The band: Wye Oak
Key release: If Children
Wye Oak is a named after a former symbol for the state of Maryland, what was the largest white oak tree in the United States before a hurricane destroyed it. It's a fitting moniker; Maryland is a blend of Southern culture and northern sensibilities, and Wye Oak's musical identity is similarly mixed. If Children, the group's freshly released debut, feels like a primer in indie-rock: Originally recorded in friends' studios, apartments, and basements, the album swirls together soft psychedelia-pop, atmospheric shoegaze, and alt-folk. In a Yo La Tengo-esque male-female musical partnership, Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack create full-sounding songs so delicately layered that they seem like more than two people could produce. Overall, the band is a welcome break from the increasingly formulaic feel of new indie-pop output, and its label, Merge, deserves credit for considering Wye Oak a worthwhile risk.
Wasner on being self-conscious:
"I'm really nervous to play anything for people that isn't completely finished. I don't think that's a good thing, because we'd get locked inside of this world inside of each other's heads. Once you get into that space, where you don't have any outside perspective from people, you start getting like, 'We should scrap the whole thing!' Once we convinced ourselves to let a song lie and be done, and play it for people, we started getting positive feedback and popped that bubble. It's really hard to have that perspective when you're so attached to it, and deep in the process."
Stack on having a band identity:
"There was a time—during the same time when we weren't playing the music for everyone and getting too far inside our own heads—when we felt like we didn't really have a sound. It was almost like we were making a compilation record of all these sounds, and we should focus in on one particular style. It didn't happen. It's not in our control; we made the record we could make."
Wasner on being raised on country-pop:
"I have redneck relatives from Maryland; a lot of the music that I grew up listening to is still kicking around in my subconscious. My musical tastes have evolved a good deal from listening to modern pop-country radio when I was 5 years old, but everything is still in there. I can't decide what should influence me more than everything else. It's not all together in all of our songs; there is a smattering of different-sounding songs. I have no control over that. Sometimes I'll sit down and write a country song, and I like it as much as any other song. I don't think it would be fair to the song to try to make it into something it isn't. That's probably why we've got this all-over-the-place sound to that record."
Stack on their first South By Southwest:
"Neither of us has been to Mardi Gras, but I assume it's a similar thing. It's raw humanity in all of its greatness and filth. There are moments when you're walking down Sixth Street, and people are like, 'Listen to my band! Check out my show!' There was some company that hired a bunch of women in thong bikinis, walking around the streets in high heels carrying these signs advertising a show for some pop-rock band. That's a place where you're supposed to capitalize on the media frenzy. It kind of freaked us out. But we saw Spoon, which was a religious experience."
Wasner on mimicking what's popular:
"Whenever I try to write a song that resembles something cool—like, 'Oh, I'm going to write a song with this sound; I'm going to write a song like that'—it never works. It consistently backfires. It sounds forced. If you ask that of yourself, you're going to get a complete turd. You can't really control the songs you write. If you write the songs that are the most true to you and heartfelt, they're going to end up sounding that way."
Wasner on Baltimore's indie scene:
"One of the best things about Baltimore is that I never feel like anyone here is trying to capitalize on a boost in popularity. People are going to do what they're going to do whether people are paying attention or not. It's always going to be that way. It's great that a lot of these bands are getting the attention they deserve, but it's definitely real here. People genuinely care about the music that they're making, and collaborating with their friends and going to shows. None of it is forced, and no one is trying to capitalize on the 'Baltimorgasm,' which is what we've begun calling it. It's a really comfortable creative environment. I'm sure other cities have stuff going on like that, too, but Baltimore is so small and inbred that it's a lot easier to get in touch with it."
Wasner on being a duo:
"Even when one of us is doing the recording, there's a lot of either Andy or I bossing the other person around. It's intensely collaborative in terms of getting the parts that we want. It can be kind of a bad thing when putting together a record, because it's hard to know when your record is finished. When it's just the two of us and there's no real deadline, you can be like, 'Well, maybe we can add a part here.' If Children, we just kept adding and taking away and trying to figure out what we wanted it to be."
On how popular If Children was before Merge picked it up:
JW: "Pretty much all our friends in Baltimore have it, but that's about it."
AS: "We also have about 500 copies of it in our basement."
Wasner on increased popularity:
"If there's one thing that's been really different, it's that the time I used to spend sitting around playing guitar and thinking about stuff, I'm now spending answering MySpace messages. You have to learn to manage your time and force yourself to relax."