Meet Billy Lowe. This Beverly Hills based stylist and musician has been featured in magazines across the nation, including two impressive write-ups by Entrepreneur: Mine, All Mine!, and Think Like a Negotiator. You may recognise him from MTV's Made, MTV's Brunch, or 10 Years Younger on TLC. Billy has been in the beauty industry for over 10 years, and brings his considerable experience and insight to everything he does.
Billy has made the transition back into music, and is about to make an even bigger name for himself.
Billy talked to us about his music, career, and life in the City of Angels.
Tell us a bit about your career as a stylist. How did you get into it and what's the most rewarding part of being a stylist?
Well when I was a little girl (he says joking), I remember always doing things with my hands, drawing, arranging, and brushing peoples' hair. I forever had a hair brush in my hands and my mother wouldn't hear of her son playing with dolls, so my Grandmother bought a set of dolls for me when I was about 6 and said "Don't tell your dad, and we'll just leave these at my house." I never told.
But since I couldn't do hair, I began training in classical piano performance at the age of 8 or 9. I grew up playing piano in my father's churches for as long as I can remember and competed professionally throughout my college career, ranking 3rd and 4th in the state of Georgia for Boys Classical Piano Performance. Beauty didn't come til years later.
We understand you've worked on some great people. Did you ever have a moment of "omg I can't believe they're sitting in my chair" and if so, who was it with?
I learned early on in production that everyone has a job to do. The actors learn their lines, the make-up artist does the makeup, the lighting guy, the wardrobe person, etc etc. So I'm always focused on my work first - and who the person is second. When a person sits down with me there's so many other things to consider and not just who they are. Obviously there are different things to be aware of (i.e. security, privacy, lifestyle, production, etc), but I'm very focused when it comes to my work. After a while, it starts to set in that "such and so" is with me, or that I'm with them. When I'm traveling it usually hits me in mid-air that I'm off to work on a certain assignment. I review every opportunity to be sure it's a good match for me. I keep a nice working relationship with my clients and with my team that I bring on so that everyone involved is comfortable. We are all people, we all have different needs and preferences. I do my job, and I go home and watch Nanny McPhee and cuddle on the couch with my dog Panda.
The transition into music is a surprising one. Has music always been a passion or did this develop later in life?
Music was my first language - not hair. When I didn't know how to communicate with my parents (well, who would with all the marriages and divorces?) I developed a strong relationship with the piano and with music. I would do anything to get out of the house and find a piano somewhere to play just to get out of the house and to get out of my own head.
Beauty came so much later, and I've had a great run, but I segued into hair because it was easy. I went to college to study piano performance but finished with a BA in Secondary Education. This proved helpful for me with many of the trade shows and educational roles I've held through the years and the beauty/education background created a very attractive package for several brands that I've worked with.
When I moved to Los Angeles in the late 90's, the labels were really encouraged by my sound and were like "Yes, you have the melodies of Elton John, and we love your whispery voice, but maybe you should do classics - we'd like to hear you do classics."
I hated "New York New York" and was so frustrated by the "Moon River" requests when I used to play for piano bars and didn't want to do classics (a few years later, entered Michael Buble). I've written so many songs through the years but lately have fallen more in love with the classics than I could have imagined.
Who are some of your influences and what instruments do you play?
My first musical influence was my Aunt Sharon. I used to watch her play piano every sunday morning for church. Her arms and fingers seemed miles long and her hands were all over the keyboard as if she had 7 arms. It was so impressive. There were many musical influences in our churches and people were always playing something, a guitar, piano, organ, string bass, autoharp, harpsichords, and every time I turned around I was being introduced to a new instrument.
I personally play the piano, organ, harpsichord and autoharp and that's it. But people in church and at school noted my musical talents very early on and put me in choirs, on tours, in musical performances and competitions and I kept winning more and more awards, ribbons, etc., so it was the only thing I ever recognized that I was good at. I never really thought I was good at anything because as a little kid, I was always the LAST one to be picked for kickball, baseball, or whatever at recess. I was bullied as a kid and called names I didn't even know the meaning of. I just remember growing up thinking I must be a horrible, horrible person. But when I started getting recognized for music, I knew I must be good at something so I took it and ran. It's still the only thing that I have a feeling about when I sit down at the piano of "Yes, I'm really amazing at this thing."
Later in my years, Tori Amos was such an inspiration and she and I have much the same story (preacher's kid, classically trained pianist). I tried pulling the "tortured artist" card for years but all in all I've been rather lucky. Life is what we make it, and mine has been a pretty good one.
I was introduced to the work and sounds of Blossom Dearie 4-5 years ago and before she passed away, I was introduced to her publishing manager Jim DiGiovanni who has taken ear and interest in my fan-ship of Blossom. He has given me the green-light to cover her work on my YouTube channel which I was signed to this year, and Universal London loves the covers I've done of hers. She was adored in London.
Musically do you have any surprises in store for us?
Yes, My work in the world of beauty continues day-to-day with lots of travel, productions, a ton of consulting, and public speaking. I still see clients in the salon and am treating music as something I LOVE to do, not something that I have to do. It makes it much more enjoyable and I've been more creative in the process.
How did you decide to go from stylist to musician and what are some of the challenges you've faced?
That's above. It actually happened the other way around. I went from musician to stylist, back to musician. When a couple of the labels closed in the late 90's that I was working with, I started volunteering backstage at VIP events for hair/make-up. Before you know it, I was asked to do hair for shows, reality shows, news segment interviews, and I was being featured and quoted in thousands of magazines and news articles around the world for my work. And then speaking at trade shows, and being asked to do product endorsements.
Are you maintaining your career as a stylist as you make music? How do you strike a balance?
Yes, My work as a stylist continues day-to-day with lots of travel, production, a ton of consulting, and public speaking. I still see clients in the salon and am treating music as something I LOVE to do, not something that brings home the bank (yet). When I write a song for a movie (hint hint) then I'll be bringing home more bacon.
It seems as though stylist and musician are two very different careers. Have you noticed any similarities?
Lots of people are saying "OMG Billy Lowe - 2 of my favorite things, beauty and music - we love you." Yes, lots of people are comparing the 2. Both are very mathematical in fact. Very logical and creative processes that seem to use both sides of my brain which is fun. Music is SO mathematical, but so is color formulations. Music is also very creative and free, as is styling hair. So again, I get to exercise both parts of my brain, and all of my body and spirit.
What's an average day for you?
I'm up at 5 or 6am. No sleeping in for me. I like to get about 5-6 hours of sleep a night. I honestly don't believe anyone needs 8 hours of sleep. I hit the ground running; a power walk with my dog first thing, a cup of coffee, some writing or I'm off to work somewhere. There's usually a meeting somewhere in the day with press or media or a potential client, and then dinner around 6-7. And then at home in the evening I spend countless hours a week on the piano. When I was studying I practiced about 18-20 hours a week (Bach preludes, Schubert, Hayden etc). But now about 10-15 hours a week writing and playing for myself.
You've been quoted not just for your style tips, but also for your business acumen. What was the most interesting publication to be featured in?
Entrepreneur Magazine did a double page spread on my work. It was really an honor to be featured in Entrepreneur. They sent staff photographers and reporters out to cover me.
What can we expect next from you in the coming months?
More songs, more beauty, and believe it or not, - a product line! How about "Buy this luxury hair care set from Billy Lowe and receive your free Love Songs CD while you style your hair at home"? I think it's a hit. I'd love to do a small show somewhere featuring my songs and maybe even some classics. Why not?