In Conversation With Lowland Hum
As Lowland Hum continue the celebrations surrounding the release of their latest, self-titled record, we had the distinct privilege to chat with the husband-wife duo ahead of a recent gig in New York City.
Sitting at Sugar Cafe on Manhattan's Lower East Side, we talked with Lauren and Daniel Goans about the new record, how their relationship has grown and the unexpected inspiration for Lowland Hum. Check out our exclusive conversation below:
How does it feel to have the album out to your fans and to the world?
Lauren Goans: Feels good. It feels like a relief.
Daniel Goans: We were so excited about it.
Lauren: It's nice to be able to release it so close to when we made it, because we're not over it yet. I feel like sometimes that can happen. Sometimes you can make something and it takes so long to release it, then you've already written new songs and you're more excited about the new songs. All of it still feels really fresh and new to us.
Daniel: I guess this is probably what every band is always doing, but we just gave it all we had in a way we never have. I'm proud of the album as a whole and I was glad to put my name on it. I don't know if other people feel this way but when I listen to my heroes' records, whatever I make is never even approaching any part of it, so your own music is never your favorite music ... I felt like I was introducing a bunch of people to a new really great friend of mine. That's what this album felt like to me. It was more collaborative. Lauren helped me produce it, she's stepped into roles she's never stepped into. At one point, she sang something she never sang while doing a vocal session, hitting notes she never hit. I was crying -- there were all these moments that never happen and it was rolling when it happened. They're on the record.
From the point you started playing together to the release of your latest album, how has that process between you two changed? You've said it's evolved and you've stepped into roles you never have before.
Lauren: I had not done any music before. I mean, I'd done chorus in high school. I was a chorus nerd, loved it so much. [Laughs] Daniel had been doing music for 10-plus years when we had gotten married, so it was all very new to me. So when we recorded our first album -- I had co-written a few of the songs with Daniel, that was kind of the extent. I did some vocal layering on the album and I'd offer input. Daniel would go in the room and work on percussion for a song for awhile, then I'd come in ... [Laughs] ... I wasn't really playing a very constructive role for much of it.
And that was with your debut?
Lauren: I just didn't know anything about it really, I never recorded anything except for a few harmonies that Daniel had done in the past, before then. I think I was pretty timid and probably didn't think I had much to offer anyway. I think on this new album, I really discovered that I can hear parts and come up with ideas. Thankfully, Daniel and the other two musicians who played on the record were very patient with the fact that I didn't know the necessary language.
So what happened between then and now to get you to that point? Is it just the experience and time that you put in?
Daniel: I think it's the constant touring; even before she started writing and we became Lowland Hum, she'd been singing harmonies on my songs. But when we started singing together, my songs started changing and she was having all this influence on the way the songs were structured. Then, we started writing every song together. We toured almost constantly for two years before this new record. We were writing on the road, I had to step up my singing game to sing with her because in chorus, everything is so precise. She's like, "If we need to sing harmony, we have to be responding to each other the whole time."
Lauren: For me too, it was just about gaining confidence. Not just confidence in abilities or skills but maybe in courage in sharing my ideas. In the past I wouldn't try things because I didn't want to fail at them. But, you kind of have to fail -- you just have to, becoming less afraid of sounding silly when I express an idea that I may not have a language for. I think Daniel has played a big role in affirming me and encouraging me to listen to my ideas and instincts and express them. He's played a role in me being more comfortable in sharing my ideas.
I'm curious with you guys being married, how this professional relationship affects your personal relationship. You're on the road together, you do interviews together. You're on stage and in the public eye together.
Daniel: We kind of cut our marriage teeth, if that can be something to say, by doing music together. About two weeks after we got married we realized ... I just said, do you want to give it a go and see if we can do this for a job? Lauren was into it, so she quit her job. So we just sent out emails with some recordings we had done to every person we knew. Family, friends, whatever. Now we call those shows "favor shows" -- we're just doing you a favor, we may not even like what you do. People would just get their friends together and we'd play for them and maybe 10-15 percent of those people would get it or think it was worth doing again. Those were the people that were helping us do the second tour. The first year was all house shows. We launched as Lowland Hum Jan. 1 of 2013 after touring six to seven months just under my name or Daniel and Lauren or something like that.
Lauren: It started so early on. I don't know how to separate our marriage.
Like they're one in the same.
Lauren: I think so. I don't feel like we have a work relationship and a home relationship -- we just have our relationship.
You're probably never not working.
Daniel: Yeah, exactly.
Lauren: We're probably either always talking about it or just playing.
Daniel: We try to, consciously, experience other things and talk about them, like watching TV shows or reading something. Try and think and talk about something else, otherwise it can drive you crazy.
Lauren: It can take over everything, so we try and separate some things out but it all kind of winds up feeling like it's all in the same pot together.
What were you guys doing before? Lauren, you said you quit your job.
Lauren: I had just finished school, I had gone to school for studio art. I was just working in a coffee shop at the tail end of school.
Daniel: You were also cleaning houses with the organic house cleaning service.
Lauren: Oh yeah. I was cleaning houses part-time. I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do.
Daniel: You were painting, remember you were doing that series?
Lauren: Yeah, I was painting. I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I hadn't gone down a career path, I was open-minded.
Were you doing music, Daniel?
Daniel: Yeah I was. I was writing with different people in North Carolina, writing my own songs. I had made two records and an EP just under my name. I was learning about producing other bands, summers mowing grass, sometimes substitute teaching, picking up odd jobs.
Lauren: Yeah, it was kind of anything we could do.
Daniel: I was in another band before that for seven or eight years and we toured like crazy -- I lived in Nashville for awhile. We met at the University of North Carolina when I was there. We were doing Coldplay-style pop rock. I was the piano player -- I wasn't the lead singer, but I was in on the songwriting. I moved home from Nashville and realized when I write by myself, I write folk songs and they're not poppy at all. Sometimes they are not choruses at all. Lauren and I met when I released my ... she sang on my second full-length record, on four songs. She sang on one and I was like, "Whoa." She sang on another and I was like, "How about another?" I moved back to North Carolina to release the record and to see what was going on with us ... then we got married.
Funny how life works out. So you're playing in a pop rock band, you're finishing school. But you have this inherent desire to write folk songs, or the talent to write folk songs and collaborate together. Where do you draw your inspiration for some of these songs? As I listen to the music and read through the lyrics, they're deep, they hit you hard.
Daniel: Starting out, a lot of the first couple of records I did ... I think some of them were a response to my time in Nashville. I didn't fit in very well there. Especially the pop rock world, I didn't have the right look, hair or sounding voice. I felt that all the time. People would even say stuff to me. Now, I feel like it would be a good fit. The band I was in, we were super high-production value kind of show. I played two keyboards and an electric guitar. I loved all that stuff but I did not fit. So when we stopped touring and playing I moved to North Carolina, and I thought I wasn't a good songwriter by myself. I'm only good to add a weird thing in, I can't sing, not great at guitar. I played piano in that band, but I don't really write on piano. But then I met some North Carolina musicians who were really into Ryan Adams Heartbreaker-era, that style of music. Lots of stuff like that, Neil Young, Bob Dylan.
I spent every dime I had and was living at home with my parents. I was deflated. I felt like that was all I had and it wasn't enough, I wanted to do something else. I want to work at a non-profit and help people more directly in a way that I understand. Clean water, that's clear, I know exactly what to do. Music? You never know. You could play a show in New York, 100 people could come and they could all love it. You could come back two months later with lots of press and no one comes. Then you're like, well maybe the music isn't good. I was tired of that roller coaster. But I could not stop writing. All this stuff I was writing was this other genre of music I loved, so I was like, "Okay, I guess I'll make a record." I started learning how to produce just to make my own record. That's how it all started for me, in this direction.
Lauren: I'd say a lot of the inspiration of the lyrics ... it seems like on Brother Stranger, your first album, it seemed to have come from literature, things you've read. When we got married, our lyrics kind of shifted to being about whatever we were dealing with at the time. Struggles or some literature, the things that we were taking in would inevitably find a way into what we were writing. Whether it was things we were watching, reading or listening to. Also, I think we were processing our relationship a lot and we just started trying to do this thing together that I had never done. Daniel has a pretty strong personality and I'm a little more quiet, I guess, and introverted. A lot of our songs were about identity, trying to find out what our identities looked like individually, what the identity of this thing we were creating should look like.
What about now with this new album? You've had a few years to find your identity.
Daniel: 2014, we were on the road 11 months. We played in 15 states we had never even been to. So much new experience that we seemed like we started writing for this record, it was all about opening up some of the moments that had happened and invited people into that with us because it was so isolating. We had this little bubble of our life but no one was there for all of it, or no more than one day usually -- except for us. Some of it is just opening that up and inviting people into it. We keep trying to figure out ways to do this in the long term that are healthy, and isolation is very bad for your mind. You don't think as well when you're isolated. You just don't have as much balance in your life, it's not good for you.
Lauren: It's different than solitude. Solitude is good. But isolation is not quite as healthy.
"Sunday" is a great way to open the album, a perfect song to set the stage. And "Odell" is absolutely beautiful. I enjoy the full record, but that song definitely stood out to me.
Daniel: Lauren wrote the song it's from [artist] Toulouse Lautrec's mother's perspective. He painted her so, the idea is to ... she was trying to imagine, what would it be like to have your son paint you? All these things about yourself are revealed that you didn't even know you were communicating with the way you hold your body, move your face. Not only that, but someone who came from you is telling you things about yourself in a medium that you can't even do. It's so crazy.
Lauren: We had the chance to be in the south of France for a short period of time. We went to a museum because we were in a town where Lautrec was from. We were back in the states and I was looking in a book of his paintings and there was this painting of his mom, it just totally struck me. We had learned a bit more of his life, just the tragedy of it. You can really see the tragedy in her face and in her posture. Still, it was a beautiful painting.
Wow. I had no idea the song had that background, but it definitely makes it -- and the lyrics -- so much more powerful.
Lauren: It's a funny moment, too, because I had intended to write a song. I sat down, needed some space and saw if any words would come to me about anything. Then I saw the book of his paintings on our coffee table; actually I just wanted to look at the paintings. Then I saw that painting and the words just started coming.
Daniel: His work factors heavily into this record because it's the first visual artist that I fell in love with. It's in large part because Lauren helped me understand what I was liking about it and helped me learn some of the vocabulary which is what I was doing with her in music. It was like she was in the driver's seat of this experience. It was helpful to write in that vein.