Jana Hunter has built a career out of making music that is, to quote her former label, “bleak, even grim.” First emerging in the early 2000s as a sparse singer-songwriter and a protégé to freak folk pin-up Devendra Banhart, the Baltimore musician has since moved on to making gloomy, atmospheric rock with Lower Dens.
After releasing two well-received albums in 2010 and 2012, Hunter felt the band needed a shot in the arm for album number three.
“I’ve always written music to be heavy and sombre, that’s just my natural inclination,” she says. “Eventually I think it started to click and work with this album, because as it began to take shape… You know those ‘fake it till you make it’ scenarios? Well, I just pretended that everything was going well until it started to go well.”
The band’s third album, Escape From Evil, won’t exactly be mistaken for Carly Rae Jepsen’s latest, but it was made with similar intentions: for the listener to have a good time and not be so bummed out.
“I just wanted it to be more fun,” she says. “I wanted to be able to keep writing about things that were serious and based in real emotional struggle, but make them a little more fun to play. I just saw no reason this time to have the emotional content of the song and the feeling of the song didn’t necessarily need to line up. Because it’s more reflective of what emotions are really like in life. They’re not simple and contrived, they’re complex.”
As light as it is, Escape From Evil isn’t a far stretch from 2012’s Nootropics, but the fun of making it is audible in the fluttery “To Die In L.A.” and elastic rhythms of “Non Grata.” Hunter says that despite the album’s lighter, more accessible sound, the goal was mostly to enjoy themselves after some hard tours.
“I was thinking a lot about Madonna, and we just had a lot of conflicts and difficulties in the band, and we wanted it to be really fun this time,” she adds. “There was definitely a conscious push towards that, but not to make it more accessible. But I’m glad that people find it more accessible because that can help us reach more people.”
To help achieve this, Lower Dens recruited some heavyweight producers in John Singleton (Cloud Nothings, Swans, St. Vincent), Ariel Rechtshaid (Haim, Charli XCX, Madonna), and Chris Coady (Future Islands, Beach House, Wavves), who oversaw the bulk of the album with Hunter. The meticulous handling of Escape From Evil meant a significant move away from the more laid back approach of the band’s previous work.
“I wanted it to be clearer, and I wanted to see how stripped down the sound could get,” Hunter explains. “From the lyrical content to the production, I felt like on Nootropics and [2010’s] Twin Hand Movement we were burying all of that, not necessarily so we could be sloppy. Though at times the songwriting was sloppy, and it was covered up by effects. So I felt that if we made this one warm and clear and bright, that we’d have to write the songs as best as we could.”