SHORT AND SWEET: WMSE TALKS TO WYE OAK
POSTED:: May 18, 2018
Interviews, Short And Sweet (Q&A's)
FILED UNDER:: Interviews, Short And Sweet (Q&A's)
Baltimore’s Wye Oak have been honing their dreamy sound since 2007’s If Children. Andy Stack’s (EL VY, Lambchop) and Jenn Wasner’s (Dungeonesse, Flock of Dimes) longtime collaborations have eased them into the realm of smart, emotive pop that satisfies every cerebral Dancing Queen/King, their earthily electronic-based song architecture deeply grounded in a pretty golden era of indie rock.
This structure is most evident on the duo’s latest, If You See Me, Say Yes and it’s clear that there is no turning back from a steady progression from straight-up rock band to something much more layered and devastatingly deep. And lest one thinks nowadays-Wye Oak is a band of all bells, whistles and production sleight, that latest album ably serves both camps of ardent Wye Oak fans who have followed the band since their inception and new listeners, who have picked up on those songwriting qualities (solid vocals, percussion and melodies) that Wasner and Stack have underlined with their years of expertise and built upon. WMSE asked Wasner some questions before the band’s Milwaukee show tonight…
Jenn, you’ve mentioned that as Wye Oak has progressed, your output has become less guitar-driven because you were learning to self-produce and self-record and your audio options are currently much broader through this. On the new record, what newly learned production and recording skills did you implement?
I think at this point all of the skills I’ve accumulated over the years—as a producer, an instrumentalist, a songwriter—ideally coalesce into something that feels creative in a more organic way. It’s not like I sit down to write a song and think “what do I know about mic placement that can help me today?” Songwriting (and recording in general) often feels like an exercise in creative problem solving. You have an idea, you set out to document it, something goes wrong, and you figure out a way around it—and basically that process repeats until you have a completed song. The better you are at solving those problems—the more experience you have, the more knowledge you’ve accumulated—the more quickly those ideas in your head are able to come into real-world existence.
Why open the album with a composition like “Tuning”? Is it meant to state that this album should be played all the way through to best take it in (both side A +B, back-to-back, etc.)?
I mean, I’m a sucker for the capital A-Album as a form—so I’m always considering every detail about how these songs fit together, and it’s nice when other people have the patience to consider it as a whole. Ideally each song should stand on its own, but also play a very specific role in the broader narrative of the record as it unfolds. “Tuning” is a field recording that Andy took while on tour playing with Lambchop. The first song on our record, “The Instrument,” refers to the instrument of my body, my mind, and my consciousness—which, more than any one literal instrument, is the tool that I use for everything that I do. So “Tuning” was a reference to that—warming up your instrument, preparing it for use, and for everything that is to come.
The New York Times wrote of your new album – “Its songs grapple with questions of higher purpose, of personal and philosophical trust, of fate and self-determination, of belief and responsibility, and of connection and solitude.” What were these deep and unconfined lyrics a result of?
Being a (perhaps overly) thoughtful person, I guess? I don’t know—I don’t understand how people move through the world and don’t feel compelled to address some of these issues and work through them. Maybe a lot of people do, but in different ways? Either way, writing songs is just the way that feels best for me to examine some of these ideas at length—to separate them from myself and turn them into their own artifact helps me find a little bit of peace, temporarily.
As you get more settled into your 30s, how do you feel being a full-fledged musician, artist and creative person? Does the occupation feel more dedicated and real now?
To be honest, there is a split between how I feel about my life and creativity on a personal level and how I feel about it on an occupational level. Personally, I feel great—inspired, grateful for a deeper understanding of the process and the time and effort that it takes. I’m confident that I’m doing my best work, but I also feel more sure that I will continue to grow and evolve and make things that I love even more, which is exciting. Occupationally, however, I feel less and less optimistic that the music industry as it exists (and as it continues to shift) will be able to support the careers of mid-level artists such as ourselves. A combination of factors (including but not limited to the devaluing of recorded music) have conspired to make what we do increasingly irrelevant and difficult to commodify. This doesn’t affect my art-making self very much, but it will eventually mean that we have to be very creative about the way we support ourselves in the world financially. All of this is to say, I’m fairly certain music won’t be my job forever—but that wasn’t ever really the purpose of it in the first place.
Tell us about your work with Milwaukee-based artist Daniel Murphy for your video for “The Louder It Calls, The Faster It Runs”…how much collaboration did you do?
We were introduced to Daniel through our label, Merge Records, and he’s designed lots of stuff for us for the past couple of years. He has such excellent ideas and always does such great work. For the ‘Louder I Call’ video, we went out into White Sands with our pal Dan Huiting and shot a bunch of stuff, not necessarily even planning on using the footage for a music video—just to see what we could get. Daniel did such an excellent job piecing it all together and it worked out even better than we could have expected!
What are you looking forward to most for your stop in Milwaukee?
Milwaukee was one of the first cities on this tour to sell out in advance, so we really appreciate that! We’re excited to play for people who are excited to see us. Also the last time we were in Milwaukee we went to this super goofy but extremely fun spy-themed bar called Safe House and our buddy Bob paid a bunch of money to prank our friend into thinking he was going to get water boarded or some sh**. So maybe we’ll do that again?