Q&A: Lowland Hum to play Common Grounds

By Helena Hunt, Staff Writer

Lowland Hum, a husband-and-wife duo out of Greensboro, N.C., will be bringing their melodic, expansive folk rock to Common Grounds at 7 p.m. today.

Lauren and Daniel Soanes, the members of Lowland Hum, have been recording music together since 2013, beginning only shortly after they were married. Even after a year of touring, their partnership is clearer than ever on this year’s self-titled release, “Lowland Hum.”

On the record, Lauren and Daniel’s voices interweave against a building backdrop of guitar, piano and percussion, creating an emotional tapestry of their relationship. On songs like “Olivia” and “Nightdriving,” the pair uses a series of images to create a meaning that transcends straightforward narration. The album is a frequently moving examination of growing up, remembering the past and moving beyond it.

Daniel Soanes took a break in his tour to speak to the Baylor Lariat about the power of visual performance, cell phones and playing for college students.

You’re going to be on the road for a while. How does your touring schedule affect your relationship with your wife and with the music?

That’s a great question. Right now we are a week in. Tonight’s our eighth concert in eight days. I think it can kind of become a blur, so Lauren and I try to take at least some time every day to talk about what was difficult, what was beautiful, what worked well, what we need to improve on and just how each of us is doing. Somehow I think that means we just stay up super late after a show.

We often do work during the day in the car as we’re driving. We’ll say, OK, we’re an hour away from the venue, we’re going to stop working and try to catch up and make sure we’re on the same page.

In terms of how the tour days affect our feelings toward the music, I think performing the songs each night helps us understand them more. And different audiences bring out different parts of each song. I think generally we grow in our relationship with the music. So sometimes it may mean we like a song more, or we might decide to play this song less on the tour and play this other song more, depending on how things are resonating with the audience.

When you come to Waco, you’ll be playing for largely a college audience. How is that different from playing in a big city with a more diverse range of people?

I think that college students and musicians both have a higher percentage of curiosity, a sort of eyes-open, ears-open experience of the world. I think a lot of what our band hopes for and tries to do is connect it to being present, being aware of the moment and what’s happening in real time.

At our concerts we hope to offer a space where people can be together without distraction in a world that’s extremely fast-paced. There’s always texts coming in, and even when you’re listening to music there are ads that come on. There’s stuff pulling at your attention all the time.

I’m excited for a college audience. At least for me when I was in college, it was more natural to expect a once-in-a-lifetime experience to happen at any moment. There’s a sense of expectation, curiosity.

In the song “Under the Rub,” one of your lyrics is, “I keep looking at my cell phone / Can’t stop looking at my cell phone.” Most of the rest of your songs feature emotional experiences and particularly resonant images, but these lines are about technology and the way we live and are sort of distracted from music. Could you talk about that lyric in the context of what you were just saying?

Yeah, totally! The song is kind of a confession. I remember even when we were recording it, I’m in the vocal booth and then I’m checking my phone right before I’m going to sing the line.

I think we just noticed more and more the tendency to fill in all the dead space with scrolling or double-checking an e-mail. I book all our concerts, so I’m constantly lining up things that are three to six months out and thinking about where we’re going to be in the country and how to work out being with family and all this stuff. It often causes me to miss what actually matters and to miss parts of my life, really, the opportunities to look somebody in the eye and have an experience in real time.

So I think the verses of that song are very much like the rest of the album, in that Lauren and I are trying to process life through the car windows and all these different places every month. We’ve toured most of our married life. In 2014, which is when we wrote a lot of the songs that are on this new record, we toured eleven months out of twelve. There’s so much travel and so many new places and people.

So it’s kind of like the song is a microcosm of our experience. We have all these thoughts and we’re trying to process all that’s going on and then this chorus comes and interrupts us. My hope in writing the chorus like that was to laugh at myself and remember not to do that. It’s like shining a light on a very obvious thing for me, and I think for most of the people I know too.

In what other ways does the music reflect your relationship with Lauren?

I think it’s a big challenge to make music that we both feel represented by, that we both feel like we see ourselves in without it being more of one person. I think it’s kind of a metaphor for our marriage.

In a really helpful way for us, when we are both feeling good about the music we’re making, it often means that we’re communicating well and making sure that we’re feeling cared for and loved. It’s kind of an interesting job, because everything for us is connected.

I think in the writing itself, Lauren’s influence can be really clearly seen. It can be more clearly seen on this record than on anything we’ve done to date. Her background is in visual art, and so a lot of the lyrics are “imagistic” — They’re visuals that pair with memories or things that happened either in childhood or the last few years or whatever.

There’s a way to tell a story where you drop the listener into the story by just telling them in the first person, “This happened to me, and then this happened.” And then there’s another way to tell a story where you paint a picture with words. The listener is experiencing what you experienced through a word illustration. We’re leaning a little more towards that. I think that’s totally Lauren’s influence and me learning from her.

Those images on the album can be very powerful. Do you incorporate visual elements into your live performances as well?

We do. We haven’t played at Common Grounds yet, so I’m not sure all that they’re going to want us to use. But we bring a lot of different things, and the band we’re touring with, The Collection, they also have some set things. What we do each night is work with the venue to create a combination of things that would best fit the space.

But every night we use the lyric books that Lauren designed. We’ll have those in Waco for sure. Those are basically little books with our lyrics printed, and we give people the option to read along as they’re listening if they want to. For Lauren that’s really helpful because she is a visual processor. When someone’s singing a bunch of lyrics in a row, she may be thinking about the first line while they’re singing the second line and so she loses the second line. A lot of people have explained that it’s been helpful and sort of a cool experience, but maybe for others it’s distracting. It’s obviously optional, but we do that every night no matter what.

And we are traveling with the art installation, the layered fabric backdrop that Lauren made. But again, it depends on what the venue wants. Lots of venues have their own backdrop that they like to be in everyone’s photos. So we’ve noticed we kind of just have to collaborate with wherever we’re playing.

Since you just started this tour, what do you expect to learn from the road? Do you think it will change your music in any way?

We’ve never done a full tour with friends of ours, so I’m hoping for and expecting deepened friendship with the folks of The Collection. We actually all lived in the same neighborhood in North Carolina for the last few years. Lauren and I lived two blocks from David and Mira, the husband and wife front-people of the collection. We thought we would try to do a string of shows together, but it turned out we had little pockets of fans all over the country — so we’re just doing the whole country. I’m hoping to learn from them and to get to know them better.

And I’m hoping to grow closer with Lauren in a different way. We’re in the context of more relationships, being with these same people every day. There’s a quote that talks about how different people bring out even more sides to whoever with. So I think I’ll learn even more about Lauren hanging out with this larger group of people as they bring out different things in her. So I’m excited to learn more about her.

And it will inevitably change our music, though how is yet to be seen.