[ART-ROCK REVIVAL] Buttoned up in a wool-lined jacket and working his way through a massive pork chop at Podnah's Pit on Northeast Killingsworth Street, Luke Wyland exudes a mixture of relief and concern as he discusses what has happened to himself and his band AU over the past three years.
The relief comes from finally having recently put to bed a new collection of songs and having found a new label for the album (Portland's Hometapes). The singer/guitarist/keyboardist also glows a little bit from how well rehearsals are going for Thursday's performance at Mississippi Studios.
The concern seeps in when Wyland wonders how much of an audience he and bandmate Dana Valatka still have with their emotionally wrought brand of whirligig art pop.
"We haven't put an album out since 2008, and this new one's not coming out until 2012," he says. "There has been waves of music that's happened since then. It does feel like we're starting over."
Renewal is something that has weighed on Wyland since AU recorded its last album, 2008's Verbs. That frenetic collection of mathy, highly percussive material was met with critical indifference, but found a passionate fan base thanks to AU's intensely joyous live performances. After Verbs' recording sessions, two band members left, and following two exciting but grueling years on the road in support of the LP, Wyland lost touch with the community of musicians and artists he says helped inspire him. Add to the equation the end of a 10-year relationship just before the tour, and it's not surprising Wyland says he was "just spun" by the time he came back.
AU had made great strides—three European tours, supporting slots opening for top-notch acts such as Deerhoof and Why?—but the band felt discomfort in the pressure to keep moving forward.
"Our publicist and bookers told us, 'Just put out the next album and keep going,'" Wyland says. What followed were months of unsuccessful tries to get locked into some kind of creative groove.
"Once that stress stacked on top of everything else, I seized up," Wyland says. "I was writing things, but I didnât believe in them.â
Wyland labored intensely over his latest batch of songs, but the forthcoming LP, Both Lights, and the 7-inch that the band releases this week don't show any strain. The same iridescent haze and metronomic flow of previous AU albums are present, as are Wyland's wafting, fervent vocals.
What is evident in the new material is a cathartic charge that soars from the songs. Demons are exorcised musically as Valatka's circuitous and urgent drumming pushes and pulls against lilting horns and Wyland's fiery guitar and piano work. And the emotional ante is upped via guest vocals by Holland Andrews of Like a Villain and Sarah Winchester of A Weather.
Free from the anxiety of making music, Wyland looks back on the "spun" months proudly. "I feel light again," he says. "I had dug myself into a hole for a few months there. But it was good for me, I think. Ultimately those experiences are about what you do with them afterwards. There are such profound messages that come from those experiences. It was well worth it."
SEE IT: AU plays Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., 288-3895, on Thursday, Dec. 1, with Appetite, Stay Calm and Like a Villain. 9 pm. $6 advance, $8 day of show. 21+.