Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner: The choice was between making this record or no record at all

Categories: Interview
Shervin Lainez

Baltimore duo Wye Oak might not have ever made it to a fourth album at all. After career-boosting success on 2011's definitive Civilian, guitarist/vocalist Jenn Wasner and bandmate Andy Stack felt inspired and grateful for opportunity and a real audience, yes, but also more-and-more dimmed by a seemingly insurmountable creative stalemate. The tried-and-true formula of sonically nuanced folk-rock began to feel uninspired and, with no clear solution, the future of the band was gravely uncertain. But after swapping her guitar for a bass, Wasner felt the smoldering ember of her ambition reignited. And in a manner as cathartic as its title suggests, Shriek was released, along with it, her pent-up reservations.

Ahead of Wye Oak's headlining slot with Braids at the Fine Line this Thursday, Gimme Noise chatted with Wasner about paralyzing self-doubt and the band's new synth-centric sound.

Gimme Noise: Your fourth album Shriek is finally here!
Jenn Wasner: I'm super excited about it! It's just so weird because it's been finished for so long. It was so far off in the distance that it wasn't even real but now it's actually happening! It's so exciting to finally be able to really share it with people and have them share their feelings with you about it. It's one of my favorite parts of the whole process surprisingly enough. I'm really happy to finally see it out and about.

When was the idea initially conceived?
About a year and a half ago, maybe a little bit less. I think the bulk of it was over the summer of 2013 and then we went into the studio last September, mixed it in November and mastered it in December. So we've pretty much been sitting on it since the beginning of December. That's five months, which is totally a normal amount of time when you're talking about the way that the record industry works. But for me it always seems like an eternity. I always want to share whatever it is I've made the second it's finished.

Following the last Wye Oak release Civilian you hit a creative wall and there were very real questions as to whether you'd ever make music again. Do think that this release is especially emotional or triumphant because of overcoming those doubts?

Yes. Absolutely for sure. There was definitely a time where I believed fully and completely that, not only would I never write again, but that even if I did I wouldn't be in a position to be releasing a record. Thankfully all of the work on Shriek seems to be pretty intact. You're going through this process and there is always going to be a lot of different opinions floating about, but the overriding emotion that I really have and have been experiencing every day is joy, relief and excitement.

I don't regret making this record and I'm just so grateful that it exists and it absolutely means a lot to me knowing how strongly I felt that I'd never actually be able to do it again. I think that's sort of the way that I work for some reason. I go through these pretty drastic feelings, but it seems like I'm more aware of it as a pattern. I'm a little more comfortable with the process as opposed to experiencing a lot of these things for the first time and being fully and completely consumed by them. Now I have a little bit more perspective. Everyone feels the lowest of the lows and the highest of the highs at different points. I'm just happy that I managed to figure out something that works for me so that I can keep doing this.

Was it a difficult realization to come by, figuring out that you had to make some sort of change? At what point did you realize what you had to do?
I think there's a long time where I realized that I had to do something but didn't know what it was, a pretty agonizingly long time in fact. And that's sort of more l big picture stuff, too. There's a lot of stuff I'm still working through and a lot of it is so much bigger than "Is there gonna be another Wye Oak record?" But on a smaller scale I realized I had this new, conscious vision. I guess I eventually thought to myself that what we needed was a new band that looked the same. I had this vision of me playing bass, which I had been doing a lot in other projects and bands and really enjoying it. So I had that picture and it was really exciting because it basically inverted the entire process. On paper and on stage and digitally it's still exactly the same as what it used to be, but it totally inverts the fabric of what is going on musically, we're basically trading off what we are responsible for. It was exactly the kind of new and different approach that I needed to feel excited about music.

I didn't want to make an entirely new thing and call it Wye Oak because I felt like that would be disingenuous. But with this setup it felt like it was still very much the same thing, just from a different angle. It felt new but it also made sense in the lineage of what we've already done. That was a really exciting moment and it at least solved a lot of the problems I'd been having with this particular band. If I'm not examining every angle and figuring out how to progress and go forward and be excited then I'm really not doing my job as a musician or artist or person. I'm not interested in doing things that I don't feel fully and completely passionate about. It was especially validating to get to a point where I felt like I had achieved that without starting over from scratch. That's when this record started to become a possibility and I started writing pretty furiously.

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