing to do, and the South is the best place to do it.”
Written by Anna Jones
Photography by Dreampop Media