When Wye Oak's ethereal, spooky song "Civilian" was used in an episode of The Walking Dead, it enhanced the mood of regret, despair and hard-won, grudging optimism perfectly. TWD introduced a worldwide audience to the Baltimore alt-folk duo—Jenn Wasner's haunting alto, and her lonesome highway acoustic guitar, with drums, keys and moods by Andy Stack.
The Civilian album painted Wasner’s lyrically dense songs with shoegaze colors, unexpected dynamic shifts in atmosphere and ambiance, and the sort of airy guitar gymnastics that make grown men weep.
It was one of the best reviewed indie albums of 2011.
The dynamic duo returns in April with its fourth full-length LP, called Shriek. And hold on to your oak trees, kids—there isn’t a lick of guitar on the whole thing! Wasner wrote all the songs on bass. (Check out the advance single, “The Tower,’ on YouTube. It’s amazing.)
We call Jenn to ask, what’s the deal?
We’ll let her tell you:
“I’ve always been a multiple instrumentalist. My first instrument was actually piano. I’ve played guitar for most of my life, though. But it’s never been in my nature to stick to any one particular thing. Mostly because, being a songwriter first and foremost, you kind of have to chase the inspiration wherever you find it. That’s what I’m used to.
“After we made Civilian, for the following two years we didn’t stop touring. We played 250 dates the first year, and it was as crazy as that sounds. We really felt strongly about the record, and we just didn’t know how to say no. But we probably took on more than we should. And it really broke us down, not just creatively but also personally. It really takes a toll.
“So after that we took some time off, and I’m happy to say I’m feeling a lot better about everything in the world.
“Seeing as I spent every single night of that tour playing guitar, and being a guitar player, all of a sudden that instrument had all this baggage. It’s not like I’m trying to make some sort of grand statement about it —I love the guitar—but I was too burnt out on it to really get anything new out of it. So it wasn’t really a choice between guitar and other instruments, it was a choice between writing songs and not writing songs.
“As soon as I allowed myself, I realized that I can do whatever I want. It’s up to me, when it comes down to it. As soon I gave myself that freedom to pursue that creative feeling wherever I found it, the songs started to come. And those are the songs that came to be on Shriek.
“Everything basically comes down to the quality of the songs themselves. As far as the trappings, and what costumes they’re in, how they sound and what they’re like sonically, at the heart of it I don’t think I’d ever want to stray from why it is I do what I do. So to me, it’s not that different, because it’s still my songwriting.
“I think that people that follow us aren’t going to be that surprised, because honestly there have been songs with no guitar since the beginning of our band. Everyone’s looking for something different in the music that they make, but it’s not really my job to consider what other people are looking for.
“Of course I hope people like the thing that I’ve made. I’ve put years into, and poured so much time and energy into it, I love it and I’m proud of it. So of course you want people to like it.
“But I fully expect that there will be plenty of people who don’t. And that’s really not going to change the way I feel about it. Because people are looking for different things. I don’t take it personally. First and foremost, I made this thing for myself, and I’m happy with it. And that means the world to me.”
Wye Oak performs at 11:30 p.m. Thursday, March 6 at Knights of Columbus Hall.
Wye Oak performs at 11:30 p.m. Thursday, March 6 at Knight of Columbus, 3 W. Liberty St.