Wye Oak Interview (w/ Andy Stack, Jenn Wasner)

We here in Baltimore are fucking spoiled. I thought it couldn’t get better than the Beach House release…but hell if Wye Oak didn’t give an equally intense show for their final hometown show before SXSW and their return for If Children’s Merge re-release party at the G-Spot.

Baltimore-based duo Wye Oak (formerly Monarch) played a spectacular live show at the Creative Alliance by Patterson Park this past Saturday. If you weren’t there, fear not! Thanks to our newest friend the Baltimore Taper, we here at Aural States are hooking you up big time with an exclusive on a live recording of the show.

Stream Wye Oak’s entire set below. Click song titles to download MP3s.

Wye Oak – Intro.mp3
Wye Oak – Please Concrete
Wye Oak – Warning
Wye Oak – Magic Johnson
Wye Oak – I Don’t Feel Young
Wye Oak – Family Glue
Wye Oak – Mary Is Mary
Wye Oak – Half A Double Man
Wye Oak – Untitled
Wye Oak – I Want For Nothing
Wye Oak – Obituary

And to round things out, Andy and Jenn sat down, then moved around alot, with me before Lo Moda’s set for part 1 of a 2-part interview. Read it after the jump. Read Part 2 here.

Aural States- OK guys, let’s start out with a little bio.

Jenn Wasner- We both grew up around Baltimore. Started playing music together in high school…just kind of in different bands. It wasn’t until I guess a couple years ago…

Andy Stack-
We went away for college, then came back.

And then a couple years ago…we found ourselves both in Baltimore and decided to start a band. It started out two of us playing together, actively searching for other bandmates. But eventually realized it wasn’t going to happen..but also we could do it our own way, just the two of us. With a little bit of work and effort. So, we’ve been playing as a 2-piece with drums, keyboard, bass, guitar. It seems to be going pretty well I guess. I dunno…what else as far as bio…We both live in Baltimore, Hampden now.

Aural States- Baltimore born-and-raised?

ASt/JW- Pretty much, in the suburbs earlier, but close enough.

AS- What’s your musical background?

ASt- We both studied music at school. Like extracurricular kind of things, but nothing special.

JW- I took piano lessons for a long time.

ASt- I went to music college for a while…

AS- Where?

ASt- Berklee up in Boston. Lived there for a while, and now I’m finishing up at UMBC. Jenn was an English major.

Yeah, I was kind of like…I took piano lessons but other than that I’m pretty much self-taught. I discovered myself.

AS- So you stated that you started as a duo, but were looking for others. Are you still looking to expand?

ASt- I don’t think we’re uniformly opposed to the idea. We work really well together (most of the time), we have a system in terms of the live sound now. In terms of recording the duo element isn’t really limiting because we can track everything again.

JW- I think generally, for us right now, we really prefer to keep it small. As far as our schedules, it’s already hard enough to find time to rehearse, practice, write and play when we’re living in Hampden and there’s just 2 people’s schedules to coordinate. I can’t imagine trying to incorporate a third person.

ASt- We’ve been in larger bands before, but it’s just…pretty convenient at this point. We can tour on the cheap…

JW- and we both really know what kind of sound each other is going for, and how to ask for it. What each other is capable of. It works out being pretty easy to communicate where it’s just the two of us.

AS- How much of that decision is connected to your romantic involvement?

JW- As far as playing together with others? I don’t think it’d be really that hard…

ASt- We definitely play in groups with other people so it’s not like that doesn’t work. It’s not like our personalities or personal lives clash with that…

JW- I think it’s always gonna kinda be our songs. We have bands with other people, we play with them, but it’s other people’s songs. I think the only thing that qualifies this band as Wye Oak is that it’s our music, our songs. I don’t think if other people play with us that would really change that at all. But it was, from the get-go, just the two of us. And I think it will stay that way for a while.

AS- Is there any stylistic change for you when other people are added?

ASt- Definitely, but I think it depends more on the group. Our other main band we play in, Noble Lake, is a completely different sound. It’s this psychedelic Americana stuff…pretty much all acoustic instrumentation.

JW- And it’s great to have an opportunity to do something like that, to get time and have a hand in a lot of different sounds and styles. It really opens your perspective up to create things that, in your own music, you wouldn’t necessarily do. And it’s just fun! Like our set list tonight…some songs go one way stylistically, then there are others that go the opposite way.

AS- Tonight is mostly off If Children?

JW- Probably like half and half. If Children‘s been kicking around with us for a while so…

ASt- Even some of the new material doesn’t feel new. We’ve been playing it for 5 or 6 months.

AS- So the Merge deal. Let’s talk about how that happened. (Congrats by the way)

ASt- Thanks! It was a huge stroke of good luck. It was actually originally through the blogging community. We self-released some stuff and I did my best to sort of work some PR. Sent out a lot of emails that were extremely…

JW- You just did like a press machine gun…

ASt- Yeah, and I just tried to be as nice as I could, to try and make friends where it counted. We got written up by some really nice people and I guess Merge saw it and contacted us. They just kinda sat on it for a while and we never expected anything to happen. There were other possibilities were had planned out, other labels that were interested…

AS- But then…right after New Years…

JW- Pretty much out of nowhere, they sent us an email that was just like “We’re still listening to the record an awful lot…how would you be interested in…”

AS- An email?!

JW- Yeah, just completely out of the blue. Literally that’s how it happened.

ASt- And it’s the kind of label that…it’s the perfect place for us to be right now, obviously.

AS- They are based in NC right?

ASt- Yeah, in like Durham. But it seemed shocking to us…that a label…would just up and ask us over email. Without asking for like, nude pictures or something like that or wanting to know our police record.

AS- Or thinking…”oh man, someone’s account got hacked.”

JW- Yeah, like what is going on.

ASt- But they just did…

JW- It just goes to show how down to earth and cool they are.

ASt- Exactly, it’s not a major label. Obviously they have financial interests and extremely successful bands, but they also are not running such an enormous corporate enterprise that they can’t take chances on people like us. So we just got lucky with that.

JW- I feel like that’s how it should be. If you like a band enough…but sometimes these days it doesn’t really work that way. It’s more about how many Myspace friends you have or how many hits your webpage gets. But they never really asked any of that stuff. They just said “We like your music.” It’s weird, it’s fantastic, unexpected and really heartening. That alone made me feel very very comfortable with going into the agreement.

AS- How has it been? How has it influenced you? I read somewhere that you were nervous about them not having seen the live show, and it being too different from the record.

ASt- It scared the shit out of us. They hadn’t seen the live show. We toured down through the South for the first time in January. We played for all them. They really liked it and now we’re gonna do their SXSW show.

AS- Yeah, with Destroyer I saw that.

JW- It’s…terrifying.

ASt- Yeah. So I mean, trepidation about the label has passed. Now it’s just trepidation about being artists, continuing to make art that we can live with.

JW- I mean, I don’t feel like they’re putting us in directions that we don’t want to go.

AS- The re-release of If Children, is that something you wanted?

ASt- That’s what we wanted. They gave us that option…

JW- They asked us if we were even interested in doing that at all, and although its been around for a while and the songs are kind of old for us…we put so much time and so much of ourselves into making that record. And now, I want as many people to hear it as possible. I think it deserves to be heard and I couldn’t turn that down. I couldn’t say no to that. I’m thrilled that they were interested in it enough to put it out. It’s great.

AS- Are you excited about SXSW?

JW/ASt- Yeah it’s great!

JW- I’ve never really been to Austin, I’ve heard it’s really cool. We were thinking about going last year, but…

ASt- It’s expensive and if you don’t have some name recognition…it’s hard to get any shows.

JW- It’s gonna be cool. They told us they are gonna take us to get really really good barbecue. It’s absolutely mandatory. Looking forward to that.

AS- Great. So, let’s talk a little bit about your process. “Where are the songs born?”

ASt- Very individually.

JW- Pretty isolated.

AS- For you, is it an actual process or is it something more spontaneous?

JW- The process is pretty separate. I’ve never really understood the idea of writing songs collectively. I’ve tried to do it before and it’s never really worked.

ASt- It’s too…I dunno…emotionally charged. It’s like there’s a vulnerability that goes along with writing…

JW- …that you just don’t feel comfortable exposing.

ASt- As close as you can be with somebody, I don’t think either of us has ever felt that comfortable.

JW- We pretty much write em then bring em to…the group *laughs* and work out the arrangements together.

AS- Music or lyrics first?

Depends. But I’ve found that since we started playing with this setup I’ve kind of started writing songs with the setup in mind. The idea of how we’re gonna have to play it is always in the back of my mind. It changes the way the notes come out. If you try and do it one way, and you think that way works, then it’s not gonna work. As soon as you start thinking too hard about it, the whole thing just goes completely out the window. You’ve got to be on the line of being serious about it but also somewhat relaxed, otherwise you can scare away the creative process if you’re too uptight.

AS- How long did it take you to assemble the tracks for If Children?

JW- Maybe like a year.

ASt- Noooo. It took maybe 5 months.

JW- Felt like a year!

ASt- It was on and off. It was like October ’05 to January ’06.

AS- That’s not bad at all.

ASt- Yeah, and that’s with all the mixing. I did a little bit of remixing for the Merge release. Not every song, but a couple songs. Little sections of songs that we were so distraught about for the original release. Every last mistake…

JW- …we hear a thousand times.

AS- What else is different on the Merge release?

ASt- “I don’t feel young” is the biggest. But the average listener won’t really hear any difference.

JW- It’s pretty much the same. The art is the same, the name is different.

ASt- It’s remastered but that’s about it. And you know, they were into that.

JW- With the idea behind the re-release being to expand the audience.

AS- I think it’s going to be received pretty well. For one, I feel like Pitchfork has almost adopted Baltimore as kind of this redheaded musical stepchild it wants to spotlight.

JW- I think you’re right about that. A lot of sites have adopted Baltimore.

ASt- They definitely have, but there’s just so many unknowables in a CD release you can’t really be sure…

JW- I’m just thrilled to be associated with Merge so I’m not sweatin it. I’m excited and we haven’t even started recording yet. Having this out gives us more time to work and record the new record.

ASt- I hope that it does well enough where the label feels justified in putting it out and…

AS- …letting you guys do your stuff.

ASt- Yeah, we wanna keep it moving. We already have almost a record’s worth of material.

AS- How is it stylistically compared to the old record?

You’ll hear some of it tonight! It’s kind of all over the place. I feel like the last record was by no means every song that I’ve written in the last five years. For this new one, since we have more time to work with it, I feel like we can write songs, play them around, see how they fall. And if they’re not up to snuff, we can pick and choose our favorite songs for the record. It takes a lot of pressure off. I don’t have to be like “write an album…now!”

ASt- When we recorded If Children, a lot of the arrangements that ended up on the record came together through the recording process. We didn’t go in with a final goal of where we wanted the song to go. I think we were expecting it to go the other direction for the new record. We’ve been playing with the duo setup for a while, we have a live show we are getting more comfortable with arrangements.

But as it turned out, we already did one recording session, and we ended up scrapping most of the material because we ended up coming back to the idea that even though we have the duo setup, we don’t necessarily want that to transfer over to the record.

We want to rely on the studio for arranging and multitracking. To let different instruments come in. Instruments that you’d never see in the live show. Piano, upright bass. Instruments like that will definitely still come into the recordings but not the live show. It’s just not practical.

AS- That actually hits on the last big thing I wanted to go through with you tonight. The difference between how you approach the live arrangements versus the recorded arrangements. Like you said, you have so many other voices/instruments in the studio…

ASt- In the studio we both play a bunch of instruments that don’t work live. Like piano, upright, sax…maybe someday we’ll have like 5 tour buses and we can fill up the music. I don’t think we allow ourselves to think that way. It’s so impractical to think of us…super huge band. We want to be able to be economical. We like having the smaller feel.

Maybe someday…but we don’t feel like we’re cutting ourselves short with just the two of us. If anything, it’s a nice challenge to look at all the different ways you can expand the sound of the group without adding different members. It’s also exhausting.

AS- Yeah, like when you are doing double duty on stage…

ASt- We played in some bigger groups with 5 or 6 different people at times. I loved it, I loved being able to focus on one thing. It lets you enjoy it more. When you both have a lot of variables to keep under control between songs, within songs, it’s like a real mentally taxing thing to do.

AS- Do you think it brings you closer to the music in performance? It obviously changes your experience of playing the music.

ASt- Yeah. I mean, it’s just different. The thing that probably brings us more into the music is that its our music, our songs. I mean mostly it’s Jenn’s songs, at least when we play live. We’re both so connected to the songs we ultimately begin to be a mouthpiece for the music. All of the instrumentation, the way the million different amps and keyboards on-stage are all just to be able to get to the song. Which worries us. I think at first we thought there might be a little too much gimmick, like with what I do.

AS- Almost like people would shutdown and think “oh they’re just showing off.”

ASt- Yeah, and that’s not the impression we want.

AS- How do you approach the live arrangements? How is the live experience different than the recorded?

ASt- Everything is more raw, everything is more immediate. You have the visual component of people playing it. It would take 10 people to re-create the album and we just don’t have that. So we do double duty where we can, we try to do guitar stuff to make it sound fuller than it normally would be…

JW- You know, I’ve realized that it’s important to remember that a song is a song. No matter how you play it, it should be able to be enjoyed. Whether its unplugged on an acoustic guitar or on stage with 10 people, it should still be the same song. We don’t feel like we need to recreate the album live. We already captured that completely independent moment in time. And the live show is another thing in and of itself.

Continue to Part 2…

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One Response to “Wye Oak Interview (w/ Andy Stack, Jenn Wasner)”

  1. Marshall Anders says:

    Hi Jen, You sure did study Piano for a long time, with me. Where is that CD ??!!!!!!
    Love, Mr.A

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