INTERVIEW: I Shared Happy Tears With Jenn Wasner of Flock Of Dimes
    • FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 09, 2016

    • Posted by: Mandi Dudek

    I was first introduced to Jenn Wasner's voice when I heard "Family Glue" off Wye Oak's debut-album, If Children in 2008. There was something so calming about Jenn Wasner's voice and I remember thinking, "I wish I could have a whole album where her voice was all I heard." Well, my 18-year-old wishes came true when Jenn Wasner decided to start a solo project under the moniker, Flock Of Dimes. After releasing four singles in 2012, including "15" and "Apparition," Jenn started working on her debut-album and on September 23rd, If You See Me, Say Yes will be available for you to swoon over forever.

    I went to Partisan Records to chat with Jenn Wasner about pretty much everything in her life: her debut record, moving away from friends and family, Wye Oak, and going to Berlin with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. We laughed. We cried. Yup, (happy) tears were shed. And after it was all said and done, Jenn Wasner signed her debut-record to me, "Mandi, thanks for watching me cry!"

    Mandi: So what's up in the life of Jenn Wasner?

    Jenn: So I just finished doing a little live session. Well, let me take it back. I drove up from North Carolina yesterday (9.5 hours) I went straight to a rehearsal for a Brooklyn Symphony show Im doing tonight. Which is going to be really crazy. Full string orchestra, other players and me. Ive done some of these before and its wonderful but its terrifying.

    M: That sounds fun! Where is it?

    J: Its at LPR tonight. The thing about it is... You don't get to prepare as much during rehearsal so you cant prepare for being up there with them. You're rehearsing to these scores and little dinky MP3s and you get there and its totally different and you have to learn how to just go with it. Its the most musically challenging things Ive done. I did a session this morning and Im just cruisin' through the day.

    M: Have you done any shows as Flock of Dimes this summer?

    J: I just did one at a festival in Baltimore that my friends organized called Fields Festival.

    M: Thats where you're from right?

    J: I am from Baltimore and this festival is so uniquely Baltimore and its pretty much largely local Baltimore bands so we had Dan Deacon and Future Islands plus many people outside of the city that a lot of people have never heard of. So I moved away from Baltimore about a year ago. In part, it was to work on more music and be more productive and have more focus and peace and quiet. And right before I left last year, I actually played the first Fields Festival. And to be back there and to be surrounded by all my friends again.. I just had flashbacks to being in the process of making this record.

    (At this time during the interview, Jenn's manager comes to present her with the final wrapped vinyl of If You See Me, Say Yes which brings Jenn to tears and since I'm weird, I teared up, too.)

    J: What's funny is that I was literally just going to tell you a story about how I've been crying a lot.

    M: I always tear up when I see someone get happy tears. It happened when I watched a YouTube video this morning and I stopped like, "Why am I crying over a stranger?"

    [laughs]

    J: I mean, I cried when I was watching Beyonce's VMA performance. But oh man, this is so cool.

    M: It's so cool for me to witness this!

    J: Anyway, I was playing this show and I was thinking about the process to make this record and I saw all my friends around so while I was making this speech - and Ive never cried on stage before - but I just started crying. I just lost it. I gave this tearful speech and I look over and theres the documentary cameras just like, right there. Like, "AWESOME, Super Great!" So thats out there.

    [laughs]

    J: So I have this solo, totally solo set, my main goal is to get my band together. I'm going to have a band on tour with me. And I've been working with this orchestra and I have some buddies in Austin who play music. My buddy Thor and his band is called Thor and Friends so we actually just did a recording of all these songs with his band. Which was was marimbas and vibraphones and violins and totally different versions of the songs. So part of the things I really want to do is record a bunch of different versions of these songs as possible. And it's really, really fun doing that. Especially because I spent all of that time sitting in front of a computer and tinkering away.

    M: Thats incredible, I can't wait to hear that. Where are you living now?

    J: I live alone. In a little house in North Carolina and it is RAD.

    M: What made you move there?

    J: I have some friends there. And they live in this really lovely neighborhood so I was spending some time there with them and I loved their whole setup and they said "Well the house next door is up for rent so you should check it out." And I realized I could pay the same there as I was paying to live with people in Baltimore. It was one of those things where I wasn't looking to leave Baltimore but that opportunity had such a pull on me so I thought it was something I should really do.

    M: That's awesome. What made you want to go solo after being in Wye Oak?

    J: Well, one of the big things, Ive been thinking a lot about this too lately Its becoming a more dominant force in my creative life. And I know - I want to be very clear with people - one of the things I want to achieve is not to replace Wye Oak but to coexist. A big reason why I wanted to [go solo] was to make more music and release more songs. In the music business with one project, you're only able to release a record every couple of years and I feel like I get tired of stuff really quickly. I want to make more music and release more music and make myself more vital than that. The other one is a little more tricky. It feels really important to me to prove to myself - and maybe to other people - what Im capable of because I think that many people still assume that when they see a two person band with a woman and a dude that I don't get the benefit of the doubt. That band is very much an equal partnership. Both multi-instrumentalists, we both produce, we both write. And when we make music its very much an equal give and take. I still get the, So you just sing, cool. And I work really hard to be good at a lot of different things and I put a lot of time and effort into learning different skills that I push myself so when I hear that assumption, its really hard on me.

    M: Of course, you don't want your hard work to be overshadowed.

    J: I just want the fucking benefit of the doubt with what Im doing. You don't have to like it. Some people just still look at me and think there are things that Im incapable just because Im a lady. It drives me nuts. So just for me - I just wanted something for myself so I can say Look, I did this. I did it.

    M: Totally agree! Where did you come up with the moniker Flock of Dimes?

    J: Well, it's tricky because the thing I like most about good band names is when I think they lose whatever meaning that they originally had because they become a representation of the thing itself. So Im always looking for a pleasant sounding group of syllables and if you think about it - Flock Of Dimes - if you take away the meaning of it, I really just like how it sounds.

    M: It's actually extremely easy to say. So tell about the artwork.

    J: YEAH! So this is a painting that has a few layers.

    Flock Of Dimes


    M: You wore that jumpsuit, right? [points to album art]

    J: I did, yup that's me. [laughs] The first thing that happened with this album and project was I asked my friend April, she's a musician and an artist in Baltimore. She's one of the most frustratingly talented people you'll ever meet. She's one of those people who are just good at everything, you know? She's a sick drummer and she plays in a band. She makes textile art, fabric, clothes... you name it. She's just super talented. So I had her design this jumpsuit for me that I would wear onstage. And the idea being that I was so sick and tired of trying to figure out what to wear onstage all the time so I just wanted something I could throw on every time I perform and just run with it. And also that it would shift my identity into the person that I am when I'm on-stage. So I had her make this thing and then I went to a friend Demetrius Rice, who's an incredible painter. Unbelievably good. So I hit him up and I was like, "Hey, how would you feel about making the cover of my record and I want to be in your style with me in this jumpsuit." So it's his art and April's art together on this record.

    M: So it's pretty much all of your favorite things in one place on an album cover?

    J: It truly is. I couldn't be happier with the way it turned out. It's a beautiful painting. I'm so honored that those two were willing to do this for me. Two people, unbelievably talented in their own right. I was so grateful that they were willing to do that. So now I have this! And its incredible. So, its beautiful.

    M: Would you say its a theme of the entire album or how would you interpret this painting?

    J: Thats a good question. I tend to think of it in a more abstract way. The way it makes me feel just by looking at it, you know? Its sort of spiraling through chaos and being surrounded by just these powerful energies from all places, experiences and people. A lot of the creation of this record was observing all the components of my life from a distance and a lot of it has to do with stepping away from the places and people I love and doing a lot of solo traveling and reflecting on a lot of that from afar. I love do and it's a huge part of how I live and how I create and process things but it can get pretty lonely. Even as it is super important to do. I kinda think of it as Im the figure that is observing and experiencing all of the things that are in my life and surround me. That sounds really narcissistic and insane.

    M: No but its necessary! But that's another thing I wanted to ask you is when you're onstage as Wye Oak with someone next to you versus when you're solo on stage, what are the biggest challenges or differences?

    J: For a long time, Wye Oak was one of the only musical experiences I had and I love that partnership and its so important to me. It's a huge part of who I am. Andy and I have a vocabulary that has been built up for over 15 years. So that's pretty indispensable. You can't just create that out of nothing. You have to build that sort of relationship. In that way, I was very interested in what I could be capable of outside that relationship. But at the same time, all of the things I've done with this record - performing and recording - makes me appreciate the collaboration even more and how lucky I am to have had that in my life. It's harder than expected to be alone on stage or in a creation process. It's easy before you do it to think about the things that are going to be awesome. Like, "Oh man. I can do whatever I want. I don't have to ask anyone about anything and I can just do whatever I want, yeah!" All of a sudden, you're in it and it's just me. Theres no one here with me. Sink or swim - its all me. Its a lot more difficult than I anticipated. Its a really important lesson to learn and it makes me grateful for this outlet but it also makes me thankful for collaborators.



    M: On this album, you worked with a multi-instrumentalist and a rapper? Did I read that right?

    J: Well, Mickey [Freeland] is a rapper but that's not what he did here.

    M: So we shouldn't expect any rap verses on any of the tracks on the record?

    [both laughs]

    J: Well, no. He's a talented producer. Mickey and I have worked together on lots of stuff and he's just a really talented musician and producer. So Mickey and I worked on these initial versions of the songs. And I took that when I moved and tweaked them. And I thought I finished the record but then I cut those in half, rewrote it and went back to Mickey to work on them some more. And then I went to my friend Aaron [Roche], who is one of the most innately gifted humans you'll ever discover on the planet. He's a magical unicorn and he's going to be in my band.

    M: Thats rad! What does he play?

    J: On this, he plays everything. At some point in here, I played guitar, bass, keyboards and drums. That was almost entirely me and then Aaron came in during the finishing stages and he just sent me back a whole bunch of stuff that I got to sort through and he's a horn player, guitarist and he played bass and drums.

    M: And he's going on tour with you?

    J: He's going on tour to play guitar and sing and who know what else. He just sent me all this stuff and was like, "Ok, use what you want! Don't use what you don't want!" And I just had the pleasure of taking what he did and editing it arranging it. At that final stage, it was great to have someone fresh come in and work with the songs after I've been working on them for years. Obviously he's going to do things that I would never think about at the point because my experience with the songs is so complete at that point. To have that new energy right at the end was definitely what pushed it over the edge to the finish line.

    M: Where did you come up with the name of the record?

    J: Oh gosh, yes. If You See Me, Say Yes is a reference to the feeling of observing your life and your friends and your loved ones and family from a distance. And the amount of time I spent traveling alone, which is a really important part of my life, has certainly increased the past couple of years. The music I make my way to reach out to all the people in my life who I miss and care about and also people that I don't know and will never know to put this out and almost be like, "This is real. If you see ME for who I am, here I am!" It's a way of engaging with people that I love and people that I've never met with people in this world and trying to find that connection with other humans in the world through the only way I know how by making these songs.

    M: Do you think that definition of the records name inspired the creation of each song individually?

    J: Definitely. I mean there are messages to people - specific literal messages - scattered throughout this whole thing. It's like letters to people I care about and I miss with messages that I don't know how to communicate any other way. It's something that I can say directly but just trying to show the people in my life that I care about how much I care about them even though Im not physically present all the time. And in order to do what I do, I have to take a lot of time and space to myself but it doesn't mean they're not present with me all the time all the time. I don't want them to forget about me, you know! [laughs]

    M: That is such an amazing debut-album message to have. And a great message in general!

    J: It's real, man! This is the realest thing. I mean, there's nothing that I have made that isn't real in that its the only way I know how to do stuff, which is a very vulnerable position to be in. I mean, my entire career is pretty much a constant series of low-level embarrassments.

    M: That's pretty much my whole life!

    [both laughs]

    J: But for real! When you put yourself out in the world and you're really sharing something thats real and genuine and a real part of yourself its very vulnerable! I had a realization at one point where I was like, that's what people are drawn to about what I do. That's why people come to shows and buy records because they see someone who is sharing a part of themselves that is really difficult to share. I love doing that but that doesn't mean its an easy thing to do. It's very intimidating and Im a very sensitive person and a lot of the time, when you're most sensitive is when you're most creative but then you have to put the thing out there and learn how to shut yourself off so that whatever you get back isn't hurtful if its not positive. Its a weird job, man. [laughs] I think this is special because the songs are a lot less veiled than a lot of the stuff I've made in the past. They're a lot more honest about my actual life, which I hope people will connect with them more.



    M: Do you think when you moved from Baltimore to North Carolina, you wrote a lot of these songs because you were homesick maybe?

    J: Yes! I think so. I think it's about the distance and perspective. I mean, you can't see something if you're right up on it. You have to step back and look at it. So a lot of that perspective was what allowed me to make some sort of sense of my life and the people in it. And also just having more time alone and being away from Baltimore. I mean, Baltimore is an amazing place as there's always a ton of incredible shit going on all the time. So the downside to that is that if you the type of person like I am where its hard to say no to incredible shit thats happening all the time, you're just out. It's super distracting. I knew I wasn't giving myself and my work and my creativity the time and attention it deserved. I kept trying to make a plan to do that in Baltimore and I kept failing so eventually I said I just need to go somewhere away and be myself because I clearly cant do this. I think that's a big part of why this record came to be.

    M: Do you have any future projects with Wye Oak or Flock of Dimes brewing up at the moment?

    J: So, so, so much! Andy and I are still playing and we actually put out a record earlier this year called Tween so we just finished touring this summer for that record. And we're playing a handful of more shows for that. After those dates, we're going into writing mode to gear up for our next record, which I'm super pumped about because I have so many ideas. That's my favorite part of the process is the making of the thing. I'm really pumped to get back into that zone. But first, this record comes out end of September and I'm touring in October and November with a band, which will be amazing because its the first time Ive ever put together a band. They're all smart and total badasses so that's going to be really special. Im going to Berlin to play in a really interesting and intriguing sounding festival that by Justin Vernon from Bon Iver and the Dessners put together. It's going to be cool because I'm going to get locked into a hotel room with all these geniuses. There are a long list of artists that are going to come to Berlin and we will have a couple days in the hotel to team up and make weird shit together.

    M: WHAT! Is it going to be recorded as a documentary or anything?

    J: I think so, yeah. Then after the three days of figuring out what were going to do and making shit up on the fly and being like, "Hey so-and-so, you want to play in this song." And then after, they're renting out this crazy building and installing performances throughout. And basically people who go to the festival can just wander throughout and see whats going on. People aren't going to have any expectations at all, they're just going to know who the artists are playing.

    M: That is such an incredible concept. I think they need to bring that to America!

    J: I hope that they do. I'd be pumped if they did. I admire those guys so much because I feel like it'd be really easy for any of those people to just rest on their laurels of their super popular, super famous band and just chill. But they were like, "No man, were going to go Europe and do some shit thats never been done!" It's so cool.

    M: Have you met or worked with Justin Vernon before?

    J: We met a few times but we've never worked together before. He's a really nice guy. We stopped by this place when we were on tour in Eau Claire and they were in the studio for the new Bon Iver record. They had everything set up in the barn and it sounded great. He's an ambitious fellow and I'm pumped that Im apart of crazy thing, whatever it turns out to be. I basically go on tour two days after I get home from that so its go time! I think the first show is October 14th then I'm on tour with my band for October and November and then we'll see. Right now, theres nothing on the books for after that but I'm open for whatever the world throws at me! But I also want to see how people respond to this album first. I worked so hard and one of the things I wanted to make sure of was that every song is just a total fucking banger, you know.

    If You See Me, Say Yes is out on September 23rd and you can find the U.S. tour dates below!

    10/14 - Meow Wolf - Santa Fe, NM
    10/15 - 191 Toole - Tucson, AZ
    10/16 - Soda Bar - San Diego, CA
    10/17 - Bootleg Theater - Los Angeles, CA
    10/18 - Bottom of the Hill - San Francisco, CA
    10/20 - Doug Fir Lounge - Portland, OR
    10/21 - The Cobalt - Vancouver, BC
    10/22 - Barboza - Seattle, WA
    10/25 - 7th St. Entry - Minneapolis, MN
    10/26 - Schubas - Chicago, IL
    10/28 - The Drake - Toronto, ON
    10/29 - Bar Le Ritz PDB - Montreal, QC
    10/30 - Great Scott - Allston, MA
    11/1 - Johnny Brendas - Philadelphia, PA
    11/2 - Rough Trade NYC - Brooklyn, NY
    11/4 - U Street Music Hall - Washington, DC
    11/5 - Cats Cradle - Carrboro, NC
    11/6 - The Mothlight - Asheville, NC
    11/8 - The High Watt - Nashville, TN
    11/9 - The Earl - Atlanta, GA
    11/11 - Three Links - Dallas, TX
    11/12 - 3TEN ACL Live - Austin, TX
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