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Lowland Hum Explains Its New Album, 'Thin,' Track By Track

Lowland Hum.
/ Courtesy of the artist

Sincerity, community and beauty is how I think of Lowland Hum; the sounds of Lauren and Daniel Goans. Thin is the husband and wife duo's third album since their 2013 debut, further refining their hushed harmonies and aural paintings. It's a sound that makes them a quiet Sunday-morning favorite. Some of the imagery comes from the beauty they see in the landscapes and locales they traverse and visit all over this country; art centers, cafes, nightclubs, house shows, racking up something like 45,000 miles in a Toyota Sienna between 2014 and 2015. That's a lot of time to ponder, to meet new friends, to form communal bonds with their music — to that end, the Goans are fond of handing out lyric books to bring their crowds deeper into the songs and their stories.

I asked Daniel and Lauren to tell us about their new work on this new record, which they self-release today — here's their Track-By-Track for Thin.

The lyrics of "Palm Lines" were inspired by an experience from our first year of touring together. In the middle of that particularly exhausting tour, we took a long walk in Shelby Farms Park in Memphis. During this walk, for most of which we were silent, Daniel received a mental image which has helped us immensely over the years. This song describes that image, one of being carried forward in a giant hand, drawing attention to our smallness. Sometimes we write songs to remind us of things we regularly forget. I think when we were writing this we were imagining our future selves onstage somewhere, perhaps feeling displaced and needing to be reminded that the best we can do in any moment is to stay present and take one step at a time. — Lauren

I remember sitting in the hallway of our apartment looking out the window at the Blue Ridge Mountains, sort of feeling my way into the sonic space that eventually became this song. A few years back, we got a call while on tour that a dear friend of ours had died suddenly and unexpectedly — the news was a huge blow. This friend was one of the most curious people we'd ever known, always exploring and observing. He worked to alleviate the plight of rural mountain communities affected by mountaintop removal and for years this friend organized every show we did in the mountains of North Carolina. We learned much from him. The song "Adonai" is part processing, part lament and part exploration of thoughts he left us with. — Daniel

This song is half-sincere, half self-deprecating. It started out as an exercise in rhyming and sticking to traditional song structures; we initially wrote close to 30 verses, then chose the six that held together best. We were hoping to say some things we could truly mean, while also taking a few good-humored and subtle jabs at folk song tropes and our tendency to take ourselves too seriously. The choruses reference some of our favorite imagery from the road (Google Maps takes us on a lot of back roads); things that have felt like gifts when we are particularly home-sick, or tired on a long drive. When we were recording this one, Daniel wrote this wonderfully defeated-sounding melody on an old Gibson hollow-body electric we were borrowing from a friend. The guitar had some intonation issues, which gave it this really bummed-out, deflated feeling — that we wound up falling in love with. — Lauren

When we wrote "Compass," we were thinking a lot about confusion and the experience of being overwhelmed and lost. Lyrically, it's a short and simple song. Some of the piano and vocal arrangements are heavily influenced by moments on Joni Mitchell's album, Court and Spark, and we had some fun experimenting with using my voice as an instrument on this song — it plays the role of a flute on the second chorus and a mellotron during the outro. — Lauren

In "Family Tree," we tried to put words to sensations of overwhelming loss and grief, the kind whose impact is so intense that it is felt bodily. Daniel came up with the repetitive guitar part first and I took an iPhone recording of it to our bedroom where the lyrics came to me, line by line. As with all of our songs, we worked together to edit and fine-tune the lyrical content and its interactions with the guitar; I think that the repetitive nature of the guitar part creates a stable backdrop, which allows room for the exploration of heavy themes.

This was another song where we experimented with ways of using my voice — we felt the chorus sections needed some kind of movement and momentum that could still feel mournful. We settled on these two layered vocal parts that sort of ricochet off of one another. The piano parts Daniel wrote convey a compassion that I think creates a softer landing for the lyrics and themes. —Lauren

In the fall of 2015, we did a six-week tour with our friends The Collection. The pace was incredibly grueling; we drove ten thousand miles and performed most nights during that period. We began in the lush foothills of Charlottesville and wound west through the desert highways of Texas, the Big Sur coast, the salt flats in Utah, and eventually returned to our home in Virginia. The beauty and diversity we experienced in landscape and audience all over the country was overwhelming. During the final week of the tour, we were in Wyoming, staying just across the way from Vedauwoo State Park, which is filled with mysteriously stacked rocks and giant boulders, interspersed with scrappy plant life able to withstand the intense winters and powerful gusts. The surroundings were singular and intriguing, but it felt like the view was stopping at our eyes and not able to get further inside. The song emerged two days later in a green room in Greeley, Colorado. Due to the sparse arrangements and lack of soundproofing in the attic where we recorded, birds and cicadas are detectable on a few of the tracks, including "Vedauwoo" and "Palm Lines." — Daniel

During a particularly gray and frigid February week almost a year ago, we began listening to a bossa nova playlist in an attempt to warm ourselves. Since then the genre has become a kind of staple in our household. The arrangement of this song was shaped by all those hours listening to the bossa and samba sounds of the late '50s and early '60s. The song features a güiro frog, shaker, nylon string guitar and an acoustic guitar plugged direct-in. Sometimes, when we hear sounds in our imagination, the easiest way to realize them is to try approximating them with our voices. The tone reminiscent of an organ or flute mellotron sample that enters during the second verse is actually Lauren's voice. As for the lyrics, this song explores themes of human nature, connectedness, selfishness and impermanence and employs dreams as a backdrop. — Daniel

"Thin Places" was written during a writing retreat on the eastern shore of Maryland at a property overlooking the Chesapeake Bay. When I wrote the central guitar part, it immediately conjured the imagery of tall grass fading in and out of focus on the edge of a body of water. Some of the lyrics recall strange instances in which something unexpected jolted me into hyper-awareness and gratitude. The song references Andrew Wyeth, who's work seems to share a color palette with the clearings surrounding the Chesapeake Bay. The arrangement features interplay between acoustic guitar, sung melody and sporadic piano parts. There is a call-and-response element to the way the parts interact with one another... the piano in particular became a character with a distinct personality in this song. — Daniel

A big part of what we hope to do with music is to create vulnerable spaces. There is such a pressure to come across composed and if you can't pull that off, then there is pressure to put forth a sort of mussy nonchalance. I wouldn't describe us as very cool people and I would definitely not call us composed and so we feel we have an opportunity to share in a way that doesn't result in us coming out on top of things. This song starts out as the most sparsely arranged song of the entire album. The vocals are extremely bare and exposed, as we both take turns confessing some fairly unattractive things about ourselves. In contrast, the B section of the song is the loudest portion of the entire album, ending in a semi-psychedelic and nearly manic demand of "Love me!" — Lauren

"Winter Grass" was another song written during the aforementioned writing retreat on the eastern shore of Maryland. It explores the cyclical nature of patience and impatience and the necessity of transitional phases. The imagery in the song is a snapshot of the landscape where we were staying; it was wintertime and everything was dried and brown, but there was a sense that all kinds of unseen activity and processes were taking place. Daniel had been reading Van Gogh's letters to his brother, Theo. We were particularly struck by his words "One cannot become simple and true in one day," which we quote directly in the last stanza of the song. Daniel laid down some Steve Reich-inspired piano parts throughout that, to me, feel consistent with the lyrics. My favorite moment of this song is the final instrumental section, which layers several picked guitar parts, piano, and a sparkly sounding harpsichord sample that we effected with tremolo. The combination of these sounds and melodies creates a kind of sonic representation of time-lapse nature videos. — Lauren

This is not only the last track on the album, but the last track we recorded. The arrangement is one of the sparsest on Thin, featuring one guitar, one keyboard, a snare drum and both of our vocals. The lyrics in the verses are comprised of a series of one-word stories, while the chorus reflects on time's effect on memory. As I listen back to this song, I think that the pace of our life these past few years has felt a bit like the verses of this song. Loaded image after loaded image, sailing past at speeds too fast to meaningfully interact with or process. For the outro, the initial idea was to compose a string arrangement, but in the end we decided that the final moments should be made up only of layers of Lauren's voice. — Daniel

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