Jan 27, 2017

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Interview: Lowland Hum – The Playfulness Of Light And How It Interacts With Surfaces

I met Daniel and Lauren Goans, aka Lowland Hum, last Fall after their opening set at Josh Ritter’s solo concert in Port Washington, NY. I felt compelled to go up to their merch stand and introduce myself during intermission. Lowland Hum are set to release their third full length record on February 10th – Thin – and I’ve had the privilege of chatting with Lauren via email over the past couple of days…

How do you stay motivated and find inspiration when songwriting becomes generic and cliché?

There’s always more to write about than we have time for. When I first met Daniel, he told me I should try writing a song. This was before I had ever done anything musically creative (I came from a visual arts background, was very shy and enjoyed low-risk, “safe” musical contexts in which I could disappear. High school chorus was the extent of my musical background). I remember thinking that it felt like a lot of pressure to try and write a song. I thought it had to be incredibly profound, and that you had to have something extremely important to say to write a song. But when I listened more closely to the music I loved, I realized that a song can tell a whole story, reveal a snapshot, or draw attention to a small, beautiful yet overlooked thing. We are often inspired by places we visit and people we meet while on tour, books we read, stories we hear, or films we see. Natural beauty inspires me regularly; the playfulness of light and how it interacts with surfaces.

How did the wooden plank mini stages that you use as percussion find their way into your stage set up?

Daniel is a lover of wooden tambourines. He had the boxes built by a furniture maker in North Carolina specially for an album release show. They were so big and bulky that they didn’t get much use after that show, because at the time, none of our vehicles were big enough to transport them. It didn’t take too many shows to realize that the material of the venue’s floor had a huge effect on our ability to create a consistently resonant stomping sound. We started taking them on tour as soon as we had a vehicle big enough to haul them around. We also did a lot of house concerts early on, and they made for a great make-shift stage in that setting. We use stomping a bit more sparingly now, but I think the boxes really add depth to our live sound in those carefully chosen moments.

In your bio online it says that you write, arrange and produce all your own music. Do you ever wonder what your natural, raw sound would sound like as a finished studio product from a different producer? Can’t help but wonder what one of your records would sound like if Aaron Dessner of The National produced it…

Daniel is a uniquely gifted producer in his own right. He usually produces a 2-3 albums for other bands each year and I am always blown away by his ability to hear parts and create sonic worlds that didn’t previously exist. The producer has to sort of wrangle all of these sensitive, temperamental artist-types (which we totally are ourselves) in addition to making sure the music turns out right. It is a deeply intimate and vulnerable space, and it can feel scary to some people to surrender their songs into the hands of someone else. Daniel excels at putting people at ease while he cares for their songs. On our most recent two albums, we produced the projects together. I suppose if we were to work on a Lowland Hum album with another producer in the future, it would need to be someone we felt comfortable with, or at least someone we felt we could trust with our songs. It might be hard to do that with a stranger, no matter how impressive their roster is. I anticipate it would be uncomfortable and challenging, but we’d welcome that sort of thing if it improved the finished product.

Do your visual arts skills ever spark the seed for new music or lyrics or are the music videos, drawings, paintings and sketches usually the end result of a complete song?

I wouldn’t say that I do much formal art making outside of what is associated with our music these days. Usually what I am making, I am making in response to songs that have already been written and recorded, as a sort of visual companion to the music. However, I would say that my visual art instincts heavily influence the way that I write. While Daniel, who was an English major in college, at least at one time tended more toward narrative and storytelling, I tend toward lyrics that are more image based. I tend to write so as to paint a descriptive visual picture for the listener. And when I am writing melodies or harmonies, I often see the melody in my mind depicted as a ribbon, interacting with the other melodies (also depicted as ribbons) in the song.

You’ve landed an NPR Tiny Desk concert, played at numerous large folk festivals, and have received high praise from numerous outlets news outlets, most notably an impressive quote from Bob Boilen. Is the success of Lowland Hum measured by the exposure and positive reception when you’re invited to events like this? Or is it more an intrinsic artist feeling of finishing a brand new original song that you’re really, really happy to call your own?

In all honesty, when we are really tired it can become a struggle to not hold those opportunities or the lack thereof as the ultimate definition of success. However, I think we feel most successful and invigorated when we have just finalized the last revision of a new song we are working on. It feels like a huge feat of expression, restraint, and collaboration. Of course, it is exciting to be featured by someone like Bob Boilen, for whom we have so much respect, or to have the opportunity to play a festival, but I think what is most exciting about those things is the increased potential for connecting with more people. The creative process isn’t complete until what we made has had a chance to be shared with other people, for them to form their own interpretations of what we are saying; for the story we are telling to interact with their own stories. So naturally, we are thrilled anytime we are given an opportunity to connect with a larger audience.

Interview By Scott J. Herman