Louder is the third record that Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack, who launched Wye Oak in Baltimore, have made while living in separate cities – she in Durham, North Carolina, he in Marfa, Texas. They flew to one another for a week or so at a time, hunkering in home studios to sort through and combine their separate song sketches. These shorter stints together produced less second-guessing and hesitation in their process, yielding an unabashed and unapologetic Wye Oak. They discarded past rules about using just guitar or keyboard to write a record, instead funnelling all those experiences and experiments into perfectly unified statements. The result is the biggest, broadest, boldest music they’ve ever made. The title track is a coil of anxiety and exuberance, its verses and chorus sweeping into cascades of magnetic harmony. By the time the song ends, it feels like a real pop anthem, a spell to be shouted against the ills of our world. Jenn Wasner answers some questions for Hi Fi Way: The Pop Chronicles.
Five albums in, was this the most challenging one to date?
They’re all challenging, in their own way. Song writing is the only thing I can think of that doesn’t get any easier with practice.
Do you feel the weight of expectation or pressure when releasing a new album?
Yes, but mostly from myself. I know when I’m doing my best work and when I’m not. Although it’s nice when people like the things I make, if I’m not truly satisfied with something, all of the praise in the world couldn’t make me happy.
Is there a hidden meaning behind the album title?
Yes, buried within it is a double meaning, a sort of psychological litmus test. When I conceived of it, I thought of it as “I’m trapped in one place, but the more I call for help, the more likely it is that what I’m afraid of will find me.” But when I pitched it to Andy, his first reaction was “I want something, but the more I try to get it, the further away it gets from me.” The reason I like the title so much is because both are totally accurate readings, and because together they represent the two competing impulses that make it difficult to find any sort of peace with myself.
How did the creative process work this time around?
The same way it always does—thousands of hours of self-flagellation and about one hundred hours of actual inspiration and productivity.
Do you think the approach enhanced the final output and song writing experience?
I’m not sure I know any other way to make things! At least, not for me.
How would you describe this album sonically to Australian music fans?
Hi Australian music fans! Gosh, I don’t know. I thought we made a pretty dense, dark, intricate record, but I’ve since talked to a bunch of people who have complimented us on how much fun of a listen it is. I think I’m probably the worst person in the world to describe what our music actually sounds like. It is my intention to make forward thinking but emotionally resonant pop music that exists in a universe of its own. Whether or not you think we’ve actually done that probably depends a lot on who you ask.
What sorts of things inspired the writing of this album?
Honestly, it’s hard for me to distil the subject matter of this record down to one sentence (or even a couple sentences). But here’s my best attempt at describing the many things that were going through my head when I wrote it:
It’s about learning how to live in a world that feels increasingly unfriendly and over-whelming, about how difficult it is to fit an infinite amount of information and human experience and suffering and joy into one tiny, finite brain. And about how our capacity for understanding vastly outpaces our ability to affect change outside of ourselves, and how terrifying and sad that feels. And in spite of that, trying to maintain meaningful connections to oneself and to others, learning how to feel at home in the inevitably shifting grey area of existence, and remembering how to finding hope in small things.
In short—it’s about learning how to be a human fucking being in a profoundly strange, sad, sick and somehow still beautiful world. You know. Pop music.
How have the new songs gone down live?
Turns out they’re an absolute blast to play. We’re touring this record with a third member for the first time in our history (we’ve been playing as a duo for 10 years!) So it feels like we’re capable of more than ever. People seem to be enjoying them even though most of them haven’t heard them yet, which is a good sign. Or perhaps we just have very thoughtful, respectful fans.
Any plans to tour Australia?
We came to Australia once and absolutely loved it! We would be so excited to come back, if we are invited, that is.
Interview by Rob Lyon
Wye Oak’s new album Louder is out now. Head to Wye Oak’s official website for more info…