While passing through southeastern Wyoming on tour, Lowland Hum’s Daniel and Lauren Goans borrowed a friend’s car to drive the short distance to Vedauwoo, a place known to the Arapaho as “Land of the Earthborn Spirit” in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest. The Goans drove past Vedauwoo’s hoodoos and outcrops of billion-year-old Sherman granite.
They knew the view was spectacular, but they didn’t feel the natural beauty. “It felt like it was hitting our eyes and bouncing back,” Daniel says. After spending the better part of four years touring, the Goans were weary and oversaturated. They didn’t even speak about the phenomena before them; they simply didn’t have the words.
And what use is a songwriter if he can’t take in the world around him and put it into song? Lowland Hum’s art-folk songs are about processing experiences, Lauren says, and they could no longer process experiences in real time. They had run out of steam.
That turned out to be a good thing for the duo, forcing them to pull the emergency brake and stay home in Charlottesville for a while. Most of 2016 was spent writing and recording their latest album, Thin.
Only then did the words to describe Vedauwoo—and the strange experience they had there—come to them: “Vedauwoo, five weeks too full to see you. / Canyons by the million, mountains blue, five weeks too full to know you. / Don’t you know I love you? / … Vedauwoo, mind weak, words too soft to reach you.” The song reflects on a moment when reflection wasn’t possible.
When the Goans, who have been married for five years and have collaborated on music for their entire relationship, set out to make Thin, they imposed limits on themselves: They’d only record what they could reproduce live with two voices, guitars and light percussion (including their signature stomp boxes). Music from their previous records, Native Air and Lowland Hum, and their Fourth Sister EP, had studio musicians and production elements that were stripped away for the pair’s live shows.
Instead of making it cool in the studio, Lauren told Daniel, they should “write it cool.”
“It meant that each individual part of each recording had to be purposeful and essential for it to stick,” Lauren says.
They bought recording gear and set up in the attic of a sunlight-doused house on Rugby Road. They watched YouTube videos on sound engineering and turned knobs until they got what they wanted, taking deliberate steps in making a brilliant record.
“We were going to be present in the songs until we felt we were done, and that’s basically what happened,” he adds. As a result, Thin “has been the clearest picture of what the two of us make,” Daniel says. “It feels like we’re really offering ourselves. This is what we can do. It’s a record about weakness and understanding our smallness.”
“One foot in front of the other, my darling. / One foot in front of the other, my darling,” goes Thin’s opening track, “Palm Lines.”
The duo tries not to focus on the “you’re on the verge of breaking through” comments tossed their way, or playing a second NPR Tiny Desk concert (“All Songs Considered” host Bob Boilen is a big fan).
“At the end of the day, I don’t want to spend my time thinking about what could be possible and miss what is happening,” Daniel says.
“Man puts his hand to the flinty rock, dams the stream. / His eye sees every precious thing. Adonai,” Lauren sings over guitar that sounds like train hopping on “Adonai.”
“Adonai” was largely inspired by the most curious man the Goans knew, a folklorist named William who would show up at their door while hiking the Appalachian Trail. “Can we have a cup of coffee? I brought you some peaches,” Daniel remembers him saying.
During their conversations, William would write things down—books he thought Daniel might like, or things Daniel had said that inspired him—and hand Daniel a memento of the moments they’d spent together. William died tragically (and mysteriously) a few years ago, while Lowland Hum was on tour, but the Goans remember him tenderly. His penchant for living in the present is a theme that shows up constantly on Thin.
On “Folded Flowers,” Daniel sings about a disturbing recurring dream: “Sometimes in my dreams, people don’t have faces. / Features are blurred, I can’t make out the shapes. / It doesn’t bother me much. It’s just like my waking life: people all around me, eclipsed by my me-sight.” He doesn’t want to be so caught up in his own stuff that he can’t see anyone else.
Growth out of oneself and into the space of others is an important process. “One cannot become simple and true in one day,” they sing on “Winter Grass,” quoting Vincent van Gogh, adding that there’s “gold in every season.”
The songs on Thin were a long time coming and they’re mantras for the life the Goans want to live on and off the road. When they’re running on cups of coffee, spoonfuls of peanut butter and a few hours’ sleep; when they’re playing to half-interested crowds in Salt Lake City biker bars and when they’re thousands of miles from home, missing friends and family (and even each other) in the presence of rock formations out West.