Wye Oak singer-guitarist Jenn Wasner and drummer-keyboardist Andy Stack decided they were going to go for it last year. The textured-indie-pop duo was about to release their third album, and second for Merge, Civilian. They gave up their leases, put their stuff in storage and steeled themselves for a wild ride.
But between the steadily growing allure of Civilian's taut but dreamy soundscapes and escalating tour opportunities (culminating with an arena-scale tour opening for The National in Canada), they wound up playing more than 200 shows and thoroughly burning themselves out. Some end-of-the-year interviews found Wasner slagging the album, saying she couldn't see why so many people liked it.
"I was a bit of a wreck," says Wasner. "I'm really proud of what we accomplished, but I wasn't really living in a very healthy way. I'm very happy now to be living in a beautiful home in Baltimore with lots of plants, animals, trees, natural light and laundry." I suppress a chuckle. "You laugh, but clean laundry's a serious priority when it comes down to it."
Wasner is clearly happy for the small comforts. The past five months off have offered needed downtime to digest the band's meteoric growth. Nothing could have prepared them for playing so many shows, nor Wasner for the experience of singing songs so frequently that she began to seriously despise them as the performances became (necessarily) more rote.
"For a style of music that is rooted in genuineness — very emotionally centered, heart-on-the-sleeve music — to stand up and try to simulate that feels especially wrong," Wasner says. "No matter how much you care for something, to make it with that much forced repetition, it's going to become something that is negative — or is experienced negatively."
Time has healed those fatigue-bedeviled insecurities, and overall, Wasner sounds much happier than last year. She even says she doesn't despise her music as much, defending her perfectionism. "You'll be hard-pressed to find someone who can look back upon the self they were years in the past and not find something to eye-roll over."
Wasner got an attitude check while working on tracks for a forthcoming pop album she's creating with a DJ/producer friend. (Think Katy Perry.) She was bagging on her band when her friend gave her a head check.
"He was like, 'What you do is really hard to do,' " says Wasner. " 'Very few people do it well. A lot of people can do what I do, but what you do is special, and you shouldn't shit-talk it so much.' It kind of blew my mind. It was one of the first times I allowed myself to start giving songwriting its due."
She's realized the best way for her obsessive-compulsive mind to work is by allowing it plenty of leeway. So not only has she finished the pop album, but she's also slowly working away at a solo project (titled Flock of Dimes) for which she's released a couple 7-inch singles. In between, Wasner has written maybe a half-dozen tracks toward the new Wye Oak album that the duo will premiere on this tour.
"I simply am not someone who would be able to continue just writing songs in one style under one name, because I would just lose it," says Wasner. "These other projects are the very thing allowing a project like Wye Oak to continue in a healthy way for me."
Wasner is promising a number of new songs "that seem to be really logically aligned with what we've done in the past, and probably one or two real curveballs." Stack — who already plays drums with just his feet and right hand while laying down bass lines on the keyboard with his left — has added some new sampling pad tones. Handclaps and snaps he plays like another instrument. Wasner's just trying to stay out of her own head and way.
"At this point I feel like, 'Don't think too hard about it, just get it done and let it work out for itself,' " she says. "I usually have a lot more time to hem and haw and be super perfectionist about the songs before they are played in front of audiences, but now I'm just sort of, 'Fuck it.' "