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.
In the ten years since Swedish sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg started First Aid Kit, they have been going non-stop. The indie-folk duo got their start when their cover of Fleet Foxes’ “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” went viral, and have since released four albums, won five Swedish Grammis awards, and brought two of their idols to tears on live television. Following a brief hiatus, and four years after their last record, Stay Gold, First Aid Kit is back with Ruins, a raw account of losing love and finding yourself. In the middle of a North American tour, Georgie talked to Klara and Johanna about the new album and what brought them to Ruins. G—You’ve said in past interviews that Stay Gold was a more put-together, polished kind of album, and Ruins is a lot rawer. What caused that shift? JS—The production of Stay Gold is very lush and elegant, and I think that’s what we wanted at the time. But we started longing for this rawness, this almost lo-fi aspect that we had on our first records. [For Ruins]…our attitude was that everything doesn’t have to be perfect. If we sing a bum note or there’s a little crack
Charlotte Cardin is on track to having her biggest year yet. The electro jazz-pop singer has been nominated for Songwriter of the Year and Breakthrough Artist of the Year at next month’s Juno Awards. Along the way, she has performed at Osheaga—an experience she calls “surreal”, having attended for years growing up in Montréal—and Festival d’été de Québec where she opened for Sting and Peter Gabriel. More recently, she has been touring behind her EPs Big Boy (Cult Nation Records, 2016) and Main Girl (Sony Music, 2017). Through this past September and October, she supported Nick Murphy (formerly Chet Faker), and she’s been on tour with BØRNS since January. This spring, Cardin will headline her own dates. Prior to her full-time career in music, Cardin modelled in fashion which afforded her pocket money and freedom to work on her art. She also competed on the first season of La Voix, a francophone Canadian version of The Voice. But being on television, like modelling, was never her passion. “I never really felt that much pressure when I was on TV. For me, there’s something a lot more real about what I’m doing right now.” She feels more pressure performing her own
Garland Jeffreys’ album, 14 Steps to Harlem, grew out of a soulful period of retrospection late in the artist’s life and career. As a veteran songwriter, Jeffreys started writing provocative, ahead-of-its- time, genre-bending songs in the early 1970s, with lyrics focused on everything from relationships to racial diversity to political turmoil. Now in his seventies, the New York musician is looking back on his life with an album that takes on bold topics and includes a title track inspired by his turbulent relationship with his father. Jefferys spoke with Georgie about his latest release, his relationship with Lou Reed and his somewhat unconventional approach to songwriting. Georgie—14 Steps to Harlem is a great album. Garland Jeffreys—Thank you. I’m very proud of the record. I took some chances in recording it but had confidence that it could be something special. You don’t know a record is good or bad until it’s done – then you know. I worked on the album with my co-producer, James Maddock, who’s a great artist in his own right. G—The title track, “14 Steps to Harlem”, stood out to me. I read that it was written with your father in mind. Did the experience of writing about your dad