Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Not a stuffy museum

Relics influence the sound of Mexo-American band

Express Staff Writer

David Wax Museum brings their unique blend of Mexo-American folk music to town, and to school children, this week. Courtesy photo

    You’d have to find an old timer to be sure, but when David Wax Museum comes to the Sun Valley Opera House at 6:30 p.m., Friday, Feb. 8, it will probably be the first time that anyone has rattled a donkey jawbone there, at least musically.
    The innovative stylings of Boston’s Americana Artist of the Year, anchored by David Wax and Suz Slezak, have gained a loyal following with the New Yorker magazine claiming that a set “kicks up a cloud of excitement with its high-energy border-crossing sensibility,” and NPR calling the band’s music, “pure, irresistible joy.”
    The indie sensation that gets its name from a friend who named the Lemonheads and the love of old sounds and instruments, features Wax on vocals and various and sundry instruments, Slezak on fiddle, accordion, jawbone and keyboard, Greg Glassman on electric bass, leona, cajon and electric guitar and Philip Mayer on drum kit, synthesizer, autoharp and cajon.
    Wax fielded some questions about the band preceding its arrival in the valley. The visit will include a tour of some local schools in addition to the concert.

IME: Explain how David Wax Museum has evolved.
    We started out playing Mexican folk songs with English lyrics that I had written and Americana folk songs. But, we’ve found much more fertile ground in blurring the line between the Mexican and American songs. We continue to explore ways we can meld the two styles while also incorporating more inspiration from the contemporary indie rock music that we also love.

You come from a college town, Columbia, Mo., home of the University of Missouri. When I was in journalism school there, a little known Georgia band called REM played The Blue Note. Did the college town play a role in your development?
    Growing up in a college town allowed me to have a rich musical education in jazz, bluegrass and alt-country. Columbia is right on I-70 between Kansas City and St. Louis and has a great music venue in The Blue Note, so there was always an abundance of great live bands passing through—Wilco, Son Volt, The Jayhawks, the Old 97’s.

What are your primary influences?
    As a songwriter, my influences include the big ones—Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Tom Waits. But these days, I listen to a lot of contemporary American and Canadian songwriters and bands—Yellowbirds, Iron & Wine, Josh Ritter, Gillian Welch. My favorite live acts these days are The Avett Brothers and The Low Anthem, two opposite ends of the spectrum but both equally mesmerizing.  At the same time, I also spend a lot of time listening to Mexican field recordings.  

Were new kinds of instruments necessary to produce the sound you wanted?
    For sure. The Mexican guitar that I play—a jarana jarocha—is a rhythmic chugger of an instrument and propels the momentum of the songs.  The style is a rustic, countrified flamenco style, and so that approach has colored a lot of my songwriting and the ragged heartbeat of the band.

Who will like your music?
    For the most part, our music is joyful and colorful.  We find that it connects with all ages of people, whether you want to sit and listen or dance yourself silly.

Does it take a crowd time to warm up or is this a grab-you-and-make-you-move kind of sound?
    Well, we often decide how to approach the beginning of the set based on how the crowd feels. Sometimes you need to give the audience time to warm up before you hit them with the more rollicking and rowdy songs. We love singing ballads, but the majority of our songs are upbeat and uptempo.

Where do you see DWM in music history?
    There’s clearly an increasing exchange of musical influences flowing back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico.  Particularly, one of the styles I love—son jarocho—has gained a lot more traction in the states. It seems inevitable that more and more people in the states are going to hear this incredible music and won’t help but be inspired by it to create something new.  That’s our story.  It’s not entirely unique, and I think it will become more common as the culture border becomes more porous.

The ‘Museum’ tour
What? David Wax Museum’s performance is part of the Sun Valley Center for the Arts’ multidisciplinary project “Crossing Cultures: Ethnicity in Contemporary America,” which explores our increasingly multiracial and multi-ethnic society through visual arts exhibitions, classes, lectures and performances. While here, the band will do a school residency along with the concert.
Concert: Friday, Feb. 8, at 6:30 p.m. at the Sun Valley Opera House.
Tickets: Available online at $20 for Center members, $30 nonmembers, $10 students 18 and under. Also by phone at 726-9491, ext. 10 or at The Center in Ketchum.


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