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Lower Dens

Aug 30/2015
WORDS Jeffrey Powell PHOTO Katya Koroscil

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.

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