SXSW Preview: Wye Oak

A quick chat with the Baltimore rock duo

SXSW Preview: Wye Oak
by Ryan Obermeyer

A lot has changed since the humble beginnings of Baltimore indie rock duo Wye Oak. Through years of hard work they went from anonymity to becoming a buzzy band to watch and even being featured in The Walking Dead. I spoke to the jovial Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack in their van, about their guitar-less new album Shriek, their songwriting process, and much more.

Austin Chronicle: How did you guys meet?

Jenn Wasner: Oh man, Andy and I have been playing in bands together since I was 15, so over a decade. I joined his high school band on the keyboard.

AC: What was that called?

JW: Not telling… That'll never get out (laughs).

AC: There's a lack of guitars on Shriek. how did that come about?

JW: We toured our last album Civilian like crazy. We said yes to everything and burned ourselves out. When we finally had a break, I started to try and write again and found that the guitar had acquired this immense amount of negative baggage from this period, which was a real difficult period in my life. I couldn't get any songs out of the guitar. There was this weird block. It was just too tied up with a lot of negative energy that had accumulated. The only way I could sidestep that block and feel creative again was to get away from that instrument. I spent a lot of time playing piano, producing tracks on my computer, playing bass. I couldn't limit myself, because I thought I may never write a song again. I had to step away from the guitar to get rid of some of the baggage that came with it and take inspiration wherever it came from. But I still play guitar all the time.

Andy Stack: A lot of our music had a lot of those elements already. Jenn called me May of last year and had this eureka moment, "I figured out how were going to make an album! I'm going to play bass!" So we wrote the new album primarily on bass, somewhat on keys.

AC: Did your past work usually originate on guitar?

JW: We've had some piano based songs on our records, but for the most part, yeah. As a two piece band I got into the habit of writing on guitar since it reflected our live setup, but I don't have to feel limited in the writing process anymore. I can just write for whatever instrument is appropriate. It was exciting having the realization that basically I could do whatever the fuck I wanted, which seems obvious in retrospect (laughs).

AC: You've been quoted as saying the new album is "happier." Is it?

JW: I think it's more peaceful for me. It's a record that is built and constructed to be a meditative, healing kind of thing for me. I wouldn't say it was happy per se, it is happier (laughs). It is more from a place of being at peace more then angst and tumult.

AC: How does the new album title tie into that?

JW: In a lot of ways, it's about dealing with being afraid. I think creative inspiration is tied for me to some internal, unconscious, animal place inside. It's less found through thought and more through feeling. I find a peaceful place through the songs but it doesn't always start out that way.

AC: What do you see in your future?

JW: A lot of touring.

AS: A lot of touring. Yep.

With that we were interrupted with news that their van had to be moved, so we took a couple shots, and we were on our merry way. Check out, Wye Oak's new single below.

Their new LP Shriek is out April 29 on Merge. More info at Merge Records online.

Wye Oak play the Merge showcase Thursday nigh, 11:45pm at The Parish.

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