Jana Hunter, 2008
Though Baltimore’s music scene is vibrant and nationally recognized, it’s perhaps not yet as professionally esteemed as a New York or a Nashville. Not that you would know that from talking to indie darling Jana Hunter—lead singer of the band Lower Dens—who came to Charm City by way of New York and Houston.
Hunter has been a successful musician for many years, both in the band Matty and Mossy and as a solo artist. Despite—and partly because of—this success, it wasn’t until after the move here in 2008 that Hunter found a real musical community—one built on talent and camaraderie, not record deals.
“I really, really enjoyed [Baltimore, when I visited on tour] and moved up here very quickly,” Hunter says. “People seem to be really paying attention to the performance here. They’re in it to experience it—no other reason. It was one of the first things that impressed me [about Baltimore], and I still love it—it’s something that seems to carry across different genres and different scenes.”
Hunter’s intelligence and thoughtfulness are on full display in Lower Dens’ music. The band’s most recent album, 2015’s Escape from Evil, which scored a “Best New Music” designation from Pitchfork, has a sort of ’80s techno pop vibe with a modern lyrical sensibility, touching on topics like addiction, disenfranchisement and, of course, love.
Lower Dens formed in 2010 and has released three well-received albums since then. (There’s another in the early development.)
“Writing collaborative music is much more difficult because you have to cede some amount of control or it’s not really collaborative,” Hunter says. “But the music oftentimes comes out better for it—it’s more interesting, it has more than one person’s creative voice in it. And touring is much more fun. I really like being in the band and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Hunter, who identifies outside the gender binary, is also an eloquent, if sometimes reluctant, voice for social progress. From a personal essay in Cosmopolitan about sexism in the music industry to an op-ed in Pitchfork about white privilege in the Baltimore music scene, Hunter is, in the parlance of internet social activists, fully “woke.”
“These are issues in my life, but not, like, burning issues in my life—more things I feel need to be talked about. They need a lot of people to talk about them in a lot of different places, so if somebody gives me the opportunity, I feel like it’s important.”
Part of that comes with the territory of living in Baltimore—a place, Hunter says, that is both open to and already having those conversations. Incidentally, singer and bandmates share a house in Waverly.
“Baltimore really is completely fascinating to me. It’s such a rich, dense city, where people are so alive,” Hunter says. “… I’d rather be part of a place like that than a place that just wants to pretend like there aren’t any problems, or like there isn’t any progress to be made.”