Wye Oak
Photo: Graham Tolbert / Grandstand Media

Wye Oak Reinvent Themselves (Again) on ‘Every Day Like the Last’

Wye Oak speak to PopMatters about their experiment-or-die perspective and what it means to make music at their stage of career and life more generally.

Every Day Like the Last
Wye Oak
23 June 2023

“Are you in gay Paris?” Andy asks with a faux French accent as Jenn logs on to Zoom. “I am, oui, oui,” she replies after a brief technical delay.I’m actually eating an incredibly big pastry as we speak, which I walked a great distance for upon the recommendation of one Madeline Kenney.” This enviable fact is visible to both Andy and me as the three of us settle into our interview. “They didn’t have the pastry that I wanted. But whatever I’m eating is pretty good.”

Andy is Andy Stack, the percussionist, multi-instrumentalist, and co-founder of the indie rock act Wye Oak. Jenn is Jenn Wasner, the vocalist, guitarist, and also co-founder of Wye Oak. “It looks good,” Andy responds. “When does your tour start?” 

“I started to play last night,” Jenn continues. “It was fun. It was some festival. I think it was called the We Love Green Festival in Paris. But yeah, we had a good time. It was like a quick festival set, you know, 75 minutes. In and out.”

I take a minute to let them talk. As with many interviews these days, Zoom has become an essential medium for speaking with musicians. However, in this instance, it was also an opportunity for Jenn and Andy to catch up. Conducted in early June, just a few weeks prior to the release of their new album, Every Day Like the Last: Collected Singles, 2019-2023 (Merge), Jenn and Andy were a continent apart. Jenn has been a touring member of Bon Iver, who are currently on the road this summer, which is a role she assumed in 2019. Meanwhile, Andy was back in Durham, North Carolina, which is the home base for Wye Oak.

I briefly mention my sense of awkwardness as they talk. Clearly, these are two people with a long friendship and musical collaboration behind them, such that they relate to each other almost intuitively. “This seems as unprofessional and awkward as every business meeting I’ve had in the last three years,” Andy quickly quips to clear the air, conveying a self-deprecating sense of humor while also capturing the fast intimacies of the Zoom era. I feel more relaxed. If anything, he and Jenn come across as kind and down to earth.

Wye Oak have always been a difficult-to-categorize band, though one of their charms has been its accessibility, embodied by its relatable members. Both originally from Baltimore, Wasner and Stack have known each other since high school, when they met and first started playing music together. After college, they formed a band called Monarch which later became Wye Oak, named after a historic white oak tree in Maryland. They have released eight full-length studio albums since 2007, the most recent being Cut All the Wires: 2009-2011 (2021), a collection of demos and unreleased tracks from the recording sessions for their breakthrough LP, Civilian (2011). 

Throughout their career, Wye Oak have wandered confidently through a range of genres, experimenting with aspects of indie rock, atmospheric folk-country, 1980s synthpop, and 1990s shoegaze/dream pop at different junctures. Eluding easy appraisal while indulging their catholic tastes in sound, melody, and orchestration, they have never entirely settled into one style. Nonetheless, a tight compatibility and productive tension can be heard across Wye Oak’s catalogue, guided by Wasner’s unwavering, gorgeous vocals.

Rock duos tend to be rare entities. Acts like the White Stripes and the Black Keys exemplify the explosive sound that can result from such taut pairings. In contrast, Wye Oak has trended toward duos like the folk-rock collaboration of Richard and Linda Thompson, the 1990s indie rock outfit the Spinanes, or, more recently, the band Low. These latter examples reflect a stripped-down minimalism that is about the dialogue between two musicians – an approach that has been elaborated by Wye Oak. Hovering somewhere between the solo singer-songwriter and the full, kitted-out band, the concept of the rock duo as embodied by Wasner and Stack has been about balance, interplay, mutual trust, and co-creation – a respect for the idea of music as neither the product of a lone genius nor in need of a prototypical foursome to feel a sense of completion. 

Every Day Like the Last: Collected Singles, 2019-2023 marks a culmination of this artistic complementarity. It builds on their long-standing strengths while focusing attention on individual tracks, as opposed to the thematic contours of an entire LP. Departing from their recent work, its sound recalls Civilian, arguably their best-known album. The title song from that release involves a narrator confessing their vulnerabilities and emotional limits (“Perfectly able to hold my own hand / But I still can’t kiss my own neck”). With its dense noise backdrop, haunting vocals, and enigmatic lyrics by Wasner, the song has been widely licensed to films and TV shows like The Walking Dead – essentially, whenever a bleak, brooding tone needs to be struck. 

Yet Wye Oak have received consistent critical attention throughout their career. Early on, The New York Times described their sound circa The Knot (2009) as “the Cowboy Junkies as refracted through Nirvana”. Their more recent work on Shriek (2014) and The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs (2018) was praised for employing elements of prog rock and the melodic brightness of 1980s electronic pop. Added to this press attention has been coverage of Wasner’s solo work with Flock of Dimes, which has provided another outlet for her seemingly boundless creativity. In this instance, she has explored a softer pop side as part of her repertoire. Stack has equally expanded his musical interests with the solo project Joyero, whose debut album was the atmospheric Release the Dogs (2019) – an exercise in ambient bedroom pop that possesses the immersive warmth of the Magnetic Fields through standout tracks like “Steepest Stairs.”

Wye Oak’s new LP reflects these artistic directions while remaining undeniably a Wye Oak release. Consisting of nine tracks at 34 minutes, Every Day Like the Last returns to an earlier folk-rock orientation, perhaps underscoring the need to get back to essentials during a time of pandemic. Equally significant, it emphasizes the power of the individual song as noted earlier. This isn’t an album per se, but a collection of singles – a point emphasized in our interview. Tracks like “Its Way with Me” make this approach understandable, being a composition that seemingly encompasses its own self-contained world, musically and lyrically. It also notably made President Barack Obama’s Summer Playlist for 2021, along with recordings by George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Ella Fitzgerald. Not bad company.

Taken together, Every Day Like the Last comprises something like a pandemic journal, though it also reveals an ongoing ethos for the band. The abiding credo of Wasner and Stack has been, to paraphrase Wasner, experiment or die – a somewhat tongue-in-cheek remark in passing, but also serious when taking stock of their oeuvre in retrospect. They spoke to PopMatters about this perspective and what it means to make music at their stage of career and life more generally.

Wye Oak
Photo: Graham Tolbert / Grandstand Media

The Promise of the Anthology Album

The new album’s title, Every Day Like the Last, captures a certain Covid-era zeitgeist when time seemed to stop under lockdown. Taken further, however, it raises deeper questions about longevity and its meanings. Is there comfort in familiarity? At what point does safety diminish opportunities for growth? Wasner conveys these sentiments in the title track’s lyrics. “Did you really want / To live a life every day like the last?” she rhetorically asks. “To make a trade / Of future promise for a hopeless past.” This song, which musically has a break-of-day quality and a country feel with its pedal steel backing, opens the album. Its message seemed like a good place to start our conversation.

“Our band is in the adapt-or-die phase of our career, I would say,” Jenn remarks when asked about the album and its meanings for Wye Oak. “We probably have been for a little while. But we’ve been doing this for quite some time, the two of us together, making music. Our lives creatively, personally, psychologically, spiritually, and emotionally have changed a great deal since we were kids doing this thing together.” 

“At a certain point, I just felt like I refused to believe that there was only one way that you were allowed to be in a band or have a creative project,” she continues, “and our partnership is important to us. It’s really special. It’s unique.” She pauses for a second to collect her thoughts. “I think we realized at a certain point that in order to preserve it, we would have to experiment with doing things a little differently,” she tentatively concludes. “In part to leave space for all the other parts of our creative and personal lives that we have, but also to make the partnership feel like it’s free and exciting and compelling and not this obligation or set of rules that you have to follow.” 

This embrace of freedom is demonstrated in the fact that the singles on Every Day Like the Last were, in her words, “released slowly over the course of several years.” Indeed, this LP is unusual insofar that it stands as a collection of singles – an anthology – rather than retroactively being labeled an album, which we discussed. Why not simply call this release an album?

“That was an interesting experiment,” Jenn begins. “It was a way for us to make things and then release them very quickly and not have to force an album or connection where there was no connection. We were able to create and release in this very unencumbered way, which made us both feel excited. We were able to chuck the rules out the window and just make music and share it with people. It felt very immediate, and it also felt very freeing and liberating. It didn’t make sense to call it a record because a lot of it has already seen the light of day.” Andy concurs, adding, “I think from a promotional perspective, it would be tidier to have done that, but it would be a little bit disingenuous to call it an album.”

After a brief pause, Jenn elaborates further by saying, “I do think that there is a narrative thread that just happens by being authentic and showing up and writing from a real perspective. I think of albums like novels in this way, where I want there to be a bigger purpose than just, ‘Oh, I wrote ten songs, and we’re going to slap them together, and here’s a record.’ All our albums proper aren’t just a haphazard collection of whatever ten songs we happened to write in the past two years. There was a reason why those songs were grouped together in the way that they were, with a story we wanted to tell.” 

For comparison, she mentions their album Tween (2016), which consisted of leftovers and reworked recordings from the sessions for Civilian and Shriek (2014). Tween served as an earlier experiment that challenged existing conventions. Indeed, as touched upon, Jenn reveals a compositional approach resembling that of a novelist or a writer of short fiction rather than strictly a songwriter.

“For whatever reason, I’ve always cared a lot about form,” she continues, developing this point. “I care about what you call something and why. With Tween, we really believed in that music. We wanted it to see the light of day, but we didn’t feel right calling it an album because it didn’t meet those criteria. It didn’t have that narrative thread that we would prefer our records to have.” 

In this regard, Jenn returns to her earlier point about the freedom to evolve. “It’s really important, especially at this stage in our career and partnership, to allow ourselves the gift of expansion,” she resolves, “like adapting and adjusting and experimenting not just with the music, but with the way the music enters and comes into the world and how we allow ourselves to talk about it.”

The Possibility of a Good Pandemic

Speaking of the world, our conversation turns to the pandemic and its effects on the writing and recording of the album. As noted, the title Every Day Like the Last evokes a common feeling circa 2020, when the future seemed opaque, and it was unclear what would happen next beyond the passing of each day. Many of the album’s tracks concern subjective narrators dealing with isolation, comprising a set of internal monologues. Yet Wasner transforms this pandemic condition into allegorical occasions with a broader meaning. The refrain in “Evergreen,” for example, has the lines, “Tell me what is missing in my mind/I feel the problem is essential/Its memory/Is blackening my mind.” The song depicts a paradox of memory – those moments when you self-consciously remember that you have forgotten something. In this way, the album’s title forms an argument about the importance of the everyday for self-discovery and self-recognition. 

“Isn’t it convenient when the events of the world transpire to be exactly like the songs we made, which are about existential dread and feelings of isolation?” Andy jokes in response when I ask about the pandemic’s impact. I further inquire whether the track listing reflects a chronological sequence of recording and production, thus presenting a provisional pandemic diary. 

“There’s no chronology at all,” Jenn explains. “It’s hard to put my finger on how I know where things should go. It’s an intuitive sense, the flow of the record, the ups and downs. It’s funny because I remember for a lot of our records really agonizing over track listings, but this one was immediately obvious to me, and I’m not sure why. It felt predetermined. There was a very natural flow that wanted to emerge from putting the songs together in that way. The first song and the last song are the most recent recordings. Other than that, it was more intuitive, less intellectual, more like a sonic and feel-based exercise in assembly.”

Andy jumps in to provide a broader context. “There’s an irony here, which is that the creation of these songs was an opportunity for us to be in the same space together writing because, for the better part of ten years, we were in different parts of the country. Most of our writing was taking place remotely, with us sending ideas back and forth. Then we both ended up in the Durham-Chapel Hill area starting around 2018. From then until now, we’ve had this opportunity where we can get together and have regular writing sessions and rehearsals. A lot of the material came out of just being in the same space and spitballing together.” 

He pauses before continuing. “Covid, which was complicated, was also a wonderful opportunity. It was a period of extreme isolation for both of us, but we also had opportunities to get together and work together. It was a good place to live during the pandemic, I’ll say that. The community and character of Durham allowed for you to lose your mind a little bit less than if you were in New York or LA or something like that.”

“I was really grateful for the outlet at the time,” Jenn remarks, chiming in. “I wouldn’t say that it was easy, but I had a very productive pandemic, not just creatively but also personally. I don’t know that I’ll ever experience that amount of space and time again.” 

She suddenly stops herself. “It’s so funny, the human ability to be nostalgic about everything, but I remember recently having this thought, ‘I miss those days when I was just living. Just really living. Just being present in the world.’ And then, when I caught myself, I was like, ‘Bitch, you were fucking miserable the entire time.’ It was possibly the most anxiety I’ve ever experienced.” 

She laughs. “I tend toward deep existential rambling, like introspective deep dives as much as any artistic person. So, the pandemic, in a way, felt like doing a mega dose of a drug. There was nothing to keep me from completely falling off into my own spiraling thought cycles. That stuff’s always happening for me to a certain extent, but everything was so heightened and condensed.”

When I point out these conflicting perspectives of artistic opportunity versus personal anxiety, Jenn elaborates further. “It’s never one thing, right? Thinking back, there were beautiful moments and important realizations and experiences that I will remember and treasure for the rest of my life. It was also an incredibly difficult, incredibly lonely, anxious, sad, dark time. It was both things at the same time. How that applies to our music, I think there is truth to the immediacy of that outlet being necessary at such an intense moment in our lives. I was grateful to have Andy within striking distance and to be able to pour time and energy into creating some things.” 

She pauses again. “I think the song that I associate with that period more than anything is the song ‘It’s Way with Me,’ which is probably my most favorite song that I’ve ever written, quite frankly. I don’t really do favorites, but if I had to pick one, it is the one I would choose.”

“It’s Way with Me”

The single “It’s Way with Me” is a standout track on Every Day Like the Last. Remarkably, it was chosen by Barack Obama as part of his Summer Playlist for 2021, as touched upon earlier – a distinction unplanned but nonetheless a source of complete gratification. The song itself is characteristically minimalist in its lyrical content, which is counterposed to a layered, lush sound, including a background of horns and strings. It begins with a series of negations (“I am not the other / I am not a friend / I am not the answer / To a question / You have asked”), with the song ultimately about stripping away what is unnecessary to arrive at some kind of affirmation and truth. It is about vulnerability but also the sense of readiness that can result from that condition. It may indeed be the best song Wye Oak has recorded. 

“It’s about surrender,” Jenn comments when asked about the song. “It was one of those moments where I was able to articulate the thing I was experiencing before I had consciously registered any sort of narrative around what I was experiencing. I hadn’t written the story or consciously acknowledged what was happening. Yet, somehow, subconsciously, I don’t know how quite frankly, the whole thing emerged in this very organic way. That’s why songwriting can get addictive because there are these moments that feel like you’re pulling something up from your subconscious that you’re not consciously aware of yet or pulling something down from somewhere else, and that’s such a strange, mystical, woozy feeling. That was one of those moments, for sure. It was also one of the songs that Andy and I wrote simultaneously together in the same room.”

When I ask about Obama’s playlist and whether they heard from his office directly, Andy deadpans, “He came to each of our houses and delivered a Bundt cake. He does it for everyone on the list.” Laughing, Jenn counters, “No, no one. You don’t really get any heads-up or anything. I remember I got a few text messages that just said, ‘Obama.’ And I was like, ‘Okay, I don’t understand why someone is doing this right now.’” 

Upon further reflection, she remarks, “It’s nice; it’s a sweet thing when anyone takes the time to acknowledge something you’ve made. Obviously, when that someone has as high a profile as he does, it’s going to reach more people than it would otherwise. So, it was a nice moment. It also feels bizarre. I mean, it’s really weird, too. But it’s very flattering.”

Recording in a Storage Unit

Actually, that particular song we wrote at Ample Storage in Durham,” Andy comments as we discuss “It’s Way with Me”. The LP’s liner notes reveal that a location of Ample Storage, a self-storage chain local to North Carolina, served as one of five recording studios for Every Day Like the Last. Indeed, the cavernous opening audio with Jenn counting down on the track “I Learned It from You” suggests this context. Still, this appears as an atypical place to record.

“We had a rehearsal space for several years in a house on the border of Chapel Hill and Durham, and there was a very unfortunate, extreme mold scenario that came to light,” Andy explains. “So, we had to get a new situation. My wife suggested this self-storage location in Durham, where there’s a place called Shadowbox Studio that’s a mixed-use art space, and all these different artists and musicians have started getting storage units there. It happens that the manager is a real champion of local arts. It sounds so awful to think of having your rehearsal space in a lightless storage container. But it was pretty chill, to be honest. You would always run into cool folks at the storage space.” 

“We had a spot there for the better part of two years,” he continues. “You went into this hallway, and you pulled up a garage door and went in. It just so happened that the hallway was this very long, shotgun hallway, which was a perfect echo chamber, like a reverb chamber. As we recorded, we would always stick a microphone in the hallway, this free reverb chamber that we could use on all the recordings. There are moments on the record where that is in there.”

“The best possible version of a storage unit studio space that you can imagine,” Jenn adds, “but it was still very much that, like windowless.”

When I ask if they would just go and record anytime, the answer was yes. “I don’t think they have hard hours,” Jenn explains, smiling. “They were chill about it. But every once in a while, you’d be recording and playing drums, and someone would just come to pick up their crap and be like, ‘What?’ Regular people who used it as a storage unit would be surprised to find a band.”

“Yeah, it was definitely an exceptional place,” Andy remarks. “I think that is the nature of Durham and Chapel Hill. Things are still chill, and people can stretch out. People are accommodating.”

Influences and Community in Durham, North Carolina

When asked about influences, musical or otherwise, Jenn and Andy unsurprisingly provide a wide range of sources reflective of their different projects and musical interests, albeit with some caveats.

“I would say that the biggest creative fails of my life are usually when I’m trying to imitate someone else,” Jenn begins in response to my question. “I often do anyway because I am human and have ways that I would like to be perceived that might not necessarily be in line with my authentic expression. But usually, if I’m trying to do what I perceive to be someone else’s thing, it doesn’t ever land in the way that I want it to.” 

However, there were specific musicians she listened to while recording Every Day Like the Last. “It’s hard to say because this music was written and recorded over a pretty long-range span of time,” she continues. “But I do remember in the earlier stages, in the early pandemic days, I was almost exclusively listening to Aldous Harding, who I adore, and I still listen to her music very regularly. I think she’s one of the greatest songwriters working today by far. I was kind of in a hole with that record Party [Rough Trade 2017] specifically, although I love all her records. That was something I can remember very vividly carrying me through that period of time.”

Yet, the subject of influences remains tricky. “I’m trying to make something that sounds like me and is authentic and genuine, and sometimes that’s uncomfortable. Sometimes I don’t necessarily like what comes out,” Jenn explains further. “For me, the best influences are not necessarily the things you want to emulate. They’re the things that make you feel excited to try and make something. And so I always struggle with talking about influences. It’s when I find something that I get excited about, excited about returning to the process of creating, that’s what is important. Not necessarily something super obvious.”

When I ask about other influences, such as literature, given our preceding discussion on form and genres of recordings, another set of answers emerges. “I talked about this when I was promoting my other record with Flock of Dimes,” Jenn starts. “But I had basically reread Bluets, the Maggie Nelson book, during that period. I think that book is easy to return to because it manages to pull off something I’m often trying to pull off with my songwriting. It’s very specific, but it’s also mysterious and vague enough to leave space for the projection of the reader or the listener. I feel whenever someone’s able to do something that is both specific and wide open, that’s something that I’m drawn to.” 

After a moment of reflection, she further says, “I think that’s a method I find myself returning to with songwriting over and over again. Make it specific, make it true, but also leave enough mystery for the listener to find themselves in it. I remember reading that book a couple of times during the pandemic. I was also reading The Overstory, which I don’t know has anything to do with anything. I just think The Overstory is a fantastic book. Right now, I’m reading some essays by Rachel Cusk, who I also really love.”

Andy provides a different set of answers to the question of influence. “I think the last five years for me, of coming to Durham and assimilating myself into this community, has been about receiving the openness of my peers and community here,” he reflects. “It’s really important in my life, and I think it came out of a period when I was living in a very isolated small town in Texas for about five years prior to moving to North Carolina. I think I realized that I was starved in a lot of ways.”

I ask him to elaborate further about the importance of community in making music and the differences between Durham and Marfa, the west Texas town where Andy lived and which remains an unlikely arts hub due to the legacy of Donald Judd

I think being in a community has been huge for me, and that comes in a lot of different ways,” he continues. “Like Jenn was alluding to, for years now, we have been expanding our reach, each of us, away from each other. But in a lot of ways, that allows us to have more to bring back into the collaboration we have. We’ve both been playing and collaborating through the North Carolina scene.”

Significant among these interactions for Andy have been collaborations with Lambchop, the musical project led by Kurt Wagner, which is also on the Merge label, and with the Ecuadorian American musician Roberto Carlos Lange, who records under the name Helado Negro.   

“I met Roberto Lange, who fronts Helado Negro,” Andy remarks. “Jenn and I have both performed on his recordings, and I’ve been touring in his band for the last two years. He’s an incredible influence and inspiration for me. It’s cool that I get to say that’s my job because I’m a fan of his first and foremost. I find his music to be ultra-inspiring, as well as his overall life attitude. He is a mentor in a lot of ways, so that’s been huge. I have also been playing in Lambchop for years, and Kurt is very similar. He just has it, you know? So being around that and in a community with those people is amazing.”

Andy’s remarks reflect the broader sense of community that Merge has cultivated over the past several decades, one grounded in the Durham-Chapel Hill area where the label was founded by Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance, who are also members of the esteemed indie rock band Superchunk.

Matt McCaughan [the brother of Mac McCaughan] is a drummer whom I was playing in Lambchop with, and he’s also in Bon Iver,” Andy explains, fleshing out a broader set of connections. “He lives in Durham, and he’s a super inspiring kind of guy. That’s just one example. There’s just amazing music going on. When I moved here, and I met my now wife, she was also into music, but we had totally different scenes, and she was like, ‘Oh, I’m really into old-time music.’ And I was like, ‘Is that like bluegrass?’ I didn’t really know what ‘old-time’ music was, so she had to school me a little bit, and through her and being in that community, I’ve been exposed to this whole other incredible lineage, this tradition and culture. There’s an anthropological tilt to it. A lot of friends that I’ve met in that community have changed my approach regarding what music is for, and that’s been beautiful, especially at a time when people really need community. Music is community, and the whole point of making music is the chance to be together. Being in that space has been incredibly enriching and expanding for me.”

The Future

Before our conversation ends, I ask about the future of Wye Oak, given the multiple projects, interests, and commitments Jenn and Andy have. Did they have a sense of where they were going next? 

We’re trying to figure out if we’re going to get the band back together as a performing entity rather than a recording project,” Jenn responds, leaving things open-ended. “I think one thing I’ve taken away from the past few years is the idea of moving towards joy rather than a sense of obligation or people pleasing. Nobody knows what the fuck is happening in the music industry right now. It’s hard to be at a moment where the thing that I’ve done my whole life and devoted my entire life to feels as if it’s in peril. I know what’s happening in our world is not restricted to music. But I’m not taking anything for granted. Getting to play music for people in a room is a precious experience. For a long time, I thought if I wanted to do it, I could do it. But now it’s harder than it has ever been to make something like that happen.”

Touring as Wye Oak as a specific project, among several in their respective careers, also raises questions of intention and significance beyond the usual protocol of going out and supporting a new album.

“In some ways, touring with this project has always been fraught for us, or for me,” Jenn comments. “There is always this difficulty for me, asking people to come to a show and pay a certain amount of money to see Wye Oak when they have certain expectations, and you have a certain obligation to fulfill those expectations. That wasn’t something that I was always able to get comfortable with or excited about from a personal creative standpoint. These songs are personal, and I sing them with my voice, and that doesn’t always feel good when you’re not in that headspace. There’s always been a push-pull thing of wanting people to be happy but also needing for me to not be unhappy.” 

She pauses. “I don’t want it to feel like a slog. I want it to feel real. I want it to be something aligned with what I want to be expressing in that moment and not just going through the motions of what I think people want to hear. In that way, I’m not really built to be an entertainer like some people are.”

Still, if going further as a band requires consideration of larger factors of meaning and personal satisfaction under business conditions that are increasingly unfavorable to the individual artist, there is also some reprieve, as she equally notes. There may be opportunities in existing limitations.

“I feel like all bets are off as far as following the rules. No one really knows; everything’s changing,” she continues. “In a way, that’s a comfort for me because it allows me to go with what feels good, to go with my instincts and go with my gut. So, Andy and I are basically going to get together, play some music, and try and see what feels exciting and joyful. If it makes sense under the auspices of Wye Oak, great. If it’s a new band that doesn’t have anything to do with anything, cool. I think it’s important to let creation dictate the form rather than vice versa. You have to go heart first, ideas first, and passion first, rather than try and reverse engineer what you think you’re supposed to be doing.”

Jenn stops for a moment. “I do feel we’re in this cool zone creatively where anything can happen. We can play these songs; we can also not play these songs. We can write new songs that sound nothing like anything we’ve ever done. It feels like everything’s on the table, which I’m excited about. I can’t say with any amount of certainty if you’ll see us play anytime soon or what that will look like. I just want to find myself in a position where playing music feels vital again. That, to me, is what makes all the rest worth it. I’m just trying to lead with intention and let things unfold as they may.”

It is important to emphasize that both Andy and Jenn have, in fact, been touring, Andy with Helado Negro and Jenn with Bon Iver, as noted earlier. Given her status in Paris with Bon Iver, I ask what that has been like.

“It’s awesome,” Jenn quickly replies. “I love it. It’s a total blast. It’s amazing just to play music without any baggage, right? It’s somebody else’s baggage. It’s not my baggage. I don’t have a problem at all when I’m in support because I don’t have the same emotional attachment to it.”

I ask if there are lessons to be learned when playing in another band, either through mentorship, collaboration, or simple observation. “I feel unbelievably blessed to be out here with this band, and it has been an incredible learning experience,” she answers. “It was not a job that I ever searched for or even necessarily thought that I was qualified to have. Being in this group of musicians and having these folks really believe in me and what I can bring to the group in my own specific, hyper-personal kind of way has been an incredible confidence booster.” 

She refrains momentarily. “I will say that the more I play music in other groups and with other people, the more it makes me value the musical connection I have with Andy. Our shared history is the kind of history that isn’t built overnight. I think the fact that we’ve allowed ourselves to expand in all these different directions is what makes Wye Oak a 20-year-old band and why this project still feels like something we’re excited to return to.”

“I think the times when I’ve personally felt the darkest about the future of this band was when I was not allowing for a more expansive way of relating to music and art in general,” Jenn concludes. “Not everyone fits into a one size fits all mold. If there’s one thing that I’m proudest of, it’s the fact that we have taken risks and haven’t always taken the most commercially sensible path. Instead, we’re just trying to do something that feels authentic to who we are and how we want to share our music with the world. That’s why we’re still here and why I’m hoping that there’s still a lot more music to come. I don’t think that would have been possible if we hadn’t given ourselves permission to break the rules.”

“The bad boys of indie rock,” Andy quips with Jenn laughing, offering a perfect note to end our conversation. 

In this regard, Every Day Like the Last may be their most emblematic album – at least for now. Indeed, after speaking with Wasner and Stack and listening to it several more times, the title seems ironic, even resembling an inside joke. There is no repetition or filler on this LP. Each track possesses its own self-contained intention, to use a word favored by Wasner. This is an album of revision and invention on a human scale. If there is a recurrence of themes – the antinomies of memory, that specific moment just after loss, the possibility of recovery, and the amplitude of time – such reiteration does not necessarily speak to the album alone but to the nature of this band.

“What’s the use of these things I have made?” Wasner asks at one point in “It’s Way with Me”. She replies by acknowledging there may be no clear answer, that the only option is to pull “Through the dark / To the warmth / Of a future I can’t see.” 

As noted, this song regards a moment of release when giving up control may be the best path forward, perhaps the only path forward. In this, it is ultimately about preparation, trusting oneself, and readiness once more.

Individually or together, Wye Oak remains a band that is ready for the future.