Off the Record: Interview with Highfives and Handshakes’ Peter Lowe

Peter Lowe is the man behind Highfives and Handshakes, a Seattle-based record label that started nearly a decade ago.  Under this moniker, Peter has promoted, produced, and toured with numerous bands from the northwest since he was 15 years old. A Pacific Northwest native, Peter has immersed himself in the underground and independent music world since highschool, and now seeks to find the happy medium between punk, DIY, and professionalism in music.

For most of the year, Peter tours around the country show managing various film festivals (SIFF, Sundance), and runs the record label and tours with bands during the festival off-season. Read Peter’s interview to find out how he started the label and his plans for the future.

Highfives and Handshakes logo

The Interview:

On northwest music: 

I just like it up here. There’s a lot more, well, I don’t want to say vibe, but, vibe. Just has more creative energy. When I go to NY and go to see shows, it kind seems like people are trying really hard. They want to be in a band that everyone likes, whereas no one cares about that here. It’s not that they don’t care, they just want to make really challenging music. Or something that conveys emotion that you can actually call art. You can see something and it makes you feel something. It’s not just a traditional rock format. People are making challenging music here, and I like that. Also, there isn’t a huge national scene here, so people don’t feel the need to play to a national audience. It’s much more community driven, especially in Seattle.

What makes your record label specifically northwest?

Which one?

Highfives and Handshakes.

(laughs) I think I have only put out northwest bands. All the bands sound like they’re from here, to me at least. They all have a Seattle sound, but I don’t look at it as a regional label. When I’m looking for music that I want to put out, I look for people who are making  music that I struggle to compare to something else. Like when you get a press release and it says “recommended if you like…”, if I struggle to fill in that blank, I know that’s a band I want to put out. Somebody that is making music that don’t sound like anything else.

Why is Seattle a good place to have a record label? 

The location and the cost of living are definitely a struggle. I mean, running a record label out of Nashville, or Memphis would be way better on a budget. You could go pick up the records at the pressing plant. Your cost of living would be so much lower, you could have a label and not do something on the side. Its rare, but I know people produce music and support themselves on it.   Living in Seattle makes it hard–all the costs increase here. But there are also things people are willing to spend more money on here–people will spend 15-20 dollars on music these days.

How did you get started working in independent music? 

When I was 16, I decided I wanted to start a record label and I wanted to put out my friends CD, just as a trial. I had been booking shows in downtown Olympia for a year by this time, I think. I was in a band, a crappy noise rock band and I was getting more and more involved with music. It started as a way to put on shows, like “Highfives and Handshakes presents!” and I started doing a lot more shows around town. And then it sort of rolled from that, I would share music with people and they would share music with me, a lot of times bands don’t have that drive to record their music and put out into a world. It’s definitely been a learning experience. But now, Megan Birdsall, who started Don’t Stop Believin’ records, and I are starting a label. We have had mutual friends for a long time, and didn’t realize that we both started our labels not really knowing what we were doing. We look around at other labels and really like the uniformity. Like when you pick up a Sacred Bones record, and you immediately know that it is. Or the Sub Pop logo–just having that continuity. So we started a record label called Trenchart: it focuses on experimental metal, and hardcore. I really focused on packaging, we have released short run cassette tapes and will be releasing an LP soon. We really look up to and have a lot of labels who have a cool style that is recognizable.

How would you describe your record label in three words? 

Punk.

Where did the name come from?

Well, I had originally named it Bicycle Records, but this guy named Bob in Olympia had just started a record label six months earlier with the same name. The idea behind Highfives and Handshakes was kind of like a contract between friends. We work with friends and people I liked. I tried to do something a little more professional, but its not necessary. Sometimes I feel like I need to be writing a contact, but it’s just not needed.

For album art, do you choose or does the band? 

I give total creative control to the bands, but I’ve definitely said no to stuff before. Usually the band has a concept or idea or an artist that they want to work with.

What is next for you? 

Working hard on Trenchart…got a lot of exciting releases with that. I’ve been doing a lot of management and booking. Highfives and Handshakes is kind of falling under that umbrella these days. I am managing band and a touring with the band Christmas, they’re new record is almost done, and I’m helping produce it. Hopefully we are touring Europe next summer…Gotta figure that out. And we are mixing and producing the new MTNS record right now. It’s are fucking awesome.

Are your parents proud of you? Do they want you to go to college? 

Yeah. I’m a college dropout. By the time I was 16, I knew what I wanted to do. I didn’t think it would be through film festivals and running a record label, but its all just show managing. If I went to college I would take four years out of my life experience, when I could be working and learning and building contacts. Just doesn’t seem like a realistic move for me. maybe when I turn 30 I’ll go back to school. People do that all the time.

Thanks again to Peter for the interview.  Until next time!

**Interested in hearing some of the bands on Highfives and Handshakes? Look no further than The Henry’s test site, featuring several 7″‘s and LP’s from the label on display for your listening pleasure!

Signing off,

Olivia Olive

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