David Wax Museum
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David Wax Museum
Is every record you make a reaction to the one before it? A response to how the previous album was received by critics and fans? Does it fill a hole in the band’s sense of their catalogue, something that you know you can do musically but haven’t captured yet in the studio? I could lay out a coherent explanation about this record on those terms, and it would be valid. We certainly wanted to make a record that leaned more heavily on us as a duo. We loved being in the studio with Carl Broemel that first time to record “Big Sur”, feeling like the process was so collaborative and the atmosphere so warm. We felt the resulting song was authentic in a new way, less dressed up with studio tricks and more about how our voices and instruments blend and live together.
Ultimately, this record feels more like an expression of the mysterious alchemy of the songs, the studio, the producer, the musicians, and the time in our life. There was a lot swirling around behind us in the studio while we recorded Line of Light. Some of it was personal, like Suz coming to terms again with her bipolar diagnosis as it reared its head right before we went back to Nashville for the final 10-day session. She had to wean our 1-year-old son during the recording session because her medication will harm a nursing child. That was looming over us as we finished up the record.
What else was lurking? Well, as we sing in “Uncover the Gold,“ there are names that we won’t speak. Suz tries to keep politics out of our home space as much as possible. Honestly, even after 12 years as a band, we’re still figuring out how explicitly political to be. Perhaps we are being too careful about keeping our politics out of the music and messaging around the band. But we’re also artists responding to the political milieu that we’re all in at this moment, and it is what we’re singing about in “Human Chain”:
“We close ourselves off
From one another
We darken our hearts
Call them the others”
We’re also deeply enmeshed in the local, and that song is also me writing about our town. We live in Suz’s hometown. Charlottesville, Virginia. If anyone knew of Charlottesville before (and they usually didn’t or confused it with Charlotte or one of the Charlestons), they might have known UVA, maybe Thomas Jefferson, and probably the Dave Matthews Band. But, certainly now it unavoidably conjures something else dark and sinister about the American heart.
I’m still trying to figure out how we ended up recording these particular 10 songs against that fraught backdrop. And I don’t want to sound melodramatic by using the word “fraught,” but it does often feel that way. These songs seem to me to come from a more mythological or archetypal place. I hope they are still grounded in physical details and descriptions – that’s what I’m always trying to do as a writer – but the songs that Suz and Carl gravitated towards where these 10. Maybe in the face of current events and navigating our own personal dramas, there is something powerful about the grand, sweeping themes and the songs that are trying to get at something deeper. And so we get a song like “How Do You Know If You’re Dreaming?” a meditation on our perception of reality. Sometimes in the face of that question, all you can do is try to be present. “Cool air in / warm breath out / Blood in the hands / Soft tongue in the mouth.” At the same time, Suz had me rewrite “Wake Up and Dream,” so it could co-exist with that song on this record. We have to embrace dreaming and being able to envision another, better way of being in the world.
The other songs feel big, too. “Uncover the Gold” is a political anthem of hope, a message from a father to his children. “Human Chain” is about solidarity, how we’re all connected, our fates more entwined than ever in the face of environmental change. “Big Sur” is a love song, but it’s also trying to square putting love up on a pedestal while also recognizing human doubt and fragility. “Is my love strong enough to get you through?” In that question, there is the acknowledgement that it might not be. “Janaree” and “Little Heart” are two sides of the same coin. Death and birth. “Touch of Gold” is my wedding song. Will anyone actually ever play this at their wedding? I don’t know, but that was my intention. No doubts. No darkness. “Thank you for one of the great moments of my life.”
If we’re going to put the kids back in the van for a couple of months of touring and put the stress on our bodies from the travel and grind of tour, and we’re going to do all this in the America of 2019, as artists from Charlottesville, then it feels like yes, we want to be singing about the biggest ideas possible. And we want to do it a way that feels authentic and emotionally honest and open. My hope is that we’ve come close with Line of Light.
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