It takes a certain strength for a musician to publicly say that she had lost a skill like songwriting, but that is the position Wye Oak‘s Jenn Wasner found herself in as she and Andy Stack tried to record a follow-up to 2011’s “Civilian.” Wasner spoke openly about what she went through to regain the magic.
Here’s what didn’t make the story but I thought you’d find interesting.
What do you suddenly have against the guitar? Were you trying to send a message about what the band should sound like, or trying to distance yourself from something you consider to be in your past?
When it came time for me to write, after we had toured for several years — 200-some shows the first year and probably the same the next year — we really ran ourselves pretty ragged. When it came time to finally settle at home and try to write again, a lot of the methods I used to use just weren’t working for me.
There was a time after your Civilian touring ended where you thought the band may come to end. Tell me a little about that.
Honestly, I think it had to do as much to do with my exhaustion. Touring, in excess, is really difficult for me, and we definitely did that. It puts you in a very difficult place as far as your relationships and the music that you’re making. … I had more control over those decisions than I was really giving myself. A lot of that was letting go of my own ideas of what I was allowed to do with it and what it was allowed to be, and making it new again.
How would you describe the narrative of “Shriek?”
It’s a documentation of the process of figuring out a lot of the stuff that I’ve been talking about. Figuring out how to be creative, how to show myself love and believe that the things that I have to create and share are of worth. If there’s a narrative in there, it’s a very self-contained one.
What have you learned from your “Civilian” tour that you want to apply this time around?
One major thing is we’re not going to tour as much. That’s already sort of happening. It’s still a challenging lifestyle for the both of us so we have to be really careful about it. That’s one major thing; letting ourselves breathe a little bit and have lives and existences outside of this band.
The new stuff sounds like a challenge to play live. How’d you go about preparing? Is there a tendency to simplify some of the songs?
Unfortunately, they’re not simplified at all. They’re very much in the arrangements that are on the record in a lot of ways. It’s a huge challenge for us, but I think that was part of the point. We wanted something that wasn’t going to be so easy that we would get bored with it very quickly. It was almost like a self-preservation thing – if we could create something that was very challenging, it would take us much longer to tire of it. However, on the other side, it’s difficult, and it’s frightening. It can be really tough to make it happen at times, but we put a lot of work into it, so at this point, we’re just starting to feel as comfortable with it as we’re ever going to get.
On her and Andy Stack’s favorite place in the Bay Area, the Marin Headlands:
We’ve probably been up there like 10 times. When it’s a clear day, it’s one of the best views I’ve ever seen. You’ve got the bridge, you’ve got the ocean. It’s really stunning. It doesn’t even look real when you’re there. We always try to pop in there when we’re on our way in or out and hope that there’s no fog.