Life With Augustana’s Dan Layus

Pollstar recently caught up with Augustana’s Dan Layus, who is supporting the act’s first album since he split with the rest of the band members as well as Epic Records.

Life Imitating Life was released in April on Washington Square, a new imprint from Razor & Tie. The LP includes the single “Ash and Ember.”

Augustana and Epic went their separate ways after the release of the rock band’s self-titled 2011 album. Later that year Layus announced he’d amicably parted with the rest of lineup.

The singer/songwriter has been carrying on Augustana’s journey on his own, along with the help of a handful of touring musicians.

Layus called up Pollstar late last month in between shows in West Hollywood. During the conversation he repeatedly brought up the word “fortunate” and mentioned over and over again how happy he was to be making music and touring.

Photo: Jeremy Cowart

Tonight you’re playing the second of two nights at West Hollywood’s Troubadour. How was the first show?

It went great! That’s one of my favorite rooms in the country. Kind of hard to beat the Troubadour. Great sound, great vibe. The crowd is nice and close.

Does playing two nights in one city give you time to hang out or are you busy doing interviews all day?

I’m very fortunate that a lot of people are interested in what we’re doing right now, like yourself. So these kind of days are pretty packed right now but I just feel fortunate to have people that interested. I’m not wasting any time here.

Life Imitating Life is your first album since you parted ways with the rest of the other band members. I was checking out Augustana’s Facebook page and it only listed you as a member. So, do you just hire musicians when you go out on the road?

Yeah. I hire guys, some friends of mine to come out for the tour. They’re all really great dudes and I spend a lot of time with them outside of touring, as well. As far as official band members, it’s kind of just been me for a few years.

Are you considering, at any point, announcing a permanent lineup?

I don’t foresee, at least in the near future, any kind of official lineup change at this point. I think I’m happy with what it is right now. It’s all going really well. The tour’s been great.

After the split in 2011, did you think about releasing music under your own name?

I considered it for as second, but I still felt like I was 100 percent behind the name Augustana and the records that the band had put out. … It didn’t feel like if I done something under my own name or a different band name, there really would be much of a departure from the stuff I had put out previously. I felt if [fans] came out to a show, there would be different players on stage but as far as the songs and the vibe coming off the vocal, there wouldn’t be a huge departure. So I didn’t feel like it was something I needed to do. I wanted to stick with the name and keep making records under [Augustana].

This also marks your first record since you split with Epic. How did you like working with Washington Square rather than a major label?

It’s great, man! I got to make the record that I wanted to make [and had] a lot of creative freedom. I couldn’t be happier. It’s exactly the album that I wanted to make.

I was generally able to do that with Epic, as well. It’s just a little more complicated at majors, as far as what’s perceived as success as far as the band’s record sales. I got [asked], “The last album was kind of a flop. Did that bum you out?” I think from Sony’s perspective it was a flop but from my perspective, 40,000 records is still a lot of people. (laughs) I mean, 10,000 would be a lot. I’d be happy with anything. I’m just happy to be doing this, happy to be putting good things out into the world.

Photo: Jeremy Cowart

So the title of the album comes from the song “According to Plan.” What does the phrase Life Imitating Life mean to you?

It’s a phrase that just popped into my head … a little bit of a twist on [life imitating art]. … It’s a very introspective album. Some songs are more conversational [with other] characters. A lot of it is searching within myself. I think it’s kind of questioning, “Have I come full circle or am I just going in circles?” Questioning what’s pre-planned, what’s already written in the fabric of fate, if anything, or how much is in my control. If I can control that, how well am I doing? What can I do in the future to make my life better and other people’s lives better?

In an interview with USA Today, you called working on “Ash and Ember” one of the most satisfying experiences you had writing a song. How so?

I had written most of the material that’s on the record but I didn’t feel like I had a really uplifting [song]. It’s kind of the A side to “Youth is Wasted On The Young.” It’s the happier side to that sentiment. “Youth” is more based on anger and depression with myself, reflecting on the past and wishing I could do things differently. But even if I could go back, would I really know how to do things differently?

And I think “Ash and Ember” [is] in that same world but it kind of attacks [the subject] from a different angle. I’m saying, “Am I reflecting [too] much on youth and the past? Am I beating myself up too much? Am I sort of late to the party? Has everyone else kind of moved on and accepted that it’s OK?”

That song’s a little bit about anxiety too. Am I worrying [about] putting all this energy into things that I already put so much energy into? Am I just sort of spinning my wheels now? I think it’s time to actually just start living. … I burned myself down to ash but there’s a little bit of fire there to rekindle, restart, be fresh again.

Was writing the song a cathartic process that helped you deal with that anxiety about getting older and regrets?

Sure, in certain ways. It’s a little window of time that you’re referencing and sort of clarifying within yourself in that moment. And that always helps. It’s not always the case that you get to write something and then feel good about it and then actually get to go play it. That’s always a really satisfying process.

I felt that way about “Boston” and “Steal Your Heart” and “Stay Here Tonight.” I haven’t ever really been forced to write and record and release something that I’m not passionate about or feel good about. There’re a lot of artists out there that don’t really get that freedom. They have to go do something maybe they don’t believe in quite as much as they want to. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to do that on a pretty consistent basis.

As for your songwriting process, do you set aside time to write or is it whenever inspiration strikes?

It’s a little bit of all of those things. Sometimes you gotta sit down and consciously make the decision that you’re going to write a song that day. I heard a great [theory] that if you get an idea when you’re walking down the street or you’re taking a shower or whatever, and this melody … hits you and if you go, “OK, well, I’ll just put that off until it’s the right time,” you’re kind of telling the Universe around you that it’s not important right now. Obviously something hit you at that moment for a reason. If you can, try and take advantage of that. It’s not always practical –sometimes you’re stuck in traffic. What are you going to do? But a lot of times you have to make a conscious decision to stay up and kind of follow the idea down the rabbit hole [to] see where it ends up. A lot of times it’s a wash but there are a lot of times it turns out to be something really special. And even if it is a wash, I spent some time exercising [my creativity].

That reminds me of a quote from Maya Angelou that says, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”

Exactly! So true.

So, right now you’re touring with Twin Forks, which features Chris Carraba, who I read is your good friend. Are you guys planning any collaborations on stage during the tour?

I don’t know that we will or won’t, but we just haven’t gotten to a place where we’ve talked about that yet. But we’ve known each other for a lot of years. He took my band out, back when he was in Dashboard, in 2007, something like that. We heard about Twin Forks and [decided to do the tour together.] Twin Forks has a great record. [Chris] is just a great dude and really talented. And he’s a superstar, so it’s great to have him out here.

That’s nice that he took your band out many years ago and now Twin Forks is supporting you guys. It’s come full circle.

He wants to get Twin Forks to a place that’s as successful as Dashboard is, and I think that’s really admirable that he’s willing to go out and work his ass off with a new project … working like he’s 19 years old in a band again. And that’s always admirable. I guess we’re all doing that right now. It’s like you know, that guy’s had a lot of success with Dashboard Confessional so it’s a real gut check.

Anything else you’d like to tell readers about why you should come check out an Augustana show?

On this album in particular, I really tried to match the rough-around-the-edges passion that I have … on stage, a little bit more off-the-cuff kind of vocals. I wanted to make sure I didn’t make this album too slick. … I wanted the songs to really be the focus. I feel like they should always be the focus, at least for someone like me, and hopefully that translates to the shows. The shows are especially where my passion has always been. We always try to put on a nice long show, [to] hopefully give people their money’s worth so that they feel like it was worth their time [to] spend the evening with us. I’m very happy out here [on the road].

Photo: Jeremy Cowart

Upcoming dates for Augustana:

May 12 – Toronto, Ontario, Virgin Mobile Mod Club         
May 13 – Montreal, Quebec, La Sala Rossa 
May 15 – West Babylon, N.Y., Looney Tunes        
May 16 – New York, N.Y., Irving Plaza Powered By Klipsch       
May 17 – Boston, Mass., House Of Blues Boston   
May 18 – Philadelphia, Pa., Theatre Of The Living Arts     
May 19 – Washington, D.C., 9:30 Club

For more information please visit