Interview: The Versatile Andy Stack of Wye Oak Talks His Approach to Music

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By Owen Murray, WERS Music Coordinator

Andy Stack is a busy indie-rocker. He switches seamlessly between drums, guitar, bass, keys, and wherever else his music takes him. In addition to his main project Wye Oak, a duo with equally versatile Jenn Wasner, he performs live with Lambchop and EL VY. Ahead of his show at the Sinclair with Wye Oak, Stack stopped at the studio to talk with WERS Music Coordinator Owen Murray about the project’s ever-expanding live show, and what’s in store for Wye Oak this year. 

First, how is touring going so far?

Great! It’s split up into two legs–east coast and west coast–and we’re about halfway through the east coast leg and it’s awesome. We have a really good band and really good people who we’ve brought in to play in this expanded version of the band, which is the first time that we’ve done that. Great crowds, and we’re kind of only playing in places we are excited to play. The last show was in Baltimore, which is where we are both from and we’ve both spent a lot of time in Boston, so it’ll be good to be here. 

For this tour, this is the first time you’re not playing drums with Wye Oak. How has that been different being out from behind the kit? 

It’s been really fun! When we record I play a bunch of different stuff. We both are sort of serving a lot of different roles in the band but when we play live we usually have these more set roles so we were able to bring a bunch of people in and it’s been fantastic. It’s allowed us to bring a pretty different character to the sound of the band from what we’ve been able to do in the past and it’s also allowed us do be able to do some of my solo material, some of Jenn [Wasner’s] solo material, and bring some instrumentation in that we haven’t been able to feature before. 

Why was this the right time for Wye Oak to shift to a full band? 

Honestly, mostly just because it sounded fun. We felt like we want having fun to be the most important part of doing this right now because we’re both involved in a bunch of other projects and we only have so much time to take this project out on the road, so we really wanted to do something that felt really meaningful and different, we wanted to do something that felt novel. 

In the last few years, we’ve been playing in these larger groups. I’ve been playing in this band called Lambchop, which Jenn and I were both big fans of for a long time, which is a bigger band. And in the last year or so she started playing in Bon Iver, which is a much bigger band so we’ve gotten the experience of being in these large ensembles of good, communal energy, and we really wanted to apply that to this project and see how that felt. 

That’s interesting, 'cause in the studio, you’re still a duo. How does being part of such big groups affect your mindset as a duo? 

Being in the studio, there aren’t really limitations in that way, at least not in the way that we write and record, because we both are multi-instrumental and we both are comfortable kind of bouncing around and playing all the different parts ourselves. But inevitably when we tour every time for the last 15 years or however long, we’ve had to make compromises about the arrangement or the energy of the songs. Sometimes that’s a real asset to work within limitations and you get something unique out of it, but it’s meant that a lot of the time the energy and arrangements that come on the studio recordings have had to be altered or reconsidered when we go out on the road. I think, in a large part, a lot of this tour, the arrangements are much more true to the recordings. 

You guys have such a huge sound, so for a song as big as “Fortune,” do you know how massive it’s going to be when you start writing it? 

When you start recording something, you can have a very deliberate idea of what you want it to be and inevitably it becomes something different. That’s been the case for every recording I’ve ever made. Sometimes you get close, but that’s kind of the fun of it, it always takes on its own life and what you think is going to work doesn’t always work and you have to be nimble and flexible and let the recording take the direction that it wants to take. 

I think we had this idea for “Fortune” being pretty gentle, weirdly, when we started recording it and then it became really big. For us, that kind of big guitar sound is something that we did a lot when we were younger, when we were first starting out, and then we kind of switched and now we’re going full circle and working with some of the sounds we were playing with earlier. 

You said you guys are both very comfortable switching instruments. You’ve played drums in Wye Oak for a while, do you consider yourself to be a drummer? 

Oh, I don’t know. I do play a lot of drums. I also find myself–being on tour or in Durham where Jenn and I both live–I find myself surrounded by a lot of drummers and I’m like, "Oh man, I don’t feel like a drummer when I’m around this person because they’re so f-ing good." So maybe that says more about my own complexes than it does about any actual skill level that I have. But I don’t think either of us really necessarily associates with, "Yeah I’m a guitar bro, or I’m a drummer-guy." It’s just kind of all tools towards the same end. 

Which is? 

Something real, something genuine. And you can get the same effect from a drum or a synthesizer, you know? They can serve the same purpose. 

You guys have a few songs out, do you know if you have an album coming soon? 

There’s more music coming in 2020 but I don’t know what you’d call it. Probably not an album. But there’s definitely a good bit more music that we’re finished recording. 

So some kind of project. 

Yeah, part of the problem with albums is that you end up kind of having to wait around for six months, eight months, a year for this whole giant machine to kind of get up and going. We’re into the idea of being a little more nimble and being able to make stuff and get it out a lot faster. So that’s what we’re working on. There’s more Wye Oak music, all the other projects that we’re involved with all have other recordings too. 

So are you not really approaching music from an album standpoint right now?

I’m sure there will be a time when we get back to that. It’s not like song collections aren’t still relevant, but I think the album cycle in its traditional sense is getting less and less relevant. 

I’ve seen some people starting to release their albums in two or three segments as well. 

Yeah! I saw that with Bill Callahan on his newest record. It was like a double vinyl and he basically released one side each week for a month, which is really cool because a double vinyl record is a lot to take in. And Bill Callahan songs, in general, are a lot to take in. So you get to experience it in those smaller chunks. I liked those bite-sized elements. 

Is that something you think you’d be interested in doing? 

Yeah, I’m into it, but also there’s so many people who are so much better at this than I am. I’m just interested in being able to make music and make it the best that I can, and then there are people who have much more well-formed opinions on the most relevant way to release it. 

In this case, it’s nice to just be making music and to be able to put it out in a reasonable time frame and not be waiting for nine months so that by the time it comes out you’re not like, "What is this thing and where was I when I created this," which is very often the case. That was the case with the solo album I made last year where the record was done for over a year before it came out. 

It was worth waiting on, but I think most musicians are kind of fighting against that clock a lot of what you’re currently inspired by and putting your energy into versus the need to promote and follow through on these things that you’ve done. 

What do you find most exciting about the music you’re working on right now?

The exciting thing right now is getting to play with these three other vital and exciting musicians every night who are bringing a whole other flavor and energy into this music that, some of it, is like ten or twelve years old and is getting some fresh life. There are only three more shows left on this leg of the tour and I wish there were a lot more. 

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