Unlike many other genres and music communities, the indie/alt culture appreciates new and rising artists that create diversity and new insights within the genre.
We constantly feature notable indie and alternative artists on the verge of success. Meet this week’s featured artist in an exclusive interview, the North Carolina based duo that make up the folk group Lowland Hum:
We recently talked in-depth with Lauren and Daniel to find out more about the group's influences, creative process, and of course their take on all things alternative culture. Read on to find out more about how this amazing duo creates such prolific lyrical narratives in such a dynamic sound.
What are your fondest musical memories?
One of our fondest memories as a band occurred before we were making music as Lowland Hum. We collaborated with a lot of our friends to plan an album release show in our hometown that entailed serving a home cooked dinner to over 200 people, a crew of visual artists painting on giant canvases using disappearing ink, and a mega band performing the songs. It was months of preparation, and the night felt more special than we could have ever hoped for it to feel.
As listeners, some of our favorite musical memories occurred the first summer we knew each other. We rode bikes all over our hometown that summer with a boom box strapped to the back of Daniel's bike. Albums like Van Morrison's Astral Weeks, and Paul Simon's Graceland, feel made for experiences like that.
Lately what musical periods or styles do you find yourself most drawn to as a listener?
Lately we have been drawn to music from the late sixties and early seventies. Lot's of Herb Alpert happening at our place now that the weather is warming up and we can leave our windows open.
How did you two meet and when did you decide to start making music together? How did the name Lowland Hum come to be?
We met through mutual friends in the summer of 2009. We grew up in the same home town in NC and when Daniel was living in Nashville, working with a different band he was in at the time, I made friends with a group of his childhood friends back in our hometown. When things with that other band ended, Daniel moved home, and we found ourselves in the same circle of friends.
While Daniel was recording a solo album of folk tunes he wrote, he asked me to sing harmonies on a few of the recordings. I had always loved singing and music more than almost anything but was very shy. It took some convincing. Once he got to me to record on the album, when it came time to perform the songs live, he coaxed me into joining him in live performances. That was even scarier to me at first. The collaboration continued and once we got married, we began collaborating more and writing together. The sound was changing and we realized we needed a name. One morning while sitting up in bed, the two words "lowland" and "hum" appeared side by side in my imagination. We sat with it for about a week and decided it was the right one.
What is your creative process like? How do you approach the writing process?
It is different every time. In the beginning of our collaboration Daniel wrote all the songs, but we started writing together shortly after we got married. Now sometimes the lyrics come from Daniel, and sometimes from myself, but most often it is a mixture. We both try not to get too far into a song without first inviting the other into it to form and influence the direction. It matters greatly to us that both of us feel represented in our songs.
When we first started touring around singing and playing together, a friend encouraged us to look into what else in addition to the music we could offer audiences as a husband and wife duo. His point was that there are many guy/girl duos and he felt we had something to offer that could stand out a bit more. We immediately turned to my background in art to see how we could incorporate visuals into our live performance. From these brainstorming sessions, a desire to connect with audiences on as many sensory levels as possible was born. I built a layered fabric installation that we set up behind ourselves and backlight. We also printed and hand bound small books of our lyrics that we handed out to audiences during our performances so they could have the lyrics to our songs on hand if they wanted to read them. This was intended to introduce both a visual and tactile element. We also set out essential oil burners to tie a specific fragrance into the experience of the evenings. Smell is supposedly the strongest memory trigger. We still use the backdrop (I have build a new one) at shows where space allows, and are on our fourth generation of lyric books. Occasionally we do put out essential oil burners when venues allow them.
As far as process goes, the music always comes first, and the visuals are a response to the songs.
As an indie artist in the digital age, social media and streaming are essential tools for marketing and promotion. What do you think about online music sharing, both as a music fan and as a musician? How do you think social media/music streaming services impacts the rising musician?
There is so much music out in the world and it is amazing that so much of it is so easily accessible! It is impossible to deny though that music streaming services are changing life for those of us who are making and sharing music as a full time career and as lesser known artists. On one hand, our music can be heard easily and has the opportunity to spread quickly, and on the other hand, people are less likely to feel inclined to support and patronize artists by purchasing their work when they can access it for free.
Over the past few years, folk has really transformed into a wide-extending experimental genre, which I attribute to your diverse yet coherent sound. How did you decide to make folk music, and how would you describe the changing and innovative folk climate?
Folk music of the 50s and 60s leaned heavily on lyrics and narrative. Maybe it is due to the artists that he enjoys listening to, or to his love of story and words, but when Daniel writes, songs generally come out in a narrative form. I too find myself drawn more to music that is lyric centric when I want to sit down and closely enjoy an album. Genres are helpful sometimes to help someone get a loose idea of what music might sound like before they hear it. Our music has been described as folk music, and I think it adhered more to the traits of traditional folk music when we first began writing together. We used to tell people our music was "folky" when asked for a genre or description, but we never felt like we were folk song writers in terms of our identity. Most people start out making work that looks or sounds like the people they admire. The longer they work at it, the more they uncover what is uniquely them, and the more they learn how to express themselves in whatever medium they are working with. It is not that we intend to bend any genres. We are just growing and changing as people do, and our songwriting is growing and changing with us.
I’m a firm believer that the environment that artists are based in helps craft their sound. North Carolina has a deep connection to music, and you seem really invested in displaying that in your songs, with tracks such as Charleston among others. How would you describe the North Carolina music scene? How has it influenced you in crafting your sound?
We love North Carolina, and feel very tied to it as we both grew up there. Since we got married a few years ago and began touring more, we haven't had the privilege of feeling ultra connected to the music scene in North Carolina because we just haven't been around home that much. There are great things happening in Durham, The Carrboro and Chapel Hill area, and Asheville that we have gotten to witness in small doses and enjoy while in those places. I am sure there are good things happening in communities all over the state that we have not had the privilege of glimpsing. Probably anywhere you go that is the case. In terms of influence, I would say we are more influenced by the specific breed of beauty, landscape and climate of North Carolina than the music scene.
We are really honored to have gotten to participate in series like Tiny Desk and we are thankful for the exposure that these outlets offer. Mostly they have provided a way for us to be heard by a broader audience of listeners. We regularly meet people at our shows who discovered us through Tiny Desk and a few other outlets. We find new music to listen to through these outlets as well. We just returned from an extended tour so we are taking time to rest and refocus.
What is your dream collaboration and why?
Our dream collaboration was realized this past February when we did a collaborative event with a Chef from DC, Tom Madrecki. He created a menu of five courses inspired by and paired with five of our songs and five wines. It was all prepared and served to a small group of about 25 people in a home. Food and music are essential to human connection, and we had always dreamed of collaborating with a chef to offer people a night of connection and being present. Tom's inventive courses blew us away. We hope to do another event with him in the future.
What are you currently working on? Any new projects?
We just released our new album on April 14th. We wrote many of the new songs on it while on tour this past year, and recorded it this past winter. All of our focus, and attention has been toward this collection of songs for months. We are currently at the start of the [second] leg of our album release tour joined by two of the musicians that recorded on the album.
You have a new self-titled album out. Can you tell us a bit about the vision behind this album? What is the story behind the cover art? Do you feel that these songs define your sound aesthetic? What was your fondest moment recording your sophomore record?
This new album is a collection of songs we have written over the past year of being mostly on the road. There is a lot about processing on the album. Processing childhood memories, processing the overwhelming quantity of stimuli we are taking in while traveling, processing family relationships, etc. I made the cover art. It was an experimentation with white paint on white paper. I wanted it to have a vagueness about it, to be somewhat unplaceable. These songs definitely feel closer to us right now than what we have made in the past, but I think that is because they are so new and fresh to us. I don't know if they define our sound aesthetic. I think that is always changing, however I didn't realize how much it was changing until the album was finished. We enjoyed the process of recording the album in its entirety, but what was most enjoyable was getting to devote so much uninterrupted time to each song. It feels great to really get to explore each song before nailing it down in a recording. It is also special to get to do this with people you know and love and trust. We invited one of our dearest friends, Edd Kerr, to engineer and help produce. Working with him resulted in a storehouse of special and hilarious moments and memories that continue to enrich our friendship.
Finally, a question we ask all of artists: which songs are you currently obsessed with? What new acts do you recommend to our listeners? What bands do you believe are your best kept secret in the indie community?
We just this week started listening to Courtney Barnett, an Australian artist whose quirky lyrics are a huge refreshment to us. We are also extremely fond of Nettles, a band fronted by our friend Guion Pratt. His lyricism and the arrangements of the songs are hard to beat.