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David Wax Museum
August 4 at 8:00 pm – 10:00 pm
“Human Nature is a Stranger to the Notion of a Pause”
Pioneering folk musicians David Wax and Suz Slezak are the plucky husband-wife duo
behind the eclectic, exuberant “Mexo-Americana” band David Wax Museum. After 14 relentless
years touring the country and world, half of them with their two young children in tow, COVID’s
abrupt disruption in March 2020 created a first jarring, then welcome creative pause for the
Charlottesville, VA-based band. Not wasting a moment, Suz–who grew up homeschooled,
playing the fiddle, singing rounds, and drinking raw milk fresh from her family’s homestead
farm–immediately dug up their small downtown front yard to plant the first real garden of the
indie rocker couple’s nomadic adult lives.
Before the pandemic, the ascendant band was enjoying newfound success with their
2019 first label release Line of Light (on Austin’s award-winning Nine Mile Records), subsequent
national TV debut on CBS This Morning: Saturday, and three distinct features on NPR’s World
Cafe. They built bridges performing at the wedding of Democratic presidential hopeful (now
Transportation Secretary) Pete Buttigieg and his husband Chasten–and then in 2021 their
plaintive ballad “Big Sur” debuted during the marriage scene on Netflix #1 show, Firefly Lane.
David Wax Museum even had a big new bombastic studio album with their boisterous six-piece
band in the can, but then the sudden shutdown temporarily shelved it, forcing David and Suz to
unpack their toiletries bag, park their tired tour van in the driveway, and finally tuck their children
into their own beds, for months on end, for the young family’s first time.
“Our children (ages 4 and 7) have toured in 43 states, seven countries and fallen asleep
on countless disgusting green room floors,” says Suz, who was pregnant with or nursing one of
them all those years on the road. “Now that we’ve been home a year, I’m not sure they even
remember what tour is!”
As Suz trellised cucumbers and butternut squash, and quilted with their kids, David
quickly converted their cramped, dormered attic room into an intimate performance space. The
hard-working pair immediately took to touring the live-stream stages of
Facebook/Instagram/YouTube Live and Zoom when all their beloved, well-trod venues, from
D.C.’s esteemed 9:30 Club to Philadelphia’s Johnny Brenda’s, shuttered overnight. Such
creative constraints laid the groundwork for the band’s most fruitful period ever.
On April 16, David Wax Museum self-released Euphoric Ouroboric, one of four records
the band made during quarantine and the band’s first foray into the experimental world of D.I.Y.
home recording. Producer and longtime collaborator Alec Spiegelman (Okkervil River, Kevin
Morby, Pokey LaFarge) blended drum machine loops with human performances, blurring the
lines to chart new sonic territory for the band.
The album’s title, Euphoric Ouroboric, captures the emotion and experience of diving
headfirst into the digital tools of remote recording, spending hour upon hour “in a jubilant
dialogue with the self,” as David puts it. He elaborates, “‘Ouroboric’ comes from the mythological
ouroboros snake that eats its own tail. I often felt like there was something self-referential and
all-consuming about learning to record and edit myself. But, at the same time, I was having such
a blast rediscovering my love for being ‘in the studio.’”
The album’s joyful lead single “Juniper Jones,” is an upbeat, whimsical song shimmering
with the band’s signature handmade Mexican instruments–though this time around–
dramatically altered, distorted and processed. They sit nestled alongside the pleasantly warped
sounds of flute and accordion, a surprising farfisa, David’s voice burbling through pedals, tasty
electric guitar hooks, and a triumphant bridge for trumpet and saxophone. It’s the band at its
light-hearted best, singing to Juniper, the seeker, who’s not satisfied with the world as it is and
dreams of greatness.
But what does it mean to make folk music in the midst of a pandemic when no one can
be in the same place, let alone the same room? This question animates Euphoric Ouroboric. If
technology was going to be so deeply enmeshed in the making of the music, why not embrace
the sonic interplay between human and machine, and leave behind traces of this process? Why
not create a world where the drum machine sounds coexist with human performances, with a
purposeful blurring of the lines? And so performed drums are made to sometimes sound and
feel digital, and the digital drums flex here and there, as if alive, away from any grid. The
resulting collection of ten homespun postmodern songs includes gems such as “Every Bit of
Love,” with its programmed hi-hats softened by pitch-shifted harp and the low hum of a pump
“Pattern of Mind,” a tropicália channeling of the Talking Heads, is a meditation on the
nature of thought during quarantine, as the band grappled with the loss of the usual crutch of a
busy tour schedule. The vocoder delay on the vocals mirrors the grooves of the mind, while the
splash of merengue horns gives the song a quintessential David Wax Museum feel. “Keep Your
Light Steady,” was a lyric that had been kicking around for a while but poignantly took on new
resonance amidst a life led in isolation, with fans reaching out, describing the band’s
thrice-weekly live streams as a lifeline during such difficult times. “Ghost of Summer” is a
reimagining of the traditional Mexican folk song “El Coconito.” In Wax’s retelling, it becomes a
cautionary tale about navigating a summer in quarantine with small children.
“We did our best to impart the joys of the season despite the circumstances, but
I sometimes felt like we were living in a poor carbon copy version of summer,” explains Wax.
Just like that
The year went flat
Now can’t tell any day apart
We go to places
See no faces
Someone’s dream got left ajar
The Linda WAMC’s Performing Arts Studio