Wye Oak Talks with Johanna Samuels, Jay Hammond, and Joe Westerlund on the Talkhouse Podcast

Five musicians, four amazing records

For this week’s Talkhouse Podcast we’ve got a special two-part episode featuring both members of one of my favorite bands, Wye Oak, in conversation with some other fantastic musicians, so be sure to stick around for both halves!

First up it’s Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner and singer-songwriter Johanna Samuels, both of whom have new music coming out, coincidentally, on June 23. Samuels has been making beautiful, deeply personal music for the last decade or so, and her new one is a doozy. The album is called Bystander, and it was recorded with Josh Kaufman of Bonny Light Horseman—he’s the Josh you’ll hear referenced in this chat.  Check out “Ugly on the Inside” from Bystander right here.

Samuels is joined here by Talkhouse pal Jenn Wasner, who’s probably best known as half of Wye Oak, but has also recorded music recently under the name Flock of Dimes.  It’s no wonder that Wasner and Samuels get along, as both are incredibly thoughtful and sincere in their musical pursuits: They’re looking for something much bigger than a hooky song to sing, they’re out to connect on a deeper level. Wye Oak has sort of morphed into a different kind of band in recent years, choosing to stay away from the make-an-album-then-tour-forever cycle and instead release singles and one-off songs as Wasner and Andy Stack are able. A bunch of those songs have just been compiled on an album called Every Day Like the Last. They sound as good as anything the duo has done, which is to say they sound great. Check out “I Learned it From You” right here.

In this conversation, Wasner and Samuels talk about the magic of the Newport Folk Festival, how great it is to work with Josh Kaufman, and how to express heavy thoughts within joyful music. You’ll find out whether these are women of mystery, and you’ll hear Wasner refer to herself as “a big golden retriever of a person.” Enjoy. And stick around after to hear Wasner’s Wye Oak partner Andy Stack in a separate conversation!

In the second half of this epic Talkhouse two-parter, we’ve actually got three speakers: Andy Stack, who’s best known as half of Wye Oak, but who’s also made some solo records under the name Joyero. Along with him is Jay Hammond, with whom Stack recently made a great instrumental record, and Joe Westerlund.

I’ll start with Westerlund, and I’ll try to do his bio justice: He started out in the Wisconsin band Deyarmond Edison, which has a massive retrospective box set coming out this year, and which is best known as the band that started Justin Vernon of Bon Iver down his musical path. Westerlund has also contributed to lots of other song-based music over the years, drumming for the likes of Califone and his project Megafaun. But it definitely feels like Westerlund has found his true calling in his solo instrumental work, including the recent Elegies for the Drift, whose compositions were largely inspired by important people in his life who’d passed away recently. It’s a gorgeous, emotional ride. Check out “The Circle,” which is dedicated to Akron/Family’s Miles Cooper Seaton, a friend of Westerlund’s who tragically died in a car crash in 2021.

It makes sense that Westerlund got together for a chat with Andy Stack and Jay Hammond, because they all have North Carolina in common: It’s become something of a refuge for a bunch of bands over the past few years, with their friends in Sylvan Esso building a studio there, and lots of folks—including both members of Wye Oak—taking up residence there. Stack and Hammond got together recently and struck gold with a series of electro-acoustic improvisations that they winnowed down to album length and titled Inter Personal—a nod to the connection that they deepened by making this music together. Check out  “Life on a Ship” right here.

Thanks for listening to the Talkhouse Podcast, and thanks to Johanna Samuels, Jenn Wasner, Andy Stack, Jay Hammond, and Joe Westerlund for chatting. If you liked what you heard, please follow Talkhouse on your favorite podcasting platform, and check out all the goodness at Talkhouse.com. This episode was produced by Myron Kaplan, and the Talkhouse theme is composed and performed by the Range. See you next time!

(Photo Credit: left, Graham Tolbert; center, David Simon Dayan; right, Shay Stifleman; Edited by: Keenan Kush.)

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