By Paul McAleer
CALGARY – Hailing from Baltimore, Maryland, Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner have been performing as Wye Oak for over a decade. The duo explored many facets of indie rock throughout their career before embracing electronic and dream-pop wizardry with 2014’s Shriek, marking a new beginning and serving to revitalize the pair. Wye Oak’s latest record, The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs, is being hailed by critics as the band’s best record yet and it’s certainly their most complex.
“This record is very natural,” says Wasner, who primarily handles the songwriting, vocals, and guitars. “I feel like it’s sort of the pinnacle of what we’ve been trying to do as far as the very maximal approach.”
The album begins with 40 seconds of tuning different keys, eventually taking shape as the backbone of the euphoric opening track, “The Instrument.”
Over a layered arrangement of booming drums, wailing synths and ceaseless guitars, the song analyzes the relationship between body and mind — the danger of separating the two and sacrificing fulfilment of the soul for external validation. Like the rest of the album, the opening track is stuffed with lyrical gems and instrumental complexity, showcasing how both Wasner and Stack are tuned to the same, sonically jubilant frequency. However, writing the songs on the album was as challenging as earlier works for Wasner.
“Songwriting is one of the few things I can think of where it doesn’t matter how much you’ve done, it doesn’t matter how much experience you have, it never really gets easier,” she says. “The things you get better at are things that are supplemental to songwriting. I consider myself to be a better singer and better instrumentalist and better producer, I’m better at different things. I’m better at putting myself in a position to be inspired.”
Wye Oak isn’t Wasner and Stack’s sole creative outlet anymore. Wasner started a new group called Dungeonesse in 2012 with Jon Ehrens of White Life and released a solo record in 2016 as Flock of Dimes. Whereas Stack is a touring member of EL VY and has also toured with historic Nashville rockers Lambchop. Their experiences apart relieved the unsustainable pressure they once put on Wye Oak’s success and solidified their unique bond as collaborators.
The technical prowess behind the album would have been impossible to recreate with two sets of hands live, so the band enlisted bassist Will Hackney for their latest tour, which will bring them to Sled Island.
“[Having an extra set of hands] allows for so much more humanity in it. When we made this record we weren’t thinking very much about how we’re going to be performing as a two-piece, we were just going to make the record we wanted to make,” says Wasner. “[The performance] feels more alive and that kind of energy is something that you feel as much as you can hear.”
Wye Oak was one of the bands selected by Sled Island’s guest curator Deerhoof.
“They’ve been actually one of my favourite bands for as long as I can remember liking and paying attention to music,” Wasner says of Deerhoof. “I love what they do and I’ve admired them for so, so long since Reveille and Apple O’.”
Deerhoof guitarist John Dieterich was going to play on a few of Wasner’s solo tracks, but the band got in a car accident on tour and those plans fell through.
“A couple months after that, they asked me if I would sing on their new record, which was a really cool email to receive!” She lends her lustrous voice to “I Will Spite Survive” on Deerhoof’s latest album Mountain Moves. She doesn’t take the experience of being a fan turned collaborator — or any of Wye Oak’s success — for granted.
“Teenage me is pretty blown away that any of this has actually happened.”
Wye Oak play Central United Church on June 21.Central United Church, Wye Oak