Before Playing Trees Next Week, We Talk Dallas Suburbs With Lower Dens' Jana Hunter.
Lower Dens may call Baltimore home, but the band is not without its Dallas ties. For starters, singer-guitarist Jana Hunter grew up in Arlington. Furthermore, the experimental pop outfit is something of a favorite of the influential Dallas-based Gorilla vs Bear blog.
Then again, that's far from the only outlet that gushes over the band's particular brand of minimal, lo-fi pop these days. Lower Dens' terrific 2015 release, Escape From Evil, popped up on more than a few critics' year-end lists.
And, next week, Hunter and her bandmates will return to North Texas for the first time since last year's Gorilla vs Bear Showcase to promote that effort. This time around, the band will be opening for Unknown Mortal Orchestra at Trees, a venue Hunter recalls seeing many a show at back in the day.
See also: Street Style. // Jana's Into Restraint.
Ahead of that homecoming stop, we caught up with Hunter to ask about her old Arlington stomping grounds, modern recording technology and something she wished she was asked about more often by music journalists.
How would you describe Lower Dens to someone that's never really listened to you guys?
If you had never heard Lower Dens before, but knew of who we were and had idea of Western music, I'd say were a band who played synthesizers and also guitars and drums. That we grew up in the '80s and '90s and that we draw influences mostly from those time periods, but we also like musicians that play jazz and classical and folk and stuff, so we get complicated sometimes. And then, yeah, I would leave you to draw your own conclusions from there, which I guess could be almost anything.
Outside of music, what interests you?
I mean, it changes from record to record. I think the records are an influence of what we're interested in at the moment, but there's kind of a theme that runs through our music. We read a lot. We'll read things about anthropology and modern sciences and those sorts of things, and I mean, we read, but we also like to shoot the shit about those things and conjecture. So the records all have varying degrees of overtones of hypothetical, post-apocalyptic environments in which normal situations — or even just modern day pre-apocalyptic situations — in which human relationships are trying to take place, and the kind of complicated interactions that happen within that kind of context.
What are you currently reading?
I was coming out of a period of, like I said, some kinds of cultural anthropology stuff when we were working on the record, and I have a whole sack of books I've been meaning to get to about that. But I've also been given a lot of books as gifts, so my reading list has been really varied and mostly determined by what other people have given me. I'm in the middle of several different books, because I keep reading them then putting them down at some point on tour when I get too busy and not getting back to them. So, right now, I'm in the middle of books by Ivan Turgenev. But I want to get back to the book that I started to read, which had not just to do with anthropology, but with linguistics and how languages work, which is a very interesting subject to me, and then also a lot of things about human beings situate themselves inside a culture. I don't know, I'm interested in the fabric of our being, that inside the context of the fabric of our culture. That is the ultimate. It is non-fiction but it is also the great narrative of our existence, and tells the story of how we came to be where we are and how we're going the way we're going — which seems like beautiful but very tragic and destined for catastrophic failure.
You're about to leave for tour with Unknown Mortal Orchestra. How did that come about?
We got asked. It's always kind of a mystery if a band asks — did they ask a band or did a manager, or was it a booking agent's idea? They don't tell you that. I mean, why would they? But somebody asked us, and we said, “Yes, we would love to, and with that band.” We've been trying to get away from touring, especially short tours, because the first few that you do, you really learn some ground. I think we're at a point now where we would much rather [go out with] a band that we like and admire.
What specifically draws you to UMO?
We've run into them a couple times. I've talked to some of them briefly, and I like them, but we don't know each other very well. Hopefully we get along.
How do you feel about journalists? Do you enjoy doing interviews?
I used to not like it. I didn't really see the point in not [doing it], though. By now, it's something I know how to do. But, more recently, it's, if you're in a band, you're put on a pedestal and you're given flack, like it's a responsibility and a privilege. Not every time I have a conversation with someone that is going to be recording our conversation is it going to be useful. But sometimes there is a very useful conversation that happens that I feel lucky to participate in. I like to feel like I've talked about something that should be talked about more widely. Here's another opportunity for other people to hear about it, too.
What is something you wish interviewers would ask you about more often?
That's a good question. I think it can be very difficult to go beyond the limited persona that they allow to be interviewed. But I've always been curious, like, what is people's motivation to… it's not a particularly rewarding job, unless you're looking for something very specific, so I've always wondered what is it, they're interested in? I guess that it's those sort of things that are real, the honest sensible thing in the industry and why people talk. Like, what's in it for them? So I'm very happy in a conversation with a journalist, to be challenged — to say something that hasn't been said before. I don't care.
Something I do see you talk about a lot in interviews is the technical side of the recording process.
I mean, the technical thing is fun to talk about. I enjoy it. It's very self-indulgent. Whenever I'm talking about that stuff, I hope that anybody else that practices this stuff finds it interesting, otherwise it must be boring the shit out of them.
Do you guys still record to tape?
Well, we don't really use tape anymore. I don't think since… well there was some stuff on Nootropics that got recorded onto a cassette recorder and then back into the computer. But that was just installments of different songs. We used to do this thing where you take the whole record, finish the record and put it on tape. You master it to tape. But we do almost everything on the computer now. It's gotten so much better now where you don't really need to rely on tape for that kind of warmth that you're used to.
With this tour, you're coming back to North Texas. I imagine you probably have a fond memory or two of your time here.
Well, I grew up pretty close to Dallas in Arlington. So when I go to Dallas, my fond memories are all associated with going to the West End and going to The Fudge Factory and playing laser tag, which I think I did once, but it stands out as very good memory from my childhood. We lived in Arlington, but most of my extended family lived in Fort Worth. We didn't go to Dallas very much. I guess we probably had some cousins that lived there. So we went over there sometimes. Dallas, for the most part, was this faraway, wealthy kind of thing compared to where I was.
The title of your last record was Escape From Evil. How do you personally escape from evil?
Well, I have practices where I don't drink or do drugs anymore. I try to keep myself in shape. I try to temper my work schedule with time with friends, things like that. And I think of those things as keeping my life centered around things I think are fruitful for myself and the people that I love and take care of. Keeping myself away from things that society tries to pull us into that are supposedly good for us or comforting. It's things like TV or bar culture that rob us of the essential essence of love, sex and companionship and things like that. I mean, that's the thing: On their own, they're not that interesting, but trying to focus on all of them or keep them in check has really raised my quality of life infinitely, y'know?
Anything else you'd like to say about the Trees show before we let you go?
You know what, I'll say really quick is that Trees is a place that I used to go when I was young to see shows every once in a while, because nobody, obviously, ever played Fort Worth. The last show that I went to was probably Royal Trux opening up for Pavement or something like that. It'll be a real trip to be back there, I think.
Lower Dens performs on Tuesday, February 9, at Trees.