Baltimore-based indie pop band, Lower Dens, was born out of front person Jana Hunter’s emergence from her own solo work. The band’s first two albums – Twin-Hand Movement (2010) and Nootropics (2012) – garnered critical acclaim for an experimental sound described by many as “equal parts reverb-drenched folk and swirling ambience.”
A difficult period of band turmoil experienced during recording sessions in early 2013 ultimately led Hunter and bandmate Geoff Graham to discuss the group’s direction going forward. The result was their latest release – Escape from Evil – which a listener might be tempted to interpret as a therapeutic release of sorts, given the album’s newly-infused positive, pop influence. With that said, it’s still far from a pop record. The album is raw and honest, with confessional lyrics delivered through an 80s synth-pop sound.
G—You worked with John Congleton (St. Vincent, Cloud Nothings) during the early stages of making Escape From Evil and mentioned in another interview that you came out of those sessions knowing you wanted a different musical direction for the band. Was that a process of hearing the playback of those sessions after it was done?
Jana Hunter—We enjoyed working with him a lot. He has a signature sound. He has a lot of really cool equipment. He’s very energetic, and obviously very experienced. We made a lot of interesting sounds. It’s just [that] when I got back home and he sent rough recordings through, it was at that point that it’d occurred to me that we wanted to go with a different aesthetic and direction.
G—You went on to work with Chris Coady (Future Islands, Tobias Jesso Jr.) following those sessions. Did you feel a renewed clarity working with him?
JH—I had a clearer idea of what I wanted to do and Chris was somebody who I had had so much experience with. I knew he’d be willing to give me a lot of my own room. I needed to work with someone who was technically proficient and skilled, but also someone who was going to also let me call the shots and feel comfortable doing so despite the fact that I’m not a studio engineer or a producer.
Chris is an old friend and colleague at this point so we worked really well together. I’ve never really had to explain things. He knew where I was going from the beginning.
G—With the band’s shift in musical direction, was there a point that you simply felt like you wanted to challenge yourself?
Both in the music’s aesthetic and composition, I wanted to make things simpler and clearer. With Nootropics we had more complex compositional ideas than we’d had with our previous record. And though they were fun, and though I feel accomplished in them, I feel like we kinda started to lose something in what we were beginning to make available for people.
JH—Yeah, both in the music’s aesthetic and composition, I wanted to make things simpler and clearer. With Nootropics we had more complex compositional ideas than we’d had with our previous record. And though they were fun, and though I feel accomplished in them, I feel like we kinda started to lose something in what we were beginning to make available for people. It started to become more obscure in both its sound and composition and I wanted to see if we could simplify things in terms of writing and clear away the haze.
G—I read that you had some key conversations with your bandmate, Geoff, during the recording of Escape from Evil, about defining your new sound, as well as discussing a shared feeling of a dark period within the band early on in recording. Were those difficult conversations to have?
JH—No, the conversations between Geoff and I are typically of the resolution conversation. The band will be going through something murky and difficult, and Geoff and I will meet to discuss how to get out of that. We’re usually already on the same page from having been in the band together for a long time and going through the same stuff. So when we talk, we’d just find a better way of dealing with or doing things.
G—The initial musical idea for your first single, “To Die in LA”, started out as a very different song than what ultimately ended up on the record. Was it a process of experimenting to find out what sat right in your ears?
JH—No, it was entirely based on that conversation with Geoff. The song in its original incarnation was really dark and we had enough internal darkness that we didn’t need our songs to reinforce it. So, we had a conversation about writing songs that did the opposite. And so, I went and wrote that keyboard part and changed it to major. Like, immediately – I had that conversation while smoking a cigarette and then I went inside and then I changed the song.
G—Do you feel a bit of levity playing the new record live?
JH—Yeah. These shows are really our first shows together where we feel like we’re in command of these songs, and we know what we’re doing with the stage. And they’ve been just flat out joyful. I’ve never really had that kind of experience before, I don’t think. It’s pretty amazing.
Duckwrth cannot be pinned down. The 28-year-old rapper, born Jared Lee in South Central, landed like a splash of mixed paints with his debut full-length I’m Uugly in fall 2016. Its 10 elastic tracks stretch across hip hop, chill wave, funk, and punk, all shrouded in a soft-focused haze. He aptly calls this impressionistic concoction “psych rap.” Early last November, Duckwrth released An Xtra Uugly Mixtape. Whereas I’m Uugly exalted the beauty that lives within the harshness and griminess of everyday life – from the physical to the political to the socioeconomic – An Xtra Uugly Mixtape encourages being unapologetically you. It is, as Duckwrth writes on his Soundcloud page, “the anthem for your rebellion.” Fittingly, the tape is higher in energy; the guitar sounds are cranked. An Xtra Uugly Mixtape is his attempt to put hip hop and rock on equal footing within the same piece of music. An Xtra Ugly Mixtape is also a gradual step towards fulfilling his stadium rock ambitions. Duckwrth had one of his most formative musical experiences at a stadium show. “I used to do the whole protest [thing] and be more politically driven,” he says. “But then there was a time when
Over the past four years, Halifax pop artist Ria Mae has accomplished dreams she has openly spoken about: being produced by fellow Nova Scotia success story Classified and touring with Tegan and Sara and Coleman Hell. Since creating her self-released demo of “Clothes Off” in 2013, she has signed with Sony Music and Nettwerk Management. The former has helped develop the careers of Avril Lavigne, Barenaked Ladies, Coldplay, Dido, Sarah McLachlan, and many more. The finished version of the song – her major label debut – earned Mae her first Juno nomination, for “Single of the Year” in 2016, which put her in direct competition against Drake, The Weeknd, and Justin Bieber. From Mae’s new home in Toronto, only two days removed from a cross-Canada tour with Scott Helman, she spoke with Georgie about her sudden rise, working with Classified, stepping up as a voice for LGBTQ groups, and more. G—As you’ve discovered, you can make a lot of unexpected connections in a small town. But that can be a good thing because working with people who differ from you in their approach forces you to create from new perspectives. Do you ever have reservations about working with people who
Three years after the release of his first EP, Augusta, Canadian singer-songwriter Scott Helman has unleashed his debut full-length LP, Hôtel de Ville, a collection of 12 alt-pop coming-of-age tracks. The 22-year-old Toronto native who successfully broke into the music industry in his mid-teens earned himself two Juno Award nominations, certified gold status for his hit, Bungalow, and began quickly fielding comparisons to the likes of Vance Joy and Jeff Buckley. With a new level of acclaim awaiting him, Helman has recently finished his cross-Canada Scott vs. Ria tour with fellow Juno nominee Ria Mae. We thought it would be the right time to ask him about his momentous musical journey. G—You got your first guitar when you were ten. Was this what led you to become a musician? Scott Helman—I used to mess around on my friend’s guitar, and really wanted to learn how to play. So, I asked my parents for a guitar for Christmas. I remember coming down the stairs and seeing it, and knowing instantly what it was because of its shape. I never put it down after that. G—What kind of music did you listen to growing up? SH—My parents are British immigrants, so