The band turns 10 and enters its "Tween" years, having been together since 2006.
Seeing Wye Oak at the Republic Wednesday night was like seeing confidence and triumph from a band still evolving and growing 10 years in. For those unfamiliar, Wye Oak had been a guitar-based band up until their critically acclaimed 2011 release Civilian, for which they toured to the point of exhaustion. 2014’s bass and synth-heavy Shriek was a product of needing a new artistic direction in order to break out of a rut, so to speak, and the two albums sound significantly different. The band’s June release, Tween, is a collection of songs written between Civilian and Shriek, giving insight into Wye Oak’s stylistic evolution while also hinting at a direction for the future.
“The song that’s been featured the most from [Tween] is “Watching the Waiting,” which is actually the only totally new material on that record,” Wye Oak’s Andy Stack says. “I think for us that really feels like the most forward-leaning material on the record, and maybe more indicative of where we’re headed rather than looking backward at where we came from. I think some of the record feels like material that has an approach as producers that we’ve learned and picked up over the last few years, but in terms of composition and aesthetic is much more like the kind of music we were making at the beginning of the band.”
Stack identifies a central theme unifying the band’s artistic expression over the past decade, bridging the past few years’ transition. “I think that one of the things we were exploring when we started was the marriage of pretty and ugly, loud and soft, and noise and dissonance and consonance,” he says. “We’ve always played with that, and aesthetically in terms of instrumentation, in terms of style, in terms of process, we’ve really shifted several times and sometimes pretty dramatically. But whether we’re making quiet, song-based folk music for lack of a better word, or whether we’re pushing into really large, shoegazey, noisy territory, I think that’s always something we’ve been focused on. That beautiful ugliness.”
He cites coming up in the Baltimore among the likes of Beach House, Lower Dens, Future Islands, and Dan Deacon as the duo’s biggest influence, describing the music community as being tied together stylistically by an individual creative approach, “in contrast to some of the larger music markets in the country.” However, neither Stack nor his bandmate Jenn Wasner live in Baltimore anymore, which complicates their writing process. They write separately and then collaborate and exchange recording sessions, putting together their last few albums while living across the country from each other. “For us, we’ve found the geographical distance to be a great asset,” he says. “It’s not a normal way to do a band, but it brings out parts of our creativity and our musicianship and producerly abilities that I think were not available to us when we were doing the more traditional jamming in a room or whatever.”
Both Stack and Wasner have their own side projects--Wasner’s Flock of Dimes’ record comes out today--and, like an open relationship of sorts, it helps keep their creativity as a band healthy. “Ten years into the band it’s really positive and important for us both that we have individual lives and musical interests outside of this one thing that’s defined us. I think it’s so valuable to be able to step away and then bring other energies back into the Wye Oak sphere.”
“To me,” he said, “the thing that you can’t live without is [the ability] to keep moving forward and to be constantly exploring. For me, if I’m not making music, if I’m not tinkering and experimenting and trying new things, then I personally get really depressed […] As soon as I’m on some new idea, then all of a sudden the world is in color again. All the other stuff, all the business and the ego and the career stuff, none of it matters if you’re not excited and chasing a new thing. For me, that’s the unnegotiable side of it.”
This restlessness, this need for creative growth and expression, is the drive behind the band’s evolution and sharp stylistic change after the massive success of Civilian. “I think it’s a delicate balance as an artist to be able to manage your career and manage all that comes along with that, the schedule and the expectations, which are both externally and internally imposed - to balance those with the raw creative output - because if you don’t take care of your creative self then no amount of touring or promo is gonna make it work, because you have to be an artist first and foremost,” Stack said.
At the Republic on Wednesday night, Wye Oak’s 15-song set sampled across their discography, tracing their decade-long history and sonic evolution while still playing a cohesive, compelling show. Dancing to the shredding, fast-paced songs and swaying to the more soft and tender, the audience rode the swells of the night as the band bared their twists and turns and middling stages, the sort of periods that the name Tween is meant to represent. Wye Oak’s fans are in it for the long haul, watching and waiting for the band’s next move.