As the promotion cycle for Jenn Wasner’s second album as Flock of Dimes began recently, she was eager to get back to work. Then a new feeling struck him. “Oh, but I don’t want to do anything?” she remembers from her green couch on a sunny day in Carrboro, North Carolina, sounding puzzled. “I would like to read my book and lie in the sun. A thought like that was so novel to me. “
For the past decade, Wasner seemed to have an unusually healthy relationship with her work. In 2011, she and fellow Baltimorean Andy Stack made a breakthrough with their third album as indie-rock duo Wye Oak, the ruminant and stormy Civilian: rave reviews, syncs on The Walking Dead and One Tree Hill, 200 gigs at one year. Exhausted by her moment in the sun, Wasner decided to abandon her pursuit of professional growth to stay connected to her music and free from outside expectations, following in the footsteps of her irreducible hero, Arthur Russell.
He formed a duo, Dungeonesse, with musician Jon Ehrens, and made a fantastic dance-pop album strangely reminds The UK’s 40 Best Garage Spots. Wye Oak released synth guitars (a slight and poignant change on indie from the early 2010s). Wasner released her solo debut as Flock of Dimes, and has performed with artists not limited to Sharon Van Etten (whom Wasner met while working as a waitress during Van Etten’s set in a Baltimore cafe), Future Islands, Ice Cream. Negro, composer William Britelle, experimental producer Drew Daniel, and math rockers Horse Lords. When his name comes up in conversation, other musicians inevitably latch onto their chests and rave about “Waz.”
Most recently, Waz joined Bon Iver and was supposed to spend 2020 playing in arenas with them. Then the start of the pandemic collided with the painful end of a relationship, becoming “the spark that ignited the tinder that blew up my entire life.” Stasis and a blank schedule compounded his devastation. “I had become incredibly adept at outdoing myself, and had a lot of very high-functioning coping mechanisms. I had spent the better half of a decade always on the go, always on tour, always working on something, distracted from being with myself. “She was terribly good at it, she says, covering up childhood trauma and” deep, deep pain. ” by creating “a life and a body of work.” [whereby] I could reverse engineer love and acceptance of myself without building it from scratch. “
Now she was trapped at home, struck from the side. “I really thought he knew me very well and was a happy person,” he says. “It’s quite surprising to me that we can have such huge blind spots on ourselves and sometimes it takes a certain collision with another person or experience.”
His poignant second album as Flock of Dimes, Head of Roses, stems from this tension. Wasner, a subtly deep lyricist, tries to understand the anguish on both sides and her own habit of loving from what Joni Mitchell called “Icy altitudes”. Amid a muscular guitar, pulsing synths and his elegantly conversational voice, moving from desolate anguish to heaven-seeking wail, he hides razor blades of self-admonition and failure. “Making a pitiful attempt at competition,” he sings in the charming Awake for the Sunrise, with a country flair, referencing the polyamorous concept of celebrating a couple’s other relationships, “with one hand halfway down the throat.”
It’s easy to see why all those musicians want Wasner around. A bright-eyed 34-year-old woman who bears a striking resemblance to actress Zoe Kazan, she is filled with careful observations on the things that divide us between ourselves, and the heart of the mind. She is surprisingly open and tolerant, although she admits that she does not love the dynamics of the interview, uncomfortable with “receiving what I would consider a disproportionate amount of attention” and with trying to articulate the message of the album. “It’s not just how I talk about it, it’s how it feels, how it’s received.”
Last spring’s catastrophe meant Wasner couldn’t deal with her emotions in her usual “cerebral, intellectualized way.” He had to address how that gap had been opened. “I have been at war with my body in many ways,” he says. “It is something that I have tried to master and control, and that in many ways I disconnect, and I think it is a natural reaction that we have to any painful experience that we are trying to avoid. In many cases, avoiding that difficult emotion is the cause of far worse consequences than learning to be present and feel it. “
One potential source he considered was touring as a teenager (an earlier version of Wye Oak was called Monarch) “spending most of my life in these predominantly male spaces when my sense of identity was still developing,” he says. “My desire to please whoever I am near at any given time has at times left me with the feeling that I have one foot in a multitude of worlds and I don’t really have a strong sense of who I am.”
Another stepped back further. Wasner sensitively approaches growing up watching his parents fight addiction and mental illness, “and doing it with very little money, very few resources and being at a point in the class system where you have to constantly work to keep your head out of the water” .
She had always told herself that it hadn’t affected her: she got a scholarship at a local boarding school to get away a bit, and she was grateful that she had built a “good and easy” life. However, she says, “having to sit with the reality of their suffering, which breaks my heart every day, made me feel like I had no right to have fun, that if they couldn’t stop, I should never stop either. And that I had to earn a good living by constantly working. Turns out that doesn’t really do anything for them or anyone else, it just drains me and turns me into a shitty version of myself. “
Wasner didn’t realize how hard she was on herself until other people pointed it out. “For most of my life, I have confused self-compassion with self-optimization.” Though Head of Roses is peppered with bitter lyrics about deserving his fate, he says he has made some progress since then. “I’ve been learning how shame and self-loathing are the very things that keep us returning to those same self-reinforcing patterns and spirals of negative behavior. It really is forgiveness, the way out, the way forward, and compassion for oneself. “
Among those self-lacerating lyrics, Wasner often sings about walking away from love: “I want lightning,” she sings about Lightning’s beautiful electric guitar, “but I can’t live like this.” Distance has been another survival mechanism. Six years ago, she moved to North Carolina alone as a way to fully appreciate her community in Baltimore, a strange move by anyone’s logic.
“I used to think I was just attracted to change,” he says. “And I think the influx of new experiences, places and people is definitely part of feeling alive, vital and connected. But there is also fear. “Growing up” feeling very dependent on it “prompted her to fiercely cultivate and protect her own stability.” I think I’ve made it a priority somehow, “she says. letting other people into that world, but I haven’t figured out how. “
Wasner was concerned that Head of Roses might feel staring at the navel “at a time when there is so much thought and energy directed toward the collective sphere.” Then he saw the link between emotional denial and the state of the world. “That natural defensive attitude, the hoop our brain jumps through to help us avoid pain and suffering, I think is part of what got us into this situation in the first place.”
Music, he says, has a way of softening those defenses. While Wasner has a knack with lyrics about shame and searching that stop you in your tracks, his trademark could be some impressive melodic catharsis – the chorus of his new song One More Hour opens up in a way that feels like watching. how your ribs break and the night. the sky overflows. Making this album, he says, was “about feeling, for me to be able to override that disconnect between my brain, my heart and my body. I think music is one of the art forms most adept at transitioning for others as well. “For Wasner, the challenge is retaining her spiritual connection to her work (” It seems silly to say, but it’s real, it gives my life a sense of purpose and meaning “) while I have to commodify it.” But appearing as your flawed human self, that’s what I want to do with my art. “
A year ago his life exploded. She is rehearsing for shows broadcast live, but struggling to return to the broken head of Head of Roses space. “When you write a song, you draw your own outline in the air and then you keep walking,” he says. “I’ve always had a bit of friction in the experience of trying to go back to that old version of myself.”
She says she feels “tremendously different” to that person: calmer, slower, “at ease in a way that I really don’t remember ever feeling before: I don’t feel like I’m trying to achieve something ahead of me, or living in. something that is behind me, but that I am completely fixed and satisfied where I am “. The trick now is to cultivate that feeling about the old instinct for control. “I’m hopeful that maybe my life can unfold in some directions that might surprise me.”
• Head of Roses is now available in Sub Pop
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism