Artist Interviews

Q&A: Lower Dens

By | Published on Wednesday 1 September 2010

Lower Dens

Lower Dens was formed in 2009 by Jana Hunter. As a solo artist, Hunter is known for making weird, ghostly, lo-fi music, but with her new band takes a much louder turn, drawing influence from new wave and drone rock. Having previously released a seven-inch single, ‘I Get Nervous’ through Devendra Banhart’s Gnomonsong label (the first release on which was Hunter’s debut solo album), the band’s debut album, ‘Twin-Hand Movement’, is out this week via the same label. We caught up with Hunter to ask the Same Six.

Q1 How did you start out making music?
I played the violin with some ambition as a young person, and persuaded my older brother to teach me something of the guitar as a teenager. I lived in a quiet town then, and stayed up nights walking or biking. There was never anyone on the streets, and I sang to myself. When I returned home (I lived at my aunt’s and made her garage into a studio), I recorded the songs into a tape machine. The process was inherently isolating and allowed observation of the town and its culture at a remove. That isolation at close proximity to a population became an integral part of writing for me.

Q2 What inspired your latest album?
The city in which I live, Baltimore, has a rich and vital art and music culture. It’s also a very poor, DIY culture. I moved there specifically for those things, and in my first year there was heavily involved. It was/is a very strong, active and giving community, bent on experimentation and sustainability, a sort of order that functions to wrest life from its bonds.

I have always enjoyed writing from the perspective of a paranoiac. It is to writing music what the sexual innuendo is to cracking jokes. I wanted this record to retain elements of that, but also, in contrast, to reflect the kind of survivalist awakening I witnessed in some of my acquaintances. There is tied to those ideas a respect for the true dominance of nature (hence the imposing mountain imagery of the art).

It’s not without a science-fiction inspired element either, as the best ideas on endogenous cultures often begin there.

Q3 What process do you go through in creating a track?
In my free time at home or on tour, I’ll still walk alone and sing to myself, recording favourite melodies or scratching down lyrics. I’ll set aside a week or two every few months to go through those, pick favourites, and flesh them out in a home studio. During that time I rarely leave the house. Sometimes I use drugs as an aide. Usually, I’ll write and record the song simultaneously, and many of my finished songs haven’t differed much from the original home-studio versions. With this project, however, there is much greater attention to detail. When I have a strong group of songs, I bring them to the band, and when we work on songs (always in a group) we prefer long hours, again not leaving the practice space much but to sleep. We then tour the songs, revisit them in the space when we get home, and then record immediately after.

Q4 Which artists influence your work?
On this particular record, our primary influences were Wire, Velvet Underground, Television and Joy Division. These are bands whose records have long had a place in all of our collections, but we listened closely when making our record for tone and structure inspiration.

Q5 What would you say to someone experiencing your music for the first time?
To listen to the whole record, to try not to draw any pointless and distracting cinematic or makeout-sesh-with-your-friend’s-friend references, and to not think about it too hard.

Q6 What are your ambitions for your latest album, and for the future?

We’re happy with how this record’s been received, and that it’s grown slowly and steadily in terms of attention. We’re quite satisfied to tour it for a while. In the meantime, we’re taking a couple of breaks in the next few months to write for the next album, and we’ll release some singles that we’re excited about this fall. We’ve gotten to a very comfortable place in writing and touring, so I imagine we’ll keep doing both of those things as long as we’re capable.