"I'm a little bit of a fatalist for sure; I try so hard to be hopeful.... In my heart of hearts, I don't have a lot of hope for the future," Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner told me over the phone on the Fourth of July as she and drummer Andy Stack made their way across middle America.
"I'm spending Fourth of July the most American way possible.... I'm spending the Fourth with gas station employees -- the real American heroes," she quipped.
On April 6, Wye Oak released their sixth studio album, "The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs," an enigmatic exercise in electronic experimentalism, shuffling rhythms and melodicism ranging from classically complex to pop-inspired.
"In my mind, I was in the situation where I was being chased by something ... the threat of the world at large or some evil force in society or even my own brain ... but the more I called for help, the easier it was for 'it' to find me," Wasner said.
"His [Stack's] first response was like 'it' was something he wanted, something he wanted to get, something he was lusting for or chasing after," she explained, revealing the dualism of the duo's (though they've recently added bassist Will Hackney to their lineup) approach to the world.
"I have a tendency to think the worst, maybe as a defense mechanism," Wasner added.
In spite of that dichotomy -- or perhaps because of it -- Wye Oak have managed to remain collaborative, adventurous and relevant since their formation in 2006.
"It's pretty split: We both kind of play all of the instruments and produce. There are times when I'll put together a song and shoot that over to Andy. Sometimes, there are different versions of that mix. One thing we were doing is Andy would send me realized drum tracks. He would send me 3 1/2 or four-minute drum tracks -- just drums. The song 'Lifer' worked that way, building it backward. There's a lot of back and forth and rewriting parts.... It's a big, weird congealed stew," Wasner said.
"I generally sort of feel like it's the nature of a creative brain to use whatever tools are available. I can't imagine not having that reaction of, 'Look at this cool thing; what can I get out of this?'" she added.
Back during the folk revival of the early 2000s, Wye Oak put their own spin on the movement. Today, fans of the band's early music might consider newer albums almost unrecognizable as Wye Oak. For Wasner and Stack, the last 12 years have represented a journey of evolution and artistic integrity.
"That evolution was a very organic expansion of the things we were interested in. So much of creative inspiration comes from a deeply intuitive place; you can't force it. We've been a band for over 10 years, so it's to be expected that we would change and evolve over time. When people like something that you do, it's human nature to get attached to it. People like artists not just because of their music but because of what the artist represents to them.... We're grateful they're attached to something. Part of the reason we're able to do this is because people are connected with something we've done in the past," Wasner said.
"But you can't push forward without moving away from older material we've done. If it were up to me, I would not play any material that's older than like two years -- not to piss people off but because that's what we need to stay inspired," she admitted.
In March, I saw Wye Oak perform at Scoot Inn for the Brooklyn Bowl Family Reunion at SXSW, and it was easily the most inspired performance I caught in Austin.