Augustana is at a crossroads. It’s been three years since their last album, Can’t Hurt, Can’t Love, was released and six years since their first single, “Boston,” flooded the airwaves and reached the top of charts across the country. Now, one month away from the release of their third full-length and on the brink of a spring tour, the group is in a very different place than it was all those years ago.
Bark + Bite talked to lead singer Dan Layus in the calm before the storm. He shared his feelings about their past success, what’s in store for the new album, and his hopes for the band’s future.
A: You’re with Bark + Bite?
Q: I am!
A: Cool...I saw the review – you’re like one of the first people to review it – and I thought it was really great. Very realistic. I think that’s how a lot of people are gonna feel about it.
Q: Thanks! So the album is hitting stores in a month. What was the process like the third time around? You’ve obviously done this before.
A: This process was very different. It took a lot more time, it took a lot more energy and focus, and a lot of that was sort of self-imposed. We really set out to reach for some sort of higher goals than I think we did in the past. We wanted to take what we do live as a band – we tend to be a little bit more, I would say, kinda raw...a little bit off the cuff, a little bit more spur of the moment-type performances.
And I think that was something we felt was a little bit lacking on previous records. They were a little bit smooth, a little kinda too perfect, and I think we wanted to capture and keep a lot of these “good mistakes,” I guess you could say. If there was a really special, energized vocal or guitar part or drum solo that was maybe a little bit imperfect, then we wanted to sort of capitalize on that and focus on keeping those moments so that it felt sincere, more like our live shows I guess. So I would say that’s probably one of the really major differences between this record process and the previous ones.
Q: Is there any one song off the album that you think defines the band as it is now?
A: I think the collection of the songs is definitely a very fair and very realistic point of view of how we play and who we are essentially as a band. I think there’s a few tracks that sort of stand out more so as even more honest and true to the sound and who we are. I would say definitely “Steal You Heart” is a really big step forward for us.
I think it paved the way for the future for this band as far as the kind of records and songs that we want to make, the kinds of sounds, the kind of choruses and melodies that we really want to capture and to produce. I think there’s a song on there called “Borrowed Time,” “Hurricane,” those songs really feel just as important to me as far as sort of laying out the sound and where we come from, our influences – folk, all country, bands like Wilco, Jackson Brown, Fleetwood Mac. We definitely wanted to kinda put it all out there and hopefully it makes sense, hopefully it’s all somewhat compatible with each song. And maybe it’s not, maybe it’s a little scatterbrained, but it feels very honest to me, at least.
Q: The album as a whole is obviously a shift from your earlier work. What inspired you this time around?
A: Well there’s a lot. There can be a lot that goes into making a three-and-a-half minute song just to feel like a three-and-a-half minute song but still be more important than that. I think that there’s definitely a lot more ways to mess up a record, a lot more ways to over-think and over-intellectualize something when it doesn’t need to be, and in order to do that sometimes you have to over-think not over-thinking, I guess you could say.
You have to put the right amount of energy into the right things at the right time, and stress about the right things at the right time, and try to focus on what the best parts are and be able to move forward in a really possible way when you’re taking a lot of time to make an album or write a song or get a good performance down of a song for a record.
Q: It works. It’s been a while since “Boston” was such a big hit. How did you think the experience of having that big number one single impacted you as an artist?
A: Honestly, I don’t remember much of it. It doesn’t feel like the same band, I don’t feel like the same person. It’s certainly a part of our history and a very, very important part of it, and it certainly gave us a really important, special starting place and springboard into a career in music and that’s a really rare thing. I’m forever grateful for that.
Being young and inexperienced you kinda tend to think, at least from my experience, that those kinds of things will always happen; you kind of think, “It will always be this good forever.” But then it’s not and it doesn’t happen and you have high expectations. And essentially over time we’ve learned to keep the expectations somewhat low but work to set the bar really high so that, just in case you do get that opportunity again, you’re prepared.
I don’t think we were prepared the last time around, I think if we had been older and more experienced and played more shows and finding how to sing right and I knew how to write more songs that were a little bit more honest with who we are. But that’s part of it, you know, you can’t really regret it, because that’s part of the story, it’s part of the experience. And I think that this record – if “Boston” had been on this record and this was our first record, I think we’d be a lot more prepared to sort of take advantage of that.
But I think we were really young and we weren’t ready. I partially, I blame myself, but what are you gonna do? I was a kid. So I guess it’s just part of the growing experience, it’s part of maturing and just being grateful for the chance that you had when you were younger and then hopefully be able to find some success here when we’re older.
Q: “Steal Your Heart” is the first single. Do you know yet what’s in store for the music video?
A: Yeah. We’re gonna be shooting it in a few days here. It’s definitely difficult to come up with good video treatments. There’s a lot of really bad ones out there, but there’s also a rare special one that comes along that is compatible with the song. And it’s tough, because there’s a million video treatments that have something to do with a girl or something that is verbatim with the image to the lyrics and those kinds of things. And it’s hard, but I think that if you’re really careful you can find something that enhances the experience of listening to the song or maybe watching the song. There’s a lot of people that know how to do it really well. We’ll see if we can get it this time around.
Q: You’re not gonna have yourself stealing someone’s heart?
A: Yeah, literally, just like a heart, grabbing it and then running away. *Laughs* That’s a good idea.
Q: Well you know, I’ve got other ideas.
A: You direct?
Q: You’re heading out on tour with The Maine. What’s your favorite thing about being on the road performing?
A: I’d say that’s about it: performing, basically, that’s about the best part of it. The rest – the other 23 hours of the day – can be a multitude of many different emotions and experiences. I mean the best part is definitely actually being on stage and playing, and everything else in between is really what you remember – you remember more of that than really the playing in the shows, just because you’re spending more time doing that, whether it’s getting to the gig or whatever it is. There’s a lot of time to think, and idle time can be difficult to figure out what to do with yourself a lot of the time. It is definitely nice to be able to catch up on reading or listen to some NPR, get some sleep, things you can’t really do as well when you’re at home and you’ve got the kids and all those kinds of things.
Q: Speaking of touring, how was South by Southwest?
A: It was good. It was my favorite trip down there so far. We’ve been through Austin many, many, many times on tour but it was probably our third or fourth trip down there to South By.
It’s always a blast and it’s always really fun to be walking down the street to a gig and you see an old band member that you used to play with who’s playing somebody else, or you see an old band you used to tour with or an old guy you used to know, just those kinds of things. You catch up with people, and it can be really fun.
Q: Other than being on the road performing, what’s on tap for you guys in 2011?
A: I don’t know, we don’t really have anything on the schedule past this spring tour. I think we’re just kinda taking it one step at a time. We’re gonna see if we can fill out these rooms and see if people show up to see us play – fairly small clubs, really nothing bigger than a House of Blues, maybe 800 capacity – and see if people show up and see what happens from there. Hopefully the record will get released overseas, which hasn’t happened before. That would be a really nice thing, be able to get out of the states and tour overseas would be really, really nice. Except I don’t know, we’re just gonna have to see. I think there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s been a long three years, so we’re excited to have some fresh opportunities here.
Augustana’s third album hits stores April 26th, and on their spring tour they hit Rams Head Live! in Baltimore May 27th.