Propagation: Lower Dens

“There are changes happening..."

Rock music tends to shy away from big ideas. These days, the average rock album will either be inscrutably introspective or stick doggedly to the dogma of reality.

Lower Dens, though, are different. The Baltimore based group recently returned with new album ‘Nootropics’ an album so dense, so thick with new ideas that it might as well come equipped with a few Appendices and a reading list. Profoundly cerebral, the album focusses on humanity’s relationship with technology, the encroaches made by society upon individual expression. It’s a brave statement, one which sits at odds with prevailing currents, trends in American music.

“There are changes happening,” singer Jana Hunter explains. “There are significant, massive changes happening and maybe as we develop in our society we kind of lose sight of the magnitude of the rate of change. But the rate of change is mind-blowing”. On the phone from her home in Texas, the intensity of the conversation belies the gentle tone with which it is delivered. “If you stop and remove yourself slightly and observe the changes in society now, in a certain amount of time, as opposed to what you might have seen a hundred years ago or two hundred years ago it’s immense. That is kind of the purpose of.. That’s something I try to do when I’m writing lyrics.. is to write them from that observational standpoint. Remove myself, and that’s how I end up writing such nerdy stuff”.

Packed with literary, philosophical and aesthetic reference points, ‘Nootropics’ is a dense yet rewarding document. Part of a four album arc, Lower Dens seemingly honed their ideas during long nights on the road. “Well it came about basically on tour.. thematically it came around from conversations we were having in the van” Hunter explains. “When we’re on tour we spend a good deal of time in the van talking, especially everyday interacting with slightly different flavours of society just talking about how humans deal with their existence. So a lot of the themes came not just from me personally but conversations we were having in the van. Aside from that we play each other a lot of music – I’ve learned a lot more about music in the few years that I’ve been in this band than I knew beforehand. Especially about proper rock music”.

Lower Dens – Brains

Surrounded by theory and idealism, Lower Dens allow these new approaches to filter into their music – albeit in odd ways. “I think the common thread would just be patience and attention to detail” the singer muses. “Which is something that I feel like I learned from other bands as well. When we started Lower Dens and started touring the people that I admired most were the people who kind of put all of their thought and attention into every aspect of what they’re doing and because of that end up with something that is so much more rich than writing for the intention alone”.

At times, the allusions are impossible to ignore. ‘Nova Anthem’ borrows from William Burroughs, sampling from his work ‘Nova Express’ – a cut up of a cut up, even. ‘Alphabet’ meanwhile is directly inspired by a Surrealist poem, but these references shouldn’t allow Lower Dens’ influences to overtake their music. At heart a rock band, ‘Nootropics’ runs the gamut between Krautrock, psychedelia and all out noise. Playing some 200 shows in a year after the release of their debut album, Lower Dens entered the studio fuelled by a prolonged bout of touring. “I mean, it certainly feels like it to me. But I’ve seen other people’s tour schedules – friends of ours who are in other bands – and it doesn’t seem that we’re doing anything which is that unusual in this day and age” Jana Hunter insists. “With the proliferation of bands and the wide availability of music on the internet you’ve got to do more than maybe you used to to earn people’s attention. So 200 shows in a year is brutal but it maybe isn’t that unusual”.

Watching the world blur past the window of their tour van, Lower Dens seem to have built up a musical journal of their travels. “I think the best that I can hope for, that I can put intention into is to make observations” explains the singer. “When I was writing music based on direct experience I was from the most part drawing from my emotional, personal life I was pretty much in awe of people who wrote with others in mind. Especially other people’s struggles in mind or political atmospheres, standpoints in mind. I’ve never been able to embrace that fully in my writing but I thought: at least I can offer my observations. I don’t know if I will ever reach a point in my life where my voice, my figurative voice means enough to people to affect any change. I can only hope that if I ever did then I would be able to wield that responsibility. But I don’t think I’m in that position yet by any means”.

But any impact, no matter how small, is still an impact. A tangible, direct method of chance. “It is. I’m definitely aware of needing to be thoughtful with whatever I do. You never know what fifteen year old kid is going to be reading everything you say and making some sort of decisions about his or her life. I certainly did that when I was a teenager – I took the word of indie icons as gospel from time to time. It’s lucky for me that most of them were putting a lot of thought into what they were saying”.

Photo Credit: Sean Donnola

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‘Nootropics’ is out now.

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