Taking a moment to reflect with Wye Oak’s Jen Wasner

Wye Oak"For some people, it is much harder to stay alive than it is for others."

So begins the essay that accompanies Wye Oak's latest song, "Lifer", which was recently released online in the run-up to the band's sixth studio album, The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs, due out 6th April 2018 through Merge Records. With it comes a telling insight into the cathartic processes behind Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner's art, and sentiments that are echoed throughout the full length.

"For as many songs as I’ve written over the course of my entire life, I would never say the process is easy," Jen explains. "It’s always incredibly difficult."

No wonder - Wye Oak have always had a tendency to look inside of themselves to create their music, and The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs is as introspective as ever, with the added challenge that it encompasses themes such as life, death, addiction, and all of the challenges that come with it.

Jen continues: "It’s impossible to take the same path twice. It’s impossible to use the same method to find inspiration. [With] something that’s worked in the past, there’s no guarantee it will work again in the future. Every time is like the first time." Perhaps explaining why, while Wye Oak have always held a definitive edge over their sound, their records continue to prove to be so diverse.

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"Pretty much before I write a song, the day before, I’ll think I’ll never write again," Jen laughs. "It's always such a challenge, and you spend so much time and effort and energy, and meditation really, trying to find something [when] you don’t even know what it looks like. Striking upon that feeling that you know what [a song] should be, and that you’ve found it; that’s honestly the best feeling I’ve ever felt. Everything else pales in comparison to that moment of really finally finding inspiration or something that you’ve been searching for.

It’s so rare! You spend so much time to get to it, and there’s no guarantee you’ll find it even when you’re searching. That feeling to me is worth more than anything, it’s like a drug. Every song that I’ve ever written has come with an unspeakable amount of effort and struggle. That’s something that maybe a lot of people who’re just getting started should hear. If it’s easy, you’re doing it wrong!"

If it's easy, you're doing it wrong. The statement comes with a lot of weight for Jen and musicians all over the world, but it resonates stronger than you've ever heard it before on The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs. The album follows a two year break away from the shelves of your local record store for Wye Oak, but they've not been sitting on their arses contemplating life all that time. Well, they've been contemplating life, but in the most creative way possible. Of the 12 tracks present on the band's latest effort, not a single one drops the philosophical ball and you'd be hard pushed to find a working musician who's more considered than Jen Wasner.

"It’s getting to that space where you realise exactly what something should be. Those moments are feverish. When those moments happen, there’s nothing that could take me away from finishing that song. Those hours go by and I can’t even remember what’s happened. I’ve capitalised on a feeling or understanding of what something should be."

The "Lifer" essay gives further insight into the hours, days and weeks Jen has spent studying her own thoughts: "To be a creative, sensitive person is to be aware of the world around you—in an immediate sense, and in a global sense. Injustice is everywhere. Suffering is the norm for the vast majority of people on the planet. Throughout my life, this reality reflected itself to me from great distances, in the lives of strangers, and in the experiences of the people closest to me."

Reflection even touches the title of the album, as Jen explains: "I feel there’s an unintentional double meaning in the title. People tend to fall on one of two paths – [either] it’s like you’re calling towards something but the more you try to get it the further it runs away. [Or] I had thought of it as I’m calling for help but the louder I call the easier it is for what it is that I’m calling for to find me. It’s interesting because depending on your mindset you end up being the chaser or the chasee!"

Another practice that's deep set in Wye Oak's psyche is that of touring, and Jen's quick to assure us she's keen to get on the road.

"It’s been a busy time, that’s for sure," she says of the preparations she's currently undertaking, following several successful shows as US showcase festival SXSW. "For the first time ever we’re playing with a bass player - a third touring member. So in addition to learning all of our new songs, we’re basically having to learn an entire catalogue. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s also a lot of work. We’re doing a lot of little trips, some festivals and some craft stores. We’re really getting a lot done very quickly. It’s kind of my favourite part of the process in some ways because we’re starting to get our first taste and reaction to these songs that we’ve been waiting to share for song long, but it’s also kind of head-spinningly busy," she laughs.

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The prospect of adding a third touring member to Wye Oak is exciting, as previously it's been necessary for the duo to rearrange songs to suit limitations of the stage. And while, as Jen puts it, there's "a balance between the organic and synthetic" on The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs, the possibility of expanding their sound to match the atmosphere of their records is something no fan would turn down: "We like  synthetic textures but it’s just very maximal. There’s a lot going on. We kind of came up with a rule – not that there’s a right or wrong – but it’s what feels right to us. If a sound has been made by a machine, it makes sense for a machine to play it, but if something was played by a human being, then a human being should play it [on stage]. With that realisation, it was finally time to have a band."

Expanding their line up comes with its own economic limitations, however: "It’s tough, it’s very hard. We don’t have a huge band, but honestly, it’s barely possible to get by in the music industry as it is as a two piece! I don’t know how people do it with giant bands, it’s just so hard to even break even… We’ve always been very economical with our approach, but we’re at the point now where we need to feel good about what we’re doing and the show we’re putting on, so it felt like the right time."

Wye Oak will play London, Manchester and Liverpool in May. For full UK, EU and US tour dates, and to purchase their new album The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs, visit their Facebook page.

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