Following the release of Nootropics and a couple of weeks before their appearance at Forbidden Fruit Festival in Dublin, Lower Dens‘ bassist Geoff Graham took a few minutes to answer our questions and explain the concept behind this new album. He talks about how technology and the human evolution are connected, for the better and the worse, but also about the influences and new sounds coming through these ten cold yet moving tracks.
Your new album is called Nootropics, known also as ‘smart drugs’, how did you get to be interested in the relations between technology and the human being?
Well actually technology is at a point where the relationship between human and technology influence us as a species. It’s how we survive, it’s how we live. We were interested in the fact that we can use technology to change ourselves on a basic chemical level. It brings up questions like “What do we wanna change? What don’t we wanna change? Is it a good thing or a bad thing?”.
What’s your opinion on these kind of memory and intelligence enhancers? Do you think it’s a reflection of how society works nowadays, challenging our capacities to work harder, better and faster?
I guess human always used technology to improve the situation they’re in, their capacities. It goes back to agriculture or even before that. I think now is an extension of that. It’s interesting that what we have on our plate is the power to redesign ourselves, that’s kind of new.
On Nootropics, you take a step back from guitar-driven melodies and concentrate on keyboards with a more experimental approach and even ambient tracks. Was it something you were aiming for or did it come naturally?
It is something we have planned for, to use keyboards in addition to guitars. We wanted to record the album somewhere where we had a lot of in-house synths.
Your singer Jenna said in an interview last year for Soundblab you were good friends with your hometown’s dream-pop band Beach House, have they influenced you on this album, especially for the atmospheric synth melodies and soft reverberating guitar parts in the background?
I guess to an extent we end up being influenced with anybody we’ve toured with. For Beach House, we were more influenced by their work ethics than the way they write songs. They are extremely hard working. I’ve known Alex (Beach House’s guitarist) since we were both 18, I’ve been good friends with him for a long time, I figured out a lot about how to work from him.
The sound of Nootropics seems colder than on your debut album Twin hand movement, with binary rhythms and obsessive bass lines, close to 80’s Kraut-rock music. What was your state of mind when you wrote these songs?
Maybe some people would say it sounds cold and mechanical. I don’t think that the songs come off that way, when you sit down and you listen to the whole album there’s a lot happening on top and beneath this “cold” impression. It’s an interplay between the deliberately static. It’s a duality we have between what’s human, what’s organic, what’s corporal, and the technology that is cold and dehumanizes us. Technology is built through human experiences, it’s how we survived, in the early days of humanity we figured out how to make tools to keep ourselves alive. We have to realize what helps us and the things that are destructive for us from the atomic bomb to this information age where things are virtual all the time. But at the same time, to be a human you do have to love technology on a basic level. If you try to live without a home, without a house, it would be really difficult. There are things we have to celebrate about it. The question is not “Is technology bad?” but more “How much technology is good for us?” There’s a way to give it life. So on the album there’s this mechanical film but also we try to engage, to dance with this concept of technology, give it life, love cause it’s an extension of who we are.
What were you listening to during the recording of the album?
One could say Nootropics is a more cerebral and challenging for the listener than your debut album, did you change the way you play the songs for your live performances?
We started playing them pretty much the same but they’ve evolved with live character. You can try to recreate what happens on an album live but to an extent it’s going to evolve. There are some elements that happen during live shows, there’s a certain vibe different than on the album.
Is your new direction going to influence the way you play your old tracks, and do you intend to keep a balance between the first and second album in the set-list?
Now we have five people on the band so when we play old songs we’re able to bring new elements, Carter (keyboardist) has brought some really cool ideas to the old songs that we play, there’s some new synths and guitars. They are a little bit different, for the better. We play mostly the new album.
You’re on a European tour at the moment, have you got a city you’re really looking forward to playing? What are your best memories from your last trip?
There are a lot of places that were exited to play, we’ve never played in Prague that would be exciting. To go as far east as the Czech Republic is really new for us. We played a gig in small town Saintes we arrived late we hurried. They said “stop unloading it’s more important that you eat”. Someone from the neighborhood cooked for us, gave us champagne, some of the best food we’ve eaten anywhere. No one in town seemed to mind, it was very nice, we ended up having a really good night. That level of hospitality is incredible. You don’t get treated like that on USA tour it’s always “hurry up and play”!