Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner: 'I'll be making music until my dying breath'
- Craig Angus
- 10 August 2018
Singer-songwriter talks about the Baltimore band's new swooning, expansive album
Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner remembers her first trip to Edinburgh, but not through rose-tinted glasses. 'I was an idiot high-schooler on a very cliched backpacking trip through Europe,' she recalls. 'We accidently made plans to do Dublin on St Patrick's Day because we were idiots. We didn't even think about it – so we didn't have anywhere to stay, but the next day we were flying to Edinburgh so our genius plan was to stay in the airport.' She takes a deep breath, adding, 'I spent the night on the floor of Dublin Airport as sick as you can possibly be. It was the longest night of my life.'
She returns in August with Wye Oak, the band she founded in Baltimore back in 2016 with drummer (or more accurately, rhythmic multi-tasker) Andy Stack. The buzz around the duo's dream pop is at an all-time high thanks to their fifth full-length The Harder I Call, The Faster It Comes. 'When you've been a band as long as we have,' she says, 'it's nice to hear that people who aren't familiar with us are finding out about it.'
For the first time ever, the group are touring with a third member, Will Hackney, an old friend of Wasner's tasked with bringing the additional keys and samples from the new record to the stage. 'It's a crazy experience for Andy and I,' she says, 'having played as a duo for 10 years at this point, to have a whole new palette of sounds and ideas that we can expand upon live. We're all multi-tasking pretty hard as it is so it's not like a three-piece band is a huge ensemble but it feels like it to us!' Hearing these songs in a live environment should be exciting; on one hand the melodies are immediate and direct ('It Was Not Natural' soars like peak Cocteau Twins) but Wasner remains a writer of subtle intelligence, keeping her word choice ambiguous and rich with meaning.
This is particularly evident on album highlight 'Lifer'. 'It started out as an exploration of my own relationship to my own creativity,' she says of the song, 'but also the more public side of sharing that with the world, and all the difficulties inherent in that process. As all those ideas were unfolding there was a parallel storyline of someone close to me who has had a lot of troubles with mental illness and drug addiction and who's had close brushes with death.' It's a song about staying alive in both a metaphorical and literal sense. 'And I hope people can relate to that sentiment regardless,' she adds. 'Keep trying'.
Sometimes giving up isn't an option. Songwriting is an integral part of Wasner's identity, the way she makes sense of the world, her 'fear and apprehension about the future' and 'intense grief about the avoidable suffering of people'. The troubled times we live in bring that determination even more sharply into focus for Wasner; despite the logistical and financial difficulties of being in a band in 2018, there's only one thing for it. 'I know that I'll be making music in some form until my dying breath,' she says, 'because it's my only real joy and passion in life.'
Summerhall, 21 Aug, 7pm, £14.50.