Wye Oak Interview Part 2

Firstly, we have winners for our Wye Oak CD Release Giveaway! Julia Oat-Judge (Bmore) won the big score, nabbing tix to Thursday night’s show at the G-Spot and a signed copy of If Children. Laura Steiner (Takoma Park) is the runner-up. She will be getting a signed CD care package in the mail real soon. Thanks to Jenn and Andy for the swag! And don’t forget, CD release show tonight @ the G-Spot, 8PM doors! Now, onto the interview!

On a truly lovely Saturday morning, I trekked over to the Evergreen off Cold Spring Lane for some coffee, a stellar bagel-wich and continued to the second part of our interview (postponed due to the chaos preceding their SXSW trip) with Andy and Jenn of Wye Oak.

We chatted about their virgin SXSW experiences (and Jenn’s other career considerations), the importance of family and Baltimore.

Read it all after the jump. You can also catch up on part 1 and listen to their Creative Alliance live set here.

Aural States- First I wanted to go through the entire SXSW experience, start from the beginning but I definitely saw that Yaris video and we will be touching upon that later.

JW- It was fun and…I’m glad we did it. but as far as the expectations living up to the actual event, it was pretty much over from the beginning. It was a lot of work. We flew down, had all our stuff with us, we didn’t have a car and our hotel was ~10 minutes from downtown center. We had to take a cabs everywhere and it was really hot outside, so we basically had a lot of walking around in the heat with our stuff.

AS- Merge didn’t have like a party bus waiting for you?

JW- They had a van. They were helpful, but they also had 8 bands to deal with the same way…

ASt- Yeah they were just running around even more crazy than we were. It’s a lot like being a little kid and going to Disneyworld and…

JW- Except you get there and Disneyworld SUCKS!

ASt- Yeah some dude throws up on your feet on a ride or something like that.

JW- Haha, no I mean there’s a lot of cool stuff going on there. But there’s also a lot of awful shit going on and you have to kinda dig through the awful shit to get to the good stuff. And even then you might not get to get into the cool stuff because the line is too long.

The street, 6th street and the adjacent streets for like 6 blocks are shut down entirely. So it’s just throngs of people walking down the street in the middle of the day. The earliest we got there was 11 because we had a show. But 11AM, people walking around, they’re drunk and shit, wearing booty shorts and bikini tops, lookin nasty and like they haven’t slept in 3 days (because they probably haven’t). Every 10 feet some dude comes up to you and says “Wanna hear my great band!!” and tries to give you a flyer and shove earphones on you.

They had women in bikinis and high hells walking down the street with signs for bands and their shows…

ASt- It was like Mardi Gras.

JW- It was insane. There was a certain point, in the middle of our showcase after we played, we were super hungry. So we went out to get some food and come back. We were out on 6th for 2 minutes before we thought “We have to get out of here, this is a living hell.”

But at the same time, the good stuff was awesome.

AS- How did the showcase go off?

JW- It went great, was really really fun. Probably the biggest crowd we’ve ever played for. They seemed to like it.

AS- How were you received? Did you get a lot of feedback?

JW- Oh this is great. We ran into the alley behind the club and these two girls were comin in and they were like “Hey it’s them! You guys were really good!” So I said “Thank you!” Then she said “During one of your songs, there was this big guy standing next to me and he was like bawling…so I asked what’s wrong and he said I don’t know it’s just so beautiful!” So that was the coolest thing. We made a biker dude cry, apparently. So that’s a life goal I can check off the list.

It was different from what I thought it would be just by how crowded and hot and dark it was. We didn’t talk to a whole lot of people because honestly there was nowhere to go that was quiet. It was like being bounced around with strangers in a hot sweaty loud dark room for four hours.

Actually I think the most comfortable place to be I think is on the stage. Because you had a couple feet on either side of you to stretch your arms and breathe.

JW- Yeah, even backstage was hot, windowless and full of people.

ASt- It was fun overall though. The whole thing was very successful I think. We understand now when friends of ours who’ve been there say it’s not all good stuff. When friends say they don’t wanna go back for a second time.

JW- I’m sure we’ll go again, we’ll just have a better idea of what to expect. This time we thought “Oh great! A non-stop party, all kinds of music and happy people everywhere!” And it just wasn’t.

ASt- Next time I go, I’ll take a can of mace.

AS- What was the most positive thing to come out of it?

JW- The shows we played were great. A lot of people heard us who wouldn’t normally have. We played everyday somewhere, but not all shows. Some appearances…like the Yaris thing which was…weird. I explained it to a roommate who was like “Why did you do that!?” We were out on the street and we were going to play a song for them (Stereogum) but it was so loud they couldn’t hear us and it was hot and we were like “Why don’t we get into the car?” It’s quiet, and it’s got air conditioning!

AS- It’s pretty genius and fun concept. There’s another site called the Black Cab Sessions that does a similar thing with artists in London.

ASt- There’s actually one also in Paris, I don’t remember what it’s called (The Big Purple Van Club) that the Dirty Projectors did.

JW- Yeah it’s just the two girls and a guitar, playing some tunes. They sound really awesome.

For me, the best thing other than the exposure, is that I have a better grasp on what I am willing and not willing to do with my music.

ASt- And your body.

JW- And my body. So I’m quitting music and becoming a prostitute. No, just kidding. Before I went it was a big question, as far as licensing and advertising. It’s been going through my head a lot lately. We haven’t gotten any offers yet, but when the album comes out we’ll probably be getting offers to do commercials and stuff like that.

Obviously that will be handled on a case-by-case basis, but going to SXSW and seeing the obvious, corporate sheen over everything…

ASt- The whole event is sponsored by Coors Lite.

JW- Yeah, SXSW as presented by Coors. I don’t have a moral problem with that. But the trick is that I feel more capable of saying no to things that make me uncomfortable. Before we were so new to this we would do whatever and go wherever you say. I realized that you can say no to these things, that it’s up to you. You shouldn’t feel bad about it.

I feel more confident about that control now. It (SXSW) was a real wake-up call for me in that regard.

AS- What about performances?


AS- You guys are out of town this weekend when they are playing huh?

JW- Don’t remind me! I am heartbroken. Truly. Truly. Heartbroken. Walkmen are great, it’s a great line-up. Let me just say, they were my favorite band when I was in 10th grade. I had a t-shirt, went to see them and I just fucking loved them. But you know how you just kind of move on after a while, and you don’t listen to their music for a while…when we got signed to Merge I just thought “Oh sweet, Spoon” but I wasn’t by any means rocking their album every day. So I kind of moved on.

We went to the show, it was a huge auditorium, festival stage on the river in Austin. Seeing that show…it was so fucking well done that it brought all of these old feelings rushing back. I guess they had won all these awards at the Austin awards night the night before, they cleaned up or something, so they were just so confident and just…kick-ass on stage.

It was really inspiring to see. It’s the kind of stage show I can only aspire to be at this point, because we’re the opposite of confident. It was just phenomenal, really great.

AS- Did you get to meet them at all?

JW- No it was just way too big. It was a Merriweather style venue.

AS- They weren’t at the showcase or anything? Or like the “Merge mixer”?

JW- Haha the mixer, no I don’t think so but it was so packed at the showcase I have no idea if they were or not. My new goal is to open for Spoon. I’m pushing that to the top of the goal list.

ASt- Yeah, I was pretty entranced. We also saw Deertick and he was great. He has a really commanding moustache, which was surprising and very entertaining. Destroyer, also really good.

JW- They played our guitar!

ASt-We also saw She & Him, the M Ward/Zooey Deschanel thing. They were actually very good. I wasn’t sure what to expect. There are some pretty poorly done actress-turned-musicians…

JW- But she’s very talented and her songs are beautiful.

AS- Worst band? Want to call anybody out?

ASt- There were a lot of bands that we heard out on the street…

JW- Generic cock-rock bands…

AS- Local Austin detritus…

JW- Exactly. You hear them when the doors open.

ASt- It’s so warm out there that there are a lot of patio venues. When you walk down 6th, it’s like a barrage of noise and you hear a lot of terrible music, pop-punk, heavy modern rock.

JW- Cock-rock Staind “alternative” soundalikes. It’s coming from all directions.

ASt- We had some really great BBQ! We went to Stubb’s though, which I think is pretty famous local establishment. Also, it’s a very different climate down there. All the bars had patios…that was some of the best times, just hanging out with people from the label, some of the other bands, just getting out of the Baltimore winter. Being able to escape the crazy street-scenes and the noise and just relax.

JW- I’m looking forward to going next year with car, so we’ll have a little bit more control over our own destinies. And we’ll have a better idea of what to expect.

AS- Good deal. OK, the other big topic I wanted to broach was Baltimore, your feelings on it, how it has affected you. Let’s go deep. Philosophize on the whole scene and situation here. This is especially apropos today since Wham City is opening its new space today.

JW- Yeah!

ASt- Really?

JW- I know for a fact, my friend Rose is a Wham City…er, and she told me last night after work. This might be top secret, I dunno. You might think this is funny. But at the new Wham City they have this small closet-sized room padded with foam. And in it, is a cactus in a pot. And it’s going to be the cummed-on cactus.

ASt- The cummed-on cactus?

AS- Wow.

JW- Yeah. And all the bands that come through will get to cum on the cactus. Rose Chase is going to be the first to cum on the cactus, today. Probably doing it as we speak. In case you wanted to know, I just heard this last night.

It’s disgusting but it’s hilarious. SO. They have that.

I love all the people I know associated with that scene.

AS- How do you feel about Wham City being what many people see as the face of Baltimore music and art? It has definitely taken the lead and spotlight in press coverage until recently.

ASt- I think it’s fair. Even if you’re not in it, that scene…

JW- Which we definitely are not.

It’s a pretty ubiquitous presence.

JW- I mean, I know a lot of people who are, but I’m definitely not in any way affiliated with it. But a lot of bands that are making it in Baltimore are not. Beach House, Arboretum…there are a lot of bands around that have nothing to do with it. But I think it’s well-deserved.

And I think the thing to remember is that they’re known not just for the music aspect but an overall art aesthetic.

I don’t think of anyone in Baltimore as competition. They’re just doing a different thing and I don’t think they’re infringing on anyone’s territory. I think it’s great. It’s not really our style, but I have a lot of respect for them. I love to see anyone in Baltimore getting attention.

There are a lot of different kinds of sounds and different sounding bands, and there’s room for all that stuff. I don’t feel like, I’ve never talked to anyone who has any sort of problem with there being the variety of music there is here. But it’s also good to remember it’s an art world thing too, not just a collection of bands.

AS- I think they’re a good collective to spotlight and represent Baltimore mainly because of their ethos and approach. I think it’s emblematic of the city. If not, they’re music or art necessarily.

JW- That’s totally true. I don’t think that people who read about Wham City think that’s the only thing going on in Baltimore, but it shows that there is a huge variety of stuff going on here. And a lot of it’s weird. They’re just kind of at the head of that which is great.

AS- So you said you think there’s plenty of room for the many different sounds of Baltimore. Do you think there’s an issue with show density at all here? It’s been commented to me before that if there are one or two big-draw shows, everything else gets swept under the rug.

ASt- I don’t think that’s exclusive to this city though. We played in NYC at the Cake Shop a month ago against some big show at the Mercury Lounge…

JW- It was Evangelicals!

ASt- Yeah, Evangelicals and Headlights. There were like 20 people at our show. It was obvious that we were playing against heavy competition. I think it’s just a general thing. People will see the bands in-demand.

The one thing is that when we started playing around Baltimore, maybe 2 years ago, there was a serious lack of venues. But lately it has really flowered in that way. Lo-Fi, the Metro Gallery, Joe Squared…all these sort of DIY places have opened up. I couldn’t possibly complain about it because it’s so much of an improvement over where it started a few years ago. And the Talking Head is back…it’s great.

JW- And I think it’s a great place to be a band because even if there are fewer people and a lot of competition, people actually care about going out to shows and supporting bands. So you can carve out your little niche.

AS- I’ve seen some disputes over DC being better than Baltimore for show-going and overall attendance being stronger in DC. But what do you really call filling or supporting a show? A capacity-packed venue with half the crowd talking throughout the set? At the Beach House show this past Friday, Victoria called those set-talkers out. “This is for the music listeners; those of you who used this as a bad excuse for a date, you can go upstairs now.”

JW- That’s awesome, did Victoria say that?

AS- Yeah, definitely.

ASt- Victoria’s bad-ass. People here actually care about the music here.

JW- Some of the best shows I’ve ever played have been to small crowds. Some of the worst have been to huge crowds. I’d rather have 20 people who really give a shit than a roomful of people who could care less. But rather have a roomful of people who give a shit. So there.

AS- How do you feel the city and the environment here has influenced you as an artist? Has it impacted how you develop?

JW- I don’t think I would be…I would probably still be an English major in college, if I didn’t live in Baltimore. I don’t think I’d be playing in bands at all.

When I went away to school and I hated it so much, part of it wasn’t that it was all that terrible it was just that Baltimore was so much better. I’m pretty indebted to the whole atmosphere, the people, everything. I don’t think I’d be the person I am without it. But who can really know, you know?

ASt- I think of it on more of a micro level. Obviously there’s really great music around. The city has been getting all this attention. The development of our band and sound coming from the people we spend more time with. It’s not like we grew up cutting our teeth playing music with Dan Deacon or Alex and Victoria (Beach House). We love their music, but we have a close-knit group of friends, and some are musicians. Some play completely different styles than we do and it’s great.

JW- They definitely introduce us to new music.

ASt- Right. Baltimore is home and it’s great, but ultimately it’s the smaller niche you create that influences you the most.

AS- Have you thought about relocation at all with the Merge deal?

JW- I don’t think anytime soon. I don’t think either of us wants to just call it quits. Changing up our lifestyles. It all depends on how much we end up traveling. If things go as they have been, we’ll probably be traveling a lot. Which is great. If we weren’t getting those opportunities, it probably would be a different story. But since we are, I don’t feel the urge to go anywhere else.

Even if we did, I think I’d have a really hard time leaving here.

AS- Listening to your music and some of the comments and shout-outs at your Creative Alliance show, family is definitely a huge influence on you. And family is here. Could you talk a little about that connection to you and what it means for your music?

JW- I feel stodgy and traditional when I say this, but most people kind of move away from their families. And I really don’t think I could do that. I don’t know why. It’s such a touchstone for me, I can’t imagine not having it with me, within driving distance.

Not to say I hang out with them everyday. I see them every few weeks, but just knowing they’re close by is really important to me. Mostly because my family is ummm… a little bit non-traditional. And plagued by various issues. So sometimes I need to be around to help out. I can’t just disappear and move faraway.

When I did, when I moved to New York, I was plagued by guilt about it the whole time. Not that they’re the only reason why I’m here, but it’s obviously part of the reason why this is home for me.

On the other side of the spectrum, Andy’s family is hugely supportive. We practice in their basement, they help us out with money. A lot. They helped us buy our van, all of our gear…very supportive. I can’t imagine being apart from them either. The fact that your family and my family live within a 20 mile radius, is kind of important to how we function on a daily basis.

AS- Could you say a little about some of the family-based themes in your music, obviously like “Family Glue”?

JW- It’s funny, I wrote “Family Glue” while I was up at Skidmore in New York, and I was walking through the kindergarten/pre-first department, I guess the education department? Where they bring in children to play with the people learning to be teachers…

Hah, learning to be teachers. That’s kind of funny.

So they had all these pictures on the wall of all the kids with the theme “I am…” and they drew a little picture and wrote the words. One of them was “I am family glue” while the rest of them were like “I am a kid” or “I like soccer,” but that one was deep as shit. It stuck in my head and I wrote the whole song in class right after that, no guitar, just kind of bouncing around in my head. That was the only time that ever happened to me before.

I’m hesitant to go too deep into the actual, technical issues of everything that involve my family…but I will say that I get a lot of comments about my age. Most who I only tangentially know think I’m older than I am (I’ll be 22 in a week!), but I think that has a lot to do with the fact that when you are put into these situations at a very young age, you grow up very fast.

And I wouldn’t trade it for a second. It’s made me the person I am and allowed me to write these songs and I’d say pretty much everything I write ties into that in some way. I came of age very young and became self-sufficient at an early age. This might seem braggy and it’s not meant to be, it’s just how things went down. But I owe a whole lot to those experiences and the kind of songs I write.

Sorry, I’ve been taking up most of the time yapping. Did you want to say anything about your fams Andy?

ASt- Umm, thanks mom and dad! I did not come of age early. I grew up the traditional suburban existence.

JW- Oh man, I’m not trying to seem like I’m the little orphan girl or something. It’s just that, for someone who thinks about these things and is getting asked about what goes into these things, you start getting all philosophical. I’m not trying to make it sound like there’s all this drama…but there is a LOT of drama, to this day. It’s a part of the game, part of that rap game.

AS- Good deal. How’s the new material coming along?

ASt- Oh we’re recording!

JW- Yes we did! We started and are very stoked. We actually went up to a friend of ours place, he goes to NYU. We’re not going to be able to use his studio anymore. He’s about to graduate and he’s in their recording program, so for his capstone project we were able to go into the studio to record some songs.

We got basic tracks for 6 songs. They’re not complete, but a lot of it is maybe a little more than half complete. The most important part about the basic tracks is getting good sounds from the drums and the guitars. And I’m really pleased with that so far.

AS- Any titles or themes developing yet?

JW- Oh man, titles are the last thing to come for me. I have a really hard time with it. So when we’re in the studio, we just title them with goofy names I come up with.

AS- I actually wanted to try and get a title for one of my favorite songs, an untitled one you played in your Creative Alliance set…I’m trying to think of how to describe it.

JW- Is it the kind of Neil Young feeling one with the kinda loud guitar break? So far, it doesn’t have a name…but in the studio, we’re calling it “Magic Johnson” but that is NOT the title of the song. If you want to call it that for the time being, so be it. But I’m gonna have to come up with a real one soon huh?

AS- Lastly, what about If Children, how did you decide on that title for your album?

JW- Um, do you remember?

It’s a lyric…

JW- Yeah, it’s taken from “If Children Were Wishes,” because we refer to that song in shorthand as “If Children.” But we kind of started just tossing around that phrase and it’s cool because it’s kind of got that question, like “if children?” But it also can be used like a noun, like the “If” children…so it has that kind of duality to it.

ASt- A desccriptor!

JW- You know what I mean! It had that double use. The list of songs on the album are big into uncertainty, youth and figuring shit out, so it seemed to fit well.

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