This week I had the privilege of interviewing Dan Layus, lead singer of the band Augustana. With a new self-titled album coming out this month, Dan took the time to talk to me about his creative flow, the band’s transformation, and the perils of being on the road.
Hollywood Jesus: You seem to have matured a lot since your debut album. What do you think sets this record apart creatively from the first two?
Dan Layus: There’s a lot that went into this record that maybe didn’t go into the previous records. First of all, just time. We put a lot more time and energy into the whole process from the ground up, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.
HJ: What were some new things you wanted to try on this disc to expand your musical scope?
DL: We wanted to bridge the gap that I felt existed between what we do live as a band, which is more raw, emotional, spontaneous, and off the cuff. There are a lot of good mistakes when we play live. A lot of things that you kind of go, “Oh that was really great, don’t know if I’ll be able to re-produce that again, but that was sort of a cool mistake.” And I think that was something that we wanted to capture on the record to have the freedom and the focus to notice when it was a special performance of a take.
HJ: How much do you write songs about personal experience vs. stories of other people or fictional accounts?
DL: In the past it was a little bit more semi-fictional. A little bit more story-oriented but not necessarily about my life. This record certainly takes a lot of pieces of the things that were going on in my life during the record, and also observations of friends and people in the band. It was a bit of a living journal.
HJ: You’re getting ready to go on tour again, what are some of your favorite parts about being on the road?
DL: You know, it changes. I think as your life changes, and as your priorities shift, you tend to evolve. It is an evolving process. Six years ago it was nothing but a blast. You’re young and you’ve got nothing to do. Now I have kids and a wife and it’s tough to be away from them. Most people do their thing nine to five, and come back home, have dinner with their kids, wake up and take them to school, and that’s really not the case a lot of the times for me and for the band. It’s also an incredible opportunity though, and it’s one of the things you get into this whole business for. At least for me, I wanted to see the world. I wanted to see what was out there. Meet all different kinds of people and play music and do something that a lot of people aren’t fortunate enough to do. It’s a really cool thing and it gives you a lot of perspective. It can be exciting, and tiring, and fun, and scary all at the same time. It’s an odd job.
HJ: Does it bother you that people always want you to play “Boston”?
DL: No it doesn’t. For a little while it did. When we were younger we just wanted to play new stuff. But I think with some perspective over the years, we’ve said that we’re very lucky that there’s even a song that people want to hear. It’s easy to take something like that for granted. You kind of have to realize that you’re very fortunate to have people requesting a song that you wrote. We wouldn’t have this kind of thing without that song.
HJ: You recently collaborated with The Court Yard Hounds. How is this one different from past collaborations?
HJ: Well it was really cool. I’ve also really respected the Dixie Chicks and their musicianship and the way that they’ve run their whole career over the years. It was really flattering to be invited to their place out in Austin and collaborate on some songs and film it. It was one of those bucket list moments where you say, “Wow how did we get here?” It was really special. They’d be a great band to tour with, those girls really know how to play and sing. They actually added a lot to our songs. I think our music made a lot of sense together.
HJ: You guys met at Greenville College along with other bands like Jars of Clay and Paper Route. What is it about that college that generated such successful bands?
DL: I was raised in a conservative Christian suburban kind of home. I liked bands like Jars of Clay, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But I went off to college to try to essentially learn theory and piano and all those things and I failed miserably in all of those courses. I failed every single class. I think there’s something that happens when you’re in a very small private religious based establishment, where you kind of want to naturally break out of it. You feel confined and I think it sort of pushed me out of that, and certainly pushed me out of Christianity, or pursuing that kind of thing. I can’t really speak on behalf of other bands, but I have to say that that school and the people there were certainly influential in where I wanted to take my life and potentially start a career in music very far away from that kind of establishment.
HJ: You’ve come from a background of faith and spirituality. Since then, your outlook on religion seems to have changed. How has that affected your music and your outlook on life in general?
DL: I don’t really know yet. I’m still only twenty-six. I’ve certainly been there; I think I was very close-minded and young. And I’ve certainly changed a lot and a lot of who I am, I don’t think resembles anything whatsoever of the kid that I was before. But that’s life. That’s kind of the journey that you’re on. You kind of have to feel it out, and see what’s right for you.
HJ: What songs are on repeat on your iPod lately?
DL: To be honest, really any music that we’re listening to is because my daughter is requesting it in the car. It’s usually Miranda Cosgrove or Taylor Swift. I know that Taylor Swift album like the back of my hand. I probably know it better than my own album to be honest.
HJ: What is one of your strangest musical influences?
DL: I don’t know about strange, but I would say one of the artists that I listen to the most who most people wouldn’t guess, would be Bowie. Maybe he doesn’t come in musically as influential as Tom Petty or Bruce Springsteen or Jackson Brown. I love David Bowie. Maybe because it’s so far removed from how I write and play music. I don’t listen to him and get intimidated. I just kind of listen to it and enjoy it like a real music fan. And that’s kind of a rare thing, because I tend to try to reach the bar that these guys set and he’s just so set apart, that I just really enjoy his music.