Date: Tuesday, Oct 1st, 2013
Time: 7:30 pm
Location: Stuart’s Opera House
It’s been nearly a dozen years since David Wax and Suz Slezak played their first show together, kicking off a partnership that’s led to seven records, multiple Top 20 chart placements, performances alongside contemporaries like The Avett Brothers and heroes like Los Lobos, and — most importantly — a family of four. As that family has grown, so has the band’s sound. Filled with husband-and-wife vocal harmonies, Mexican stringed instruments, melodic hooks, and blasts of brass, David Wax Museum’s albums fly the worldly flag for a brand of Americana that reaches far beyond American borders.
As the world tour for 2015’s Guesthouse wound down, Wax and Slezak began focusing upon home once again. They welcomed another child into the world. They sank their roots into their new hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia. And, for the first time in years, they hit the road as a duo, reminding them of their earliest tours. “This band started as a DIY project where we basically said ‘yes’ to the universe, never turned down a gig, and happily played people’s living rooms,” remembers Wax. “It was just the two of us, building a band and a life together.”
Early in 2018, after honing a new batch of songs on the road, they found themselves making music in the Nashville-based home studio of Carl Broemel (My Morning Jacket’s, Ray LaMontagne) who produced David Wax Museum’s most compelling work to date, Line of Light. Released in 2019 by the Austin-based indie label Nine Mile Records, the album refocuses on the band’s two co-founders. Weaving the personal with the political, the global with the spiritual, Line of Light chronicles the landscapes and longings that connect us all.
Line of Light strips away the lushly-layered textures that filled the band’s recent albums and, instead, anchors itself in on a sound that’s simple yet dynamic. The songs themselves are the centerpieces, from the album’s airily anthemic opener, “Uncover the Gold,” to the record-closing, piano-driven highway ballad, “Night Gods.” Created during a time of challenge both political and personal in nature (including violent rallies in the band’s adopted home of Charlottesville, as well as Slezak’s ongoing battle with bipolar disorder), Line of Light responds to the modern world by advocating a bright outlook and a call to solidarity. “I refuse to live in fear,” sings David Wax in the album’s very first line, and that phrase serves as the record’s unofficial mantra.
Laced with light touches of strings, keyboards, and Wax’s collection of Mexican instruments, Line of Light also continues the band’s adventurous streak. “Human Chain” — a plea for unity in a divisive country — mixes triple-stacked harmonies with a syncopated guitar riff that’s more classic rock than indie-folk, while the softly sung “Little Heart” evokes the in-utero heartbeat of the couple’s youngest child with a pulsating synthesizer riff. The band’s rhythm section makes multiple appearances, too, adding bass and backbeat to the mix. At the record’s core, though, this is David Wax Museum at their most stripped-back, mixing sweeping themes — unity, marriage, parenthood, birth, and death — with a sound that’s specific and direct.
“These songs look at the process of persevering through the dark times, whether that darkness comes from outside yourself or within,” says Slezak, who was initially diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her 20s. She experience a relapse in manic depression during the album’s recording cycle, and even had to wean her 1 year-old child during her final days in the studio, knowing that her medication would harm a nursing child. Those challenges loomed over David Wax Museum as they finished the record. “It’s an album that tackles big-picture issues,” she adds. “David describes the first track as the sort of song you’d want to leave your kids, and I do think that having children makes us feel like we really need to say something with our music.”
Those children play a leading role in David Wax Museum’s career. They’ve become young road warriors, joining their parents on tour. They also made the trip to Nashville for Line of Light‘s recording sessions, where the floor of Carl Broemel’s one-room studio quickly became littered with toys. For the children’s parents, the effect was both disarming and inspirational.
“Our kids were there with us, playing in the backyard,” Wax recalls, “and it just felt like we were hanging out together, working in a beautiful place. There wasn’t the usual pressure that comes with being in a traditional studio. We felt very freed up, and that allowed us to create something more intimate and handmade. It was ok for things to sound stripped-down. The songs didn’t need a lot of adornment.”
Touring with their kids remains a major part of Wax and Slezak’s commitment to pursuing an off-the-beaten-path lifestyle as parents, artists, and chroniclers of the present day.
“I’ve always envisioned a life where my work and family are integrated, and not in separate boxes,” says Slezak. “Having a creative life is important to me, but so is being with my kids. I’m trying to embody this next generation of women — women who have the ability to build both a creative career and a family. You don’t have to choose between the two. You can do both, at the same time, and they can enrich one another.”
Inspired by current events and personal challenges, Line of Light offers its own mix of message and melody. This is honest, heartfelt music about sweeping ideas, anchored in sharp songwriting and uncluttered by heavy-handed studio production. For those who caught one of David Wax Museum’s earliest shows — long before the group stole the show at the Newport Folk Festival, toured alongside Buena Vista Social Club, and earned an audience that’s as international as the band’s own sound — the album feels like a homecoming of sorts, sweetened with contributions from David Wax Museum’s full lineup but still grounded in the raw power of the band’s two-member core. It’s a bright album for murky times, a reminder of music’s ability to drive out the darkness, one song at a time.
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