Logged Out: How Wye Oak Reacted to Creative Burn Out

In the three years following Wye Oak released its breakthrough album, Civilian, the band toured endlessly, returning depressed and creatively drained. Guitarist Jenn Wasner was emptied of the passion she had for music. Playing the same songs every night had become redundant for her.

From discord arose discovery. The six-string was hung up and the keyboards were brought in. The result is Wye Oak's fourth album, Shriek. It's a radical sonic departure for the duo, but the sound and songwriting are unmistakably from Wasner, now playing bass, and Andy Stack, doing keyboards and percussion. Wasner's dreamy vocals float wistfully over layered rhythmic synthesizers as she documents her struggle to find inspiration in writing music again.

"I think we knew going in we were going to make a lighter, more buoyant record, not so much lyrically or emotionally. I think part of that was releasing these expectations of what style of band we were and saying, 'We love pop music. We love to dance. There's no reason why we can't make that music ourselves.' Playing these songs live has been a nice contrast to some of the darker elements of our set."

There was a real fear of failure as Wasner and Stack headed in their new direction, but they ultimately found their experimentation empowering.

"If the success of Civilian was something we were trying to re-create, then we were making the wrong record," Stack says. "Shriek was the record that we needed to make. What was empowering was that we went on a sort of personal journey before we made Shriek that culminated with this feeling -- we're making this for ourselves. We can dispense with whatever expectations we have, whether they're from us or from other people."

Months before Shriek had come out (or even had a title), an article on Spin's website announced the duo's new musical direction. The Internet trolls descended and reviewed the album before even listening to a note.

"Everyone's got an opinion and is entitled to it," Stack says. "When we made Shriek, we knew it was going to turn off some of the fans that came into the fold. We've been really encouraged by the overall response. It's not like Civilian was meant to be an Americana or a folk record. It's meant to be a Wye Oak record, and they're Wye Oak songs. The instrumentation is not really the point. The mood and arc of the record doesn't have to do with whether it's from a synthesizer or guitar. I think the arguments are really shallow and skin-deep. Some people listen to their music like they wear their clothes. It's a fashion thing."

This was also the first album the duo wrote separately. Stack left the tight-knit music community of Baltimore behind to live briefly in Portland, Oregon. Since February, he's resided in the vibrant artist community of Marfa, Texas.

"It brought out some really interesting sides of our individual contributions to the project that probably wouldn't have happened the same way had we gone with a more conventional approach to writing it," Stack says.

Wasner, weary of touring, stated in an interview with Village Voice that she can't believe they "fooled someone else into thinking we're a real band." Stack sees the sarcasm behind that statement.

"We always felt there's this underdog component to this band," Stack says. "There's only two of us. We always feel the challenges of making the music that we want as a duo. It's not a problem in the studio, but onstage we're busting our asses. We feel so lucky with the success that we've had."

Wye Oak is scheduled to perform Tuesday, July 8, at Crescent Ballroom.

Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.

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Jason Keil was the Phoenix New Times culture editor from August 2019 to May 2020.
Contact: Jason Keil