Consider the banger. The word once signified an upbeat dancefloor track. Now it’s thrown around for any song that becomes omnipresent – the word “banger” edging closer to “hit”.
KUČKA – aka Laura Jane Lowther – knows all about those. The singing electronic beatsmith has 274,00 monthly listeners on Spotify and a total of 250 million (!) streams. Lowther is speaking to NME from her new digs in Atwater Village, a “very suburban neighbourhood” in Los Angeles, when over her shoulder we spot a gold record for ‘Walk With Me’ by Sydney duo Cosmo’s Midnight – a certified hit and certainly a banger.
“I got an email, ‘Here’s an instrumental Cosmo’s Midnight want you to feature on’,” Lowther recalls over Zoom, extra bright sunshine prying its way into the room as she sits wearing a white, green and red Come Tees shirt and a welcoming smile. A synth sits behind her, waiting expectantly.
“I wrote the vocal then they flew me to Sydney to record it.” Six years on from its release, ‘Walk With Me’ remains Cosmo’s Midnight’s highest-streaming song.
Cosmo’s knew what they were doing when they booked KUČKA’s return flight. Lowther’s strong suit is collaborating, parking her ego and tapping into the strengths of everyone in the room. It was her plaintive backing vocal on A$AP Rocky’s ‘Fashion Killa’ in 2013 that put her on the map. Her work with Flume and SOPHIE on ‘Voices’ netted them a Grammy nomination, and she’s also collaborated with Vince Staples, Fetty Wap, Kendrick Lamar, Vegyn and Nosaj Thing.
Now KUČKA’s got a debut solo album, ‘Wrestling’, ready for release this Friday. How did she get here? With a little help from her friends, a dusty PC, three continents and a dating app.
“There’s a lot of churn and burn here in LA… I had to actively be like: no collaborations, I’m only writing lyrics that feel like 100 per cent personal”
Lowther’s musical journey is an odd one. A PJ Harvey and Nirvana fan while growing up in Liverpool, at age 16 she was uprooted from Merseyside and plonked down in Perth.
She downloaded GarageBand on her parents’ computer and started tinkering away. Lowther heard through a friend there was a new music course offered at Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts. She passed the audition to get into the course, and found an environment where she was encouraged to fly her freak flag.
A friend gave Lowther the affectionate nickname, Kučka, Serb Croatian for ‘female dog’. Lowther dug the alias (“It rhymes with ‘butch-car’,” she clarifies) and started gigging around Perth as KUČKA, shapeshifting her sound to suit venues and crowds.
Lowther self-produced an eponymous EP and uploaded it to Bandcamp in 2012, then put out a second EP, ‘Unconditional’, in 2015. This scored her an invite to be part of Vivid Sydney 2016, where she collaborated with visual artist Rachael Archibald on #Portals, an audio-visual exhibition. The vibe was very much The Knife Down Under.
She nods. “I used to thrash ‘Shaking The Habitual’ when I worked at a cinema in Perth. I’d be so worried that the bosses would come in because it gets pretty wild.”
Soon, the tyranny of distance living in WA started being a problem. Lowther went through a full-on break-up just as LA was calling. It helped that Flume was already based there and the two were tight. That friendship came about after the Cosmo’s Midnight collaboration, and after Lowther began working with people on his label, Future Classic. “Harley [Streten aka Flume] and I just kind of realised we had the same taste in music. We definitely feel like peers, he’s not my mentor.”
KUČKA and Flume had been playing sound-file tennis over the internet in the lead up to the latter’s second album, ‘Skin’. “I wrote what came to be ‘Smoke and Retribution’ featuring Vince Staples. We got in a studio with Vince and he had these hot takes on absolutely everything,” she says, her eyes widening.
“He’s super friendly but I just feel like, holy shit, my brain can’t keep up. You have to jump on the Vince train or you’re left behind.”
The experience was invigorating, but when it came time to write her debut album, Lowther realised she couldn’t keep jumping into studio sessions.
“There’s a lot of churn and burn here in LA,” she says, her shoulders slumping. She was beginning to feel detached from her music.
“I felt like I was getting kind of like further and further away from stuff that I wanted to write, I guess. I had to actively be like: no collaborations, I’m only writing lyrics that feel like 100 per cent personal to me.”
“I would write one song and be like, ‘I’m so sad, what’s going on?’ And then the next day, I’d be like, ‘Oh my God, I’m so in love!’”
The coast was seemingly clear for Lowther to get stuck into her debut album – then there was another hurdle: “Immediately as I stopped doing sessions and stopped touring, I got super sick. It was this mystery illness that no one could diagnose.”
She adds, “Navigating the US healthcare system was just impossible. It made it difficult because I couldn’t record, my face swelled up for a year and a half, I couldn’t sing.”
During this period, there was a silver lining: She met the visual artist Dillon Howl through Tinder. Not only did Howl become Lowther’s partner, she also came on board as ‘Wrestling’’s creative director, taking all the press photos and producing all the artwork. “Somehow I found you,” Lowther sings on ‘Afterparty’, before bursting into 3am giggles.
“It was [an] ultra-confusing time. I would write one song and be like” – Lowther throws her arms in the air mock-helplessly – “‘I’m so sad, what’s going on?’ And then the next day, I’d be like, ‘Oh my God, I’m so in love!’”
‘Wrestling’ is an apt title for an album that takes the listener from the icky necessity of throwing out an ex’s belongings to the throes of passion when love is new and two people are showing off the best versions of themselves. On broken beat cloud-buster ‘Sky Brown’, Lowther seems to warn herself against becoming complacent: “I’m not gonna get too comfortable, you know I’ll fall down again.”
The couple survived an extended lockdown together by watching trashy Australian television. “Married At First Sight is all drama,” Lowther says with a guffaw. “You can learn what you should be doing in your relationship. ‘I can’t believe they didn’t apologise; they just need to apologise.’ And then if you’re having an argument with your partner, I think ‘What would I do if I was in MAFS?”
In the midst of the pandemic, Lowther and Howl attended a Black Lives Matter protests together in Fairfax. “It was a very peaceful protest until the police turned up. They blocked the streets then started shooting rubber bullets into the crowd and tear gas.”
Lowther is far happier living in Joe Biden’s America as opposed to Donald Trump’s hellscape. “It’s feeling really optimistic right now because a lot of people [have been] vaccinated,” she says. Lowther has had the Johnson & Johnson jab, though she still hasn’t got an answer about her mystery illness. “Both my doctors agree it’s [an] autoimmune [issue]. Now I have no alcohol, gluten or dairy and get lots of sleep.”
Being vaccinated is a positive step, but KUČKA has no current gigs or supplementary government income (think JobKeeper). “I’m surviving on money from previous releases. When I got over here, I signed a publishing deal with Native Tongue.” Her music appeared last year in the indie flick Mogul Mowgli starring Riz Ahmed – in an eerie coincidence – as a rapper who is struck down by an autoimmune disease just before he’s about to go on tour.
And ‘Wrestling’ certainly has songs with widescreen sonic aesthetics that would translate to the big screen. The 12 tracks take in elements of Warp Records artists and Purity Ring and reflect them through an Antipodean prism.
“‘Drowning’ sums up the album pretty well, it has a few what-the-fuck moments in it,” Lowther says of early album track, a trappy FKA twigs-esque cut. “The 808 gets slammed. And I thought, after the slower ‘Contemplation’, it did need something to kind of stop you sinking into a really relaxed listening experience.”
On the other hand, the latest ‘Wrestling’ single ‘No Good For Me’ is a nimble, bouncy UK garage house cut. At 125 beats per minute, it’s just waiting to soundtrack a cinematic exposition scene or be played out of a Funktion-One PA at a festival. It could very well be KUČKA’s first solo hit, a bona fide banger. “In the whole streaming world, I’m definitely happy to be weird and appreciated,” Lowther says. “I’m definitely not, y’know, bringing in a lot of money, but I have enough to live and survive and be comfortable.”
But everyone’s got high hopes for KUČKA. “My dad’s like ‘You’ve gotta write a hit! You’ll be set for life!’,” she says, cracking up. “I tell him, ‘It doesn’t work like that’. Obviously, it would be great to have, like, a really big track. I definitely wouldn’t say no.”
KUČKA’s ‘Wrestling’ is out April 30 through Soothsayer/Lucky Me