If Jenn Wasner’s onstage smile belies the solemn sorrow of Wye Oak’s new material, that’s because the singer and guitarist has already gone through the raw emotions that inform “Civilian.”
“That’s the catharsis right there,” she says, “The sad thing or whatever was the thing that inspired me to write it in the first place kind of lives in the songs, and it’s a healing experience to write them in a lot of ways. Performing them for people, you kind of have to let them go. I can’t really go back to those places — nor would i want to — that I was in when I wrote the song, every single time I play it.”
It is this same sort of duality that led Wye Oak to title the new album, “Civilian.”
“The word itself is such a detached and distancing sounding word, almost clinical, and I like taking this obviously very emotional batch of songs and giving them a title that forces the listener to hold it at this subjective distance,” she says. “That’s kind of what I had to do to make the songs, to take these feelings, thoughts and experiences that were so intensely personal and step back from them and kind of step outside of myself a little bit.”
In live performance, Wasner and her bandmate, drummer and keyboardist Andy Stack are pure exuberance, as they make eye contact with each other just before liftoff into the songs’ more rocking parts, a shared excitement for their own expression.
“A lot of it is celebrating that we are where we are now, and I’m not where I was when I wrote the songs,” says Wasner. “It’s great to feel like you can move past something, but at the same time you have this tangible object or song or sound that is a documentation of where you came from or where you used to be. It’s interesting to have to relive that a little bit every night, but for the most part it doesn’t bum me out, playing the songs it feels a little bit more like a happy, comfortable thing.”
And the pair certainly do seem comfortable. In the past few years Wasner has grown into a monster on the guitar, commanding it through both intricately picked figures and crushing solos.
“I’m personally getting a lot more comfortable playing guitar,” she says humbly. “It’s taken a long time to get used to this set up, and to feel comfortable enough in it that we don’t have to concentrate on repeating the same emotions every time.”