Jenn Wasner, 25, the honey-voiced singer and guitarist for Baltimore’s celebrated alt-folk duo Wye Oak, has for the past year been quietly building a repertoire of songs for Flock of Dimes, her dreamier, spacier, less folky — at times even baroque — solo project. A real feat when you consider that her main project played more than 200 shows last year!
So far, outside of the occasional live show, you could only hear Flock of Dimes through her SoundCloud page and the Friends Records’ 2011 compilation, to which she contributed one track. But yesterday, Friends Records announced the April 19 release of Flock of Dimes’ debut seven-inch, featuring the haunting, tense “Prison Bride” on side A, and a cover of the Eagles’ “I Can’t Tell You Why” on side B. One more tease, really. What we need is a full-length. But no pressure.
Wasner recently took the time to answer some questions about her new project, self-expression, and making music in Baltimore.
The Flock of Dimes Facebook page calls it a “vanity project of questionable skill and intent.” What is particularly “vain” or indulgent about it, as opposed to Wye Oak? Is there something inherently embarrassing about a solo project versus a two-piece band?
I’m an inherently self-deprecating person, and I get a kick out of poking fun at myself in referencing the old “singer of a band goes solo” cliche. I’m actually very proud of the Flock of Dimes project and I’m really excited to have another creative outlet, but — you know how people are. I’ll say it first so they can’t beat me to it.
I read somewhere that FoD gives you freedom to try songs that might not fit in the Wye Oak catalog. It’s interesting how no matter how earnest and unglammy a performance project is, we can’t help but develop a persona — some kind of glorified, but incomplete version of ourselves. Is there something frustrating about the inevitability of that progression? Or is it what one ought to be aiming at — in order to create a compelling, cohesive body of work?
I’ve been thinking about this sort of thing a lot recently, for several reasons.
When Wye Oak started, I dedicated myself to it fully because of the time and energy required to capitalize on the momentum we had — and so it kind of had to be everything, had to scratch every creative itch for us both. But no one project can satisfy a million creative whims and directions, and I honestly think some of our earlier work suffered from a lack of cohesion due to us having that one outlet and being pulled in many different directions.
Fortunately now I think I’ve figured out now how to focus — how to be at peace with what that project has become and be excited about the possibilities within those limitations.
However, I still feel compelled to f*** around, try new things, and maybe fall flat every once and a while. And — most importantly — see what I’m capable of on my own.
Like it or not, I realize that people who don’t know me personally are going to form opinions about my personality and likeness based on the music that I make, especially because it is fairly personal, confessional-style songwriting. (An example of this: people who haven’t met me but who are only familiar with the Wye Oak catalog wouldn’t necessarily imagine me as an irreverent, sardonic goofball — it doesn’t exactly manifest itself within those kinds of songs. )
And the deeper you get into this process — the more of your personal self you allow into your work — the more you start to become desperate to craft a fuller, more complete picture of who you actually are. And this is where Flock of Dimes comes in. Of course no one band or project or creative outlet can wholly encompass everything a person is and does. But I have to hope that the closer my “persona” — both onstage and on record — comes to actually representing who I believe myself to be…the happier I’ll be.
What do you think are the key element(s) to Baltimore’s music scene, without which it wouldn’t be the same?
Baltimore is amazing, and is like nowhere else. Everyone knows that life here isn’t perfect, but there’s no reason to dwell on that. Obviously it’s the people that make the scene, and this city is crammed full of some straight-up, deep-down, f***ing brilliant and beautiful people. That’s really it. Honestly, I think it exists almost in spite of itself sometimes — legitimate venue spaces are few, and most touring bands tend to avoid it for that reason, so it becomes pretty much entirely self-sufficient. And somehow, instead of caving in on itself, it has managed to be one of the most exciting and forward thinking creative communities in the world. If anything, there’s too much to do here, and it drives me crazy and makes me want to split myself in two.
What’s on the horizon for Flock of Dimes and Wye Oak?
OK, so! By the time you read this interview, Flock of Dimes will have announced a 7-inch for “Prison Bride” coming soon courtesy of Friends Records. I’ll also be touring briefly in April with my good friend Sharon Van Etten, and, of course, tirelessly working to finish a full-length release. (Everything always takes so much longer than I expect it will…)
Wye Oak has some big announcements forthcoming as well, but right now I’m furiously attempting to write as many new songs as possible, a process which involves, for the first time in years, “practicing” the guitar.
And one final mysterious tidbit…soon I’ll be introducing yet another collaborative project that I’m incredibly excited about and which sounds absolutely nothing like anything I’ve done before. (I know people always say that, but…for real this time). And that’s all I can say about that for now…