Experimental freak folk. Ethereal dream mode. Cerebral music to squash your perfect puzzle pieces back into the oblivion. These were a few phrases lingering around upon my first taste of Lower Dens. I took the Sigur Ros approach, never registering any of the words singer Jana Hunter was wailing / cooing.
It’s easy to brew the new tunage from Nootropics into your own concoction, and it’s quite enjoyable to stone out to. Then I researched the album, its creators, and its intention.
Bassist Geoff Graham agreed to talk details with me, and unintentionally started our conversation with some TVD exclusive news. In recent months the band has seen expansions in their overall sound, something Graham attributes to their newish drummer, Nate Nelson, as well as a second guitarist and keyboardist, Carter Tanton. However, Tanton just stepped down from the band as of last week, playing his final Lower Dens show in Dublin at the Forbidden Fruits Festival.
“Musically, the dynamic changed quite a bit with both additions. For the better. I think that specifically Nate is a very methodical, very precise, very subtle drummer. Carter is actually now gone.”
When did that happen? I hadn’t heard anything about a shake-up.
He quit. Yeah, that’s breaking news. I’m not sure if I was supposed to keep that a secret or whatever, but I don’t really care because it’s definitely happened. We sort of saw it coming. He has his own career, and had kind of been making noise about knowing how long he wanted to be in Lower Dens. So we kind of knew it would be at some point this year.
Well let’s not dwell on the past. Moving along. From additions to subtractions, how has the process of creating changed among you?
At the very beginning, the band kind of formed around the fact that Jana, myself, and Abe (former drummer) liked playing together. She had a group of songs she had written that she wanted to try working out with us. We sat down as a trio, tried different arrangements. Since then things have become more collaborative, though she is the primary songwriter. Now she may have a very small idea about a song, more of a skeleton, and it’s more collaborative. We let everybody’s individual skills as a performer come out.
I see Lower Dens as more on the artsy side, something you should enjoy by yourself, and quietly at first. With all the touring the band has done to date, which I understand is pretty extensive, could you say that there is any city in particular with an audience that has “gotten” you best, and given you back the most?
I know it lends to listening by yourself, or in your car when you’re driving, which is fine, I can relate to that. But I think we really like playing shows where people get into it. Whenever you have an audience that inspires you to play the songs, where the audience is dancing around or going crazy. We have had some of those recently. In Hamburg, everybody just went totally wild. And in Austria. At one show people tossed people in the air on a big cloth, you know what I’m talking about? Even if they’re just kind of standing there, you can tell when they’re having that extraordinary experience.
In a recent interview with Consequence of Sound, your frontwoman Jana states that though the album touches on transhumanism, the large part of the record deals with examining these concepts, rather than offering any proposals about them. It seems there has been a good deal of discussion on the topic in your circle and in the Baltimore scene, so what is your personal opinion on the idea?
A lot of the themes on the album were inspired by the ideas of transhumanism, but we quickly want to point out that we’re not, like you said, trying to celebrate it nor are we condemning it. We’re diagnosing it. These are interesting questions to write songs about. So if you’re asking me personally, my take, whether I’m for it or against it? I’d have to say I’m interested in it and have read a lot about it. A lot of it remains to be seen. There are immediate concerns.
Transhumanism makes pretty big promises. This technology is exciting, but it’s also pretty terrifying if it becomes something that we lost control over. An optimistic idea, is that we’ll be able to overcome a lot of the limitations that humans have had in the past through technology. Whether it’s our own aging process, or our own mortality. I’m kind of critical about it. I’m a very pro-body kind of person. The human body is amazing. It’s able to deal with stresses, to perceive things, it heals itself. The mind and body is not separate. What’s the difference between transhumanism and dehumanism? Are we still human, are we still experiencing things in a human way? I think it’s really good to stay grounded in the body, and in reality.
His next interview is beeping in right now, and Graham asks if he can click over. To my relief he’s having the other person call him back. How fortunate because given my personal experience with Nootropics, I am itching to hear his answer to my last question.
My entire listening process changed once I heard what inspired this record. It immediately forced me to hear the songs differently. Is it important to you that your fans learn more about these cultural movements and ideas, or are you ok with them just listening and developing their own thoughts from the sonic terrain you’ve spawned?
It’s interesting. I think our take on it is that there were some things that inspired the songwriting, but where it goes from there is…things develop beyond what originally inspired them. A well put together song appeals to the left side of the brain and to the right side. The conscious and the subconscious.
We put as much as we could into each of these songs. In a lyrical way and a musical way. I think there’s a lot that you can focus on as a listener. If you want to kind of nerd out on the sci-fi themes of the songs, it’s there. But if you want to enjoy the music on just a musical level, we tried to put as much into that as we could, too.
No one should feel that there is a right or wrong way to interpret these songs. It’s music. It’s supposed to be abstract. So whatever way you want to interpret it, it’s all there and it’s all valid.
Lower Dens will be performing at One Eyed Jacks on Saturday, June 23. $12 cover. 9pm