Six Questions For ... Wye Oak


Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner, normal people in a Baltimore band.

A year ago there was no Wye Oak. There was just Monarch, a Baltimore duo consisting of Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner, who self-released an album of shimmering folk-shoegaze called "If Children." As the Charm City was gaining national attention for its weirdo-outsider-underground scene, Monarch was doing something much more traditional, and maybe getting lost in the shuffle.

But then they hit the indie-rock lottery. Merge Records showed some interest and eventually signed the band. Now Stack, 23, and Wasner, 21, are labelmates with the likes of the Arcade Fire and Spoon. After a legally necessitated name change the band re-emerged as Wye Oak and "If Children" was re-released into the world on Tuesday. I spoke with Stack and Wasner on the night of their hometown quasi-release show; the band visits the Black Cat on Sunday.

So you're in a band and you're from Baltimore, yet you don't seem like huge freaks. What gives?

Jenn Wasner: That is the best phrasing of that question that we have yet to encounter. Usually everyone tries to be all polite, like, "Oh, yes, you guys are not really affiliated..." I think everyone in Baltimore is a little bit weird - that's why you decide to live here. But we're pretty normal people and I love it here.

You're going through a unique experience in that you've changed your band name and re-released your album. Is it weird to go through this half-déjà vu?

Wasner: I wouldn't have it any other way. Well, I guess if we could have had it released on Merge the first time that would have been nice but that would never have happened because before they talked to us we were pretty much nobody. I'm just thrilled that it's getting released. It is a little strange: Everyone who's coming tonight to the CD release show pretty much has the record and has had it for a year and so I kind of feel like it's more a celebration of things going well for us.

Stack: It's a celebration here in Baltimore of the re-release, but elsewhere we're playing in New York and playing in D.C., and those are pretty new markets ... Lots of people are just being introduced to us, so that's the beauty of this whole re-release.

How did the folks at Merge hear it?

Stack: It came about through a very cheesy PR campaign that I ran myself. Sending out e-mails to bloggers and music journalists and being really nice and polite and saying, "Please! We love how you write! You've written about some friends of ours and it would mean so much if you just check us out." It was a totally new thing for us; neither of us had really worked that end of the music industry and it was pretty daunting. It's still really daunting and I still learn new things about it every day. But, fortunately, a couple people really latched onto it and liked it and kind of championed us. I think Mac (MacCaughn, head of Merge) saw us on a blog and contacted us out of the blue, which was just the coolest thing. Only to be supplanted by him, three months later, again out of the blue, e-mailing us and asking if we wanted to put the record out on Merge.

Before Wye Oak you were called Monarch. I read somewhere that seven bands already had the name Monarch trademarked in one way or another. I guess you didn't do much Googling on that one, huh?

Wasner: The funny thing about Monarch is that it was never meant to be a permanent name in the first place. When we self-released the record we realized there these other bands floating around but honestly, in our minds, we were just like, "No one's ever going to hear this except for our friends so it's not that big of a deal." At that point we already had a little bit of local recognition with that name so we were just, "Let's go for it and if things happen to pan out we'll change our name." And that's exactly what happened.

Do you think you'll always remain a duo?

Stack: I think it's sort of a convenient situation right now. We can tour on the cheap. In terms of recording it's really a non-issue because the recording technology allows you to just layer and layer and layer as much as you want. So we can really sculpt just the kind of band that we want. We could be a two-piece for one song and then a 10-piece for the next song. It's more in a question of a live setting where we're constantly looking for ways to expand sonically with the limitations of two people. There's definitely a wall that you hit.

Wasner: There's only so far you can really go. For the next year or so we'll be touring as a duo, and that's really fun and it's got a lot of advantages. But there's something about playing live music with a group of people, that dynamic that you get, that's so much fun and that we really kind of miss.

Do the two of you ever have any issues when you're on the road, spending so much time together, just the two of you?

Wasner: Not at all! I mean, yeah, defintely. We have been fortunate enough so far that we've been able to work stuff out and we're pretty reasonable people. But being constantly around the same person is definitely a challenge. We get along really well but there will always be moments where things come about. When we're on the road it's actually not so bad. We're always going new places and meeting new people and getting put out of our comfort zone in different ways.

Stack: I think when you go on tour you go into this trance for the whole time. There's so much new input that your daily, trivial issues take a backseat and it's more just taking in all this new data.

Wasner: The touring has never really been a problem. It's when we get home when things start getting fishy.

Stack: Thanks, Jenn!

By David Malitz |  April 11, 2008; 1:32 PM ET Interviews
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