photos by Jeremy Farmer
Au is what you encounter when you step into the mind of Luke Wyland. An art student of Massachusetts College of Art he headed out for Portland, Oregon in 2005 and the rest is history. Wyland has soaked up the ambiance, mystique and dark romance of the Northwest, in return producing an album rich with layered emotions and instrumental depth of the highest caliber. With a constantly changing roster of players that currently includes Jonathan Sielaff on guitar, clarinets and saw (Parenthetical Girls, Nick Jaina), and Dana Valatka on drums (Jackie-O_Motherfucker, Mustaphamond)- and has been blessed by the help of Mark Kaylor (Hamor of Hathor, CexFucx), Becky Dawson (Saw Whet, Ah Holly Fam’ly) and Sarah Winchester (A Weather) the band has secured not only a fall tour opening for The Dodos and Deerhoof but prizes as well. Portland Mercury awarded this creative outfit #2 Portland Album of the year for 2007 describing as a band that “manages to erase the high art/low art boundary between American contemporary classical music and American pop music, blending them into a simple, compelling, verse-chorus celebration… (and) is the rare band that can reinvent its songs live and still manage to match their recorded quality.” Their songs race along like a wild river running through the deepest of Northwests’ forests. Viciously untamed like Wylands’ imagination has found a kindred spirit in his explosive drummer Dana Valatka. Dana in his own right is a force to be reckoned with- you think you are impressed by his adept qualities on the album but just wait until you experience it live. Their sophomore album Verbs was released on June 24th on Aagoo Records and spirals out for the listener with unbridled majesty and courageous passion. Tracks ‘RR vs D‘, ‘Summer Heat‘ and ‘Boute‘ are a study in the fusion of Wylands’ mind and spirit. One has to revisit Peaofthesea to experience the evolution of his science and fully appreciate all that lies ahead for fans of Au.
Interview by Sheryl Witlen
Me: So, Luke, where did you go to university again?
Luke: Mass College of Art it is a state run school but it has its own program. I was living in Boston and met Dana back in 2001. Playing with the band The Werewolves. I graduated with a BFA, which was an open major allowing me to figure out what I wanted to do. I studied a lot of sculpture, video and was making my own instruments at the time. It was great because one of my professors was a composer who studied with John Cage. So I went there for art and at the end of it was just making music, which was good. I went to Portland in 2002, came back to Boston and then went back out to Portland in 2005.
Me: So you to met in 2001, did you play together in a bunch of different bands?
Dana: No, just that one. Then he moved to Portland and I followed.
Me: What made you decide to completely jump coasts? Was it a band/type of music that drew you in or just for a change of scenery?
Luke: It was more for a chance of scenery. I was primarily in Boston for school. I grew up in the Mass area and it was a great school but I didn’t agree with Boston as much (as Portland). When I left with some friends we didn’t have a goal. We just set out from Seattle and went down to Santa Cruz checking places out. Portland at that time just felt right, so we ended up settling there. For me, it suites my lifestyle best.
Dana: People always asked me if I was from the West Coast, ‘You seem like you are from the West Coast.’
Me: Because you are both so laid back.
Dana: Yeah, definitely. (Laughter)
Me: So your studies and travels were very free spirited and unstructured which is reflected in your music, and I was wondering how your song process comes about because live you both play off of each other and seem like an equal partnership.
Luke: For this album, it was an interesting evolution of sorts: there was a band prior to this, there were three of us who had been playing together with for a year and had been writing songs as a unit. When it does come down to it, things usually start with me. I will have an idea and then we tend to fill things out and then when it comes time to record the songs usually become something very different. I love working by myself on my computer and having the flexibility to do and explore whatever comes to mind. In general, the structure of the songs tends to be very loose. Even with this most recent album, we recorded some of the main structures in the studios, the drums for example, and then I brought it all back to my house and spent two months rearranging things and trying things out. Recording I can put as many people on the track as I possibly can and then live, now that it is just two of us there is more flexibility. We still do stick to structures but we rely heavily on our background of improvising. My background was playing classical piano since i was little, not very well and then stopped music and went back to it in high school and became very into jazz and free jazz. There’s structure but then you have this melody and what happens in between point A to point B? There’s this need to explore that and have fun.
Me: So you are going on tour this fall with The Dodos and then Deerhoof, will it be with a full band or just the two of you?
Luke: Yes, for this first trip it will just be the two of us, with the price of gas and everything it is becoming increasingly hard to fund more people. I would love to have more people, ideally there was going to be four of us. If things keep going well and we can make more money we would like to add more people. It’s fun as a two-piece but there are things we can’t do and actually there are songs we can’t play.
Me: Like “RR vs D”?
Dana and Luke: Yeah and it’s rough because that is our single.
Me: That is beautiful, you should be very proud of it.
Luke: Thank you, one day we will…
Me: Figure it out?
Luke: (Laughter) Yeah, three piano players and a bunch of different instruments and it will be great. That is ultimately all I hope to find with this opportunity, the ability to travel as much as possible.
Me: Have you been touring a lot?
Luke: I’ve done a bunch of west coast tours with some other groups but this Dodos tour is our first East Coast Tour/National Tour. In the fall we will be touring Australia through the label PopFrenzy and from there we are going to Japan. The hope is basically to do the States, Australia, Europe and Japan. That’s the bonus of this lifestyle. We aren’t making money.
Dana: (Laughs loudly)
Me: So what are some other bands that are exciting to you right now that you would like to mention?
Luke: Dirty Projectors, as a live act they are at the top of their game.
Dana: Akron Family… there are some others, just trying to think of them.
Luke: These questions, I always freeze.
Me: Ha, me too, whenever people ask me that question I always stop and think, shoot, ‘is this a test?’
Luke and Dana: Yes, totally… like who is watching? (Laughter)
Me: How much do you communicate during your live show, do you look at each other a lot and can you tell if you are going to extend a bit here or there?
Luke: Yes, that’s why we play facing each other. We discussed facing the audience and it is maybe something we should do more.
Dana: We like facing each other. It helps.
Luke: We need it. I think we need it, because things are relatively loose at that point and there are definitely huge changes that can stretch out. It doesn’t happen the same way every show or every night.
Me: I think that with your songs the longer they go on for the more it displays your ability and fluidity, do you think for future albums you will have longer tracks like Panda Bear with “Carrots”?
Dana: Yes, when I first heard that song I was like, this is incredible. Play again. Played it a couple times that day.
Luke: We respect him a lot.
Dana: People are always comparing us to Animal Collective, a guy in the hallway was like, “You guys sound a lot like Panda Bear, Animal Collective” which we always find shocking.
Me: I can see that but your voice — and excuse me here if I am technically wrong but your voice sounds more like Devotchka or an opera — it is much more striking live and has much more of a presence live than it does on the album.
Luke: Oh wow, thank you. That is my last instrument. That is new for me. Just in the last six months I started to sing live. It is really hard. It is the instrument that is the least controllable. For me, right now. I am really naked with the voice. You can’t hide that. So that’s good to hear, thank you. I think that is why for us it is weird with the Animal Collective comparisons for because we love what they do, but don’t use as much of the electronic elements. We are a bit more folksy, less loops. Hopefully we are being compared to their energy.
Me: Dana, you are a pretty accomplished drummer and a lot of drumming on the popular albums this year has been stripped down — how to you hope to build this?
Dana: Ha, I wasn’t really doing that much. I had a lot of practice in the last five years playing a lot of fast and complicated songs.
Luke: Your background…
Dana: Yeah, I grew up playing in metal bands. From junior high school up until now, I was more into death metal, late 80’s early 90’s death metal and thrash metal.
Me: So when the two of you sat down and started making music together did you ever picture yourself playing in this type of band with this ilk of sound?
Dana: I think back in Boston when we started playing together I was trying to get more into this type of sound but it seemed like all there was were metal bands. It was good; it was definitely more extreme because we started off playing free experimental shows. It was definitely a good change for me instead of trying to push the people I was playing with to go this way I would practice on my own
Me: In your room… in secret…
Dana: (laughing) yeah…
Me: So do find as music lovers that you revisit a lot of the older more classic artists now than you did when you were growing up?
Dana: Yeah, probably even more so than newer stuff. I go back to a lot of old school jazz and Brazilian music.
Luke: There is so much now that is being dug up that is obscure.
Me: Beauty of the internet!
Luke: It is so overwhelming. I’ll get all of this music and have it for months on the road and I am sure it is amazing but I just don’t have time to get around to listening to all of it.
Me: But at least you are loving it.
Dana and Luke: Yes, yes we are.