story + interview / LOGAN BRENDT
photos: SHAWN BRACKBILL
As self proclaimed “dark nerds”, Baltimore band Lower Dens makes music that warrants attentive listening. The subtleties of krautrock are mixed in with their electronic sound on their current album, Nootropics, which was just released on May 1st.
Jana Hunter, the hauntingly deep voiced singer and guitarist for Lower Dens, generates vocal melodies that are reminiscent of Siouxsie and the Banshees. This adds to the beautiful mysteriousness of the album. Jana is also behind the creation of the songs as well. These songs expand beyond the musical realm, as they have purposeful lyrics that are a look inside humanity.
As for the album title Nootropics, it is one of the many references to the band’s interest in transhumanism. Since nootropics are a drug that is used to enhance memory and other cognitive functions, it relates to the emerging technologies which are being studied and used to overcome human limitations, known as transhumanism.
To meet the growing fascination over the unique individuality and sound of Lower Dens, they have been currently touring in support of Nootropics. Soon touring Europe, they will be back to the States to round out the summer.
Before leaving for Europe, Jana spent some time talking with Ladygunn about the idiosyncrasies of her music, songwriting, and her distinct rich vocals.
Since your album just came out, you’re now on tour in support of it. Any place you’re specifically excited to see, whether in Europe or here in the US?
We’re excited about the show in our hometown of Baltimore. Pretty excited to go to Europe in general. I’m looking forward to playing Primavera [music festival in Barcelona, Spain] for the first time. Then immediately following that, Forbidden Fruit Festival in Dublin, which is always a fun place for us to be.
Your music is beautiful and mysterious, however its rhythmic and hypnotic sound evoke the subtleties of krautrock. Do you draw from that style of music?
I’ve long been a fan of Kraftwerk and Neu! in particular, and some of the associated bands from the same country and same period of time. I just happened to be listening quite a bit to the Kraftwerk Radio-Activity record, kind of really digesting it in further depths than I had previously while writing some of the songs for the record. So I’m sure that had a pretty direct influence to some of the songs.
How do you feel that you framed your own originality into the style?
I have a very strong impulse when writing and I don’t tend to turn to other band’s music for much inspiration during the writing process. I have enough of my own drive that I can rely on it, typically. It’s hard for me to characterize it, other than saying it’s my own.
The vocals on the album seem intentionally obscured. Is that a correct assessment?
I didn’t intentionally obscure them. We worked with a producer on this record and the mixes were his design. I had very little to do with the overall aesthetic of the mix. But for me, the vocals are maybe more present than most of the other works that I’ve done. It wasn’t even something I really noticed until people started pointing it out. I think the fact that we put out “Brains” first and it has the most obscured vocals— those vocals maybe are intentionally obscured because the emotional content required that it be a little bit varied under the den of the music and the intention of that song. I think that’s maybe given people an undue impression for the record as a whole. There’s definitely some other songs where I think the vocals are incredibly prominent and I’d be surprised if people couldn’t make out the lyrics in terms of their audibility. It might have something to do with the way that I sing. I tend to vocalize more as a means of instrumentation, but it’s not to obscure the lyrics. I want them to be understood.
Without getting too personal, what type of mental state are you in when you’re most effectively creative?
Kind of like a trance like focus. I like to be isolated from daily life as much as possible. I like to remove myself from any auxiliary concerns and focus as much as possible on exploration of ideas that I’m curious about musically and dramatically. I just try to be as mentally and physically removed as possible from daily life.
How did you arrive at your interest in transhumanism? Was it part of a personal interest in self improvement, or do you feel it’s a sort of necessity for society to engage in?
It’s more that I’m interested in people’s relationships to transhumanism. I’m not particularly a proponent, but I think it’s a really interesting movement to observe. It says a lot about our society as a whole that that is something that so many people seem to be really passionately involved in. What I prefer to focus on is the observation of that happening in other people’s lives.
Do you feel technology will inevitably hinder us in the end?
No, I think we’re very much at a crossroads. I think that if we can steer the infrastructure and building of our technology based society, then we have the potential to make it work to our benefit. But it’s very much up in the air right now. We have a very consumer based approach to the incorporation of technology and that I think if we allow to continue to be the main drive in how we build our society around technology, then I think that will work to our detriment.
Is there any cinematic or visual art that you’ve recently encountered that you can recommend to our readers?
I really enjoyed the movie, We Need to Talk About Kevin. It had a fascinating approach and the cinematography was incredible. Another one that I liked was Hanna.
Now that you’ve been playing a lot of shows, what have your experiences been like being a woman in that scene?
It can seem at times something of a boys club. But I don’t feel like that in my band and amongst a lot of my peers that I play music with. It’s something I encounter just as much as I do in any other area of life. Given that it’s not something I have to deal with constantly, I find it surprising when I do encounter the willfully ignorant impression of women’s participation in society. In modern society, it’s very subtle. It’s the tendency for maybe men to be consulted with questions before women are. It seems like something so small to bring up to confront someone about. But, if you were to confront someone about something like that, I would think that they would probably be unaware that they were doing that.
Since you have a deep, rich voice, what singers did you gravitate towards or find influential in finding your own voice?
When I was a teenager, I really liked Ella Fitzgerald. I tried to sing like her, even though it didn’t really work, but I tried. Also, [Lena Karlsson] from the band Komeda. They’re from Sweden. She has a really incredible voice. There was a time when I wanted to be able to sing like her. David Bowie is another major inspiration. There’s something about trying to sing along to this record that hasn’t so much made me sound like them, but it’s made me learn to pay attention to peculiarities in my voice that will allow me to control it better and to make it my own. That’s what those singers accomplished, I think. I have never really thought about it, but most of the female singers I like do have lower voices and the men have higher voices. It’s something about the androgyny of it.
In what ways do you think your album Nootropics will enlighten the listener?
I think it depends. I think there’s a lot in the music for the casual listener all the way to the musician listener. [Laughs.] It’s very richly layered. A lot of members. A lot of people playing different instruments. I can’t say whether it would enlighten anyone, but it is an intentionally, densely packed record.
On Nootropics, what song or lyric do you feel is the perfect statement for the entire album?
Maybe the chorus from “Brains”. The second one which is, “Don’t be afraid, everything will change.” It’s just the notion that we are in a time of great transition and rather than face it with fear, we should embrace it.