The Wye Oak tree in Wye Mills, Maryland was the largest white oak tree in the Unites States before it was destroyed in a thunderstorm in 2002. Equally as distinguished is the indie folk rock duo of the same name comprised of Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner, who will perform two shows in Korea as part of the SuperColorSuper spring line-up (the rest of which you can see here). We talked with the group ahead of their tour through Asia about origins, inspirations and a love of spicy foods.
Chincha: You formed the band Monarch in 2006 before changing your name to Wye Oak. How long had you known each other before you decided to start working together officially as a duo? What made you decide to change your name?
Wye Oak: Andy and I have been playing music together since we were teenagers, over a decade now. We made our first record, If Children, together as a duo and self-released it. When our label Merge Records decided to re-release it, they made us aware of the fact that Monarch was a pretty popular band name, and we thought perhaps it would be best to choose something that was uniquely ours.
Chincha: You guys are from Baltimore, Maryland, one of the most dangerous cities in the US according to Forbes magazine. How did coming up in city like that shape your work?
Wye Oak: Baltimore is a strange place. Most outsiders know it as one of the more dangerous and impoverished cities in America–and in certain areas, certainly, that’s true. There’s much more to the city than that, though. Currently, Baltimore is also known for an incredibly vital, diverse and supportive community of artists and musicians who have come together to make beautiful, exciting things amidst these sometimes bleak surroundings. Honestly, living in Baltimore has above all taught me about the importance of community. Whereas it is exciting to live in a time when it’s possible to feel broadly connected and be part of a more global community, making art with that kind of mindset can be overwhelming and intimidating. Often it’s best to focus on the people around you, the actual physical connections you make–the art that people you know are making right in front of you. People in Baltimore share a close bond that comes out of trying to use our art to make sense of our strange and often difficult environment. When I feel overwhelmed by the scope of the world at large, I focus on that and it brings me back to where I need to be to create.
Chincha: Starting with the release of If Children in 2008, independently in 2007, you released four albums in four years culminating with Civilian in 2011. Are you currently working on a record? What can we expect as compared to your previous work?
Wye Oak: Yes, we are working on a record, although I think it’s going to take a bit longer than others we’ve made in the past. In the past, while we were just starting out with this band, we definitely burned ourselves out a little bit, both logistically–with the constant touring–and also creatively. I’m excited to make something new, but I think we need a little time and space to figure out exactly what that’s going to be. Honestly, it’s our concern to make the best record we can, and not worry about how long that takes. Obsessing over timelines is a creativity killer. I think it’s best to just have faith in the process, and let these things take as long as they take.
Chincha: Andy, you simultaneously play the drums with your feet and right arm while also creating the bass line on the keyboard with your left hand. How long did it take you to master this configuration? Have you experimented with other additions that just didn’t make the cut?
Wye Oak: I started using the drum and keyboard configuration right at the beginning of the band. It was initially meant to be a temporary fix – a way for us to sound like a more fully formed band despite being a duo. Over the years, I’ve gotten more and more comfortable with that setup, and we’ve found new ways to incorporate sounds or textures while still working within the duo framework. Writing and arranging is always a process of trial and error for us, where we’re trying new configurations. Sometimes they work, and sometimes we have to go back to the drawing board.
Chincha: Your song “Civilian” has been featured on some television shows including The Walking Dead and One Tree Hill, as well as in the film Safety Not Guaranteed. Did the inclusion of your song in these works have a tangible impact on the audience that your music was reaching?
Wye Oak: Absolutely–we’ve definitely met and heard from plenty of people who found out about our music this way. Honestly, I don’t think either of us really had much of a sense of how big a deal some of these things would be. But there was definitely a spike in record sales after The Walking Dead aired, and people mention it to us at shows all the time. So yeah, it definitely makes a difference, for sure.
Chincha: For your tour in Asia you two will be performing shows in South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, China, and Thailand. What are you looking forward to experiencing while abroad on this tour? Have either of you been to any of these countries in the past?
Wye Oak: This is the first time either of us have visited Asia! We’re absolutely overwhelmed and so incredibly excited. I’m hoping I get to eat the spiciest food I’ve ever had (I’m something of a spice-addict, but I think you guys operate on a somewhat different level). The best part of traveling as a musician is that people are more inclined to introduce themselves, make friends and show you the best of what their home has to offer. I really hope that happens, there’s nothing better than getting an insider’s look at a new place!
Chincha: Without naming names, do you have a funny anecdote you are willing to share about a performance where everything seemed to be working against you? On the flip side, how about a time when everything came together flawlessly?
Wye Oak: I’m not sure if any show has ever been “flawless”–at least not in our eyes (haha). But pretty much all of our show nightmares have been gear-related. I have terrible luck with guitar amps. I remember one show where my guitar amp broke in the middle of a song–which has happened more than a few times over the years, unfortunately–but this time, it had been a problem for several shows in a row and I just lost it and threw my guitar on the floor. (Which is something I just NEVER do!) Immediately I was like “oh god, what have I done?” and yes, as it turns out, I broke it. So I really just ended up making things harder for myself in the long run. Lesson learned–don’t let your anger get the best of you! Especially not when a bunch of people are watching.
Wye Oak will perform at Urban in Daegu on May 20th and at Rolling Hall in Seoul on May 21st. Find out how to buy tickets for the concert on SuperColorSuper’s website or win one of three pairs from us on our Facebook page .
Interview by Colleen Whately
Wye Oak image by Natasha Tylea