Dan Layus (Augustana) on his New Album, 'Life Imitating Life'
There's something so special about an artist that can bring light into your life just by sharing his talent with you. When you listen to Life Imitating Life, Daniel Layus' first mostly solo effort under the moniker of Augustana, you can feel the lightness that can only come from songs that reflect an honest and authentic songwriter.
Unlike a lot of bands, Augustana got pretty big pretty fast early on in their career. Their debut record, All The Stars and Boulevards, quickly climbed the charts as their hit single, "Boston" played on radio stations across the country. Now that Daniel is the only founding member left, he's been able to reflect and grow from the experience and get comfortable with who he is and what he wants from his career.
"I think, like most people, I went through a really good growth period in my 20s," he explained. A lot of things became a lot more clear to me - the goal of what this career means and why."
"I have a very grounded sense of self now, with my wife and my kids, my career and my band." He said, "I'm very happy to just have people connect with the songs. If they impact people in some positive way, then that's a really gratifying experience and it's humbling."
"When that's the goal: to connect with people in a positive way, that's a pretty good feeling because then you can't lose. As long as you're being authentic and you're not doing it for any other reason, then somebody will hopefully connect and then you win. Everybody wins. Then you're sort of part of the world community at that point. And that doesn't have anything to do with money or fame or success in any kind of material way."
Daniel was kind enough to talk with me for a few minutes just before last Sunday's show at Neumo's. I am so grateful for that time and I hope that you will be as inspired by him as I have been for nearly a decade. Check out our conversation and enjoy the music!
Hey, Daniel! Out of curiosity, are you going solo now?
Daniel: [laughs] No...but I'm essentially the remaining original member of this band. I have kind of a revolving cast of characters that come out and play shows with me, whether it's a one off or a tour like this. But as far as the album is concerned, I made most of the album by myself. I had a couple dudes jump in and play some stuff, but it's definitely under the moniker, the banner, of Augustana to stay somewhat consistent with the back catalog of what the band was musically.
Is it a different experience playing with a lot of different people rather than the same group of guys every night?
Daniel: Yeah, you know, it's always a different experience. I think it's a different experience even with the same band. When you have the same band for a lot of years, everybody is sort of changing over time - everybody's wants and needs and passions change and so, every tour feels different whether it's with your band members that you started the band with or it's with hired guys that you use on the road. It's all just like any job - you feel little bit different on Tuesday than you do on Thursday.
I'd love to talk about Life Imitating Life, what are you most proud of accomplishing with this record?
Daniel: I feel really proud about the songwriting on the record, as far as the way I went after it, the way I pursued trying to find the purest and most authentic form of myself and the way I was feeling at the time - the thoughts in my head and how to express those on a notepad with a pen and then also how to translate that into melody and into some kind of structured delivery of a song.
It was probably the most intense I've ever dove into that in terms of the amount of time I spent and the amount of energy I put into it. That's not to say that I didn't put time and energy into past records...but I think I sort of crossed a line that I hadn't crossed before. I really wanted to try to push myself to some edges that I hadn't explored yet.
You saw success really early on in your career with "Boston." Being where you are now and looking back, what are some big lessons that you've learned?
Daniel: Well I think you learn a lot whether it's on-stage, off-stage, in the studio, outside the studio - I think, like most people, I went through a really good growth period in my 20s...I'm 29 now. A lot of things became a lot more clear to me - the goal of what this career means and why. Also, being able to appreciate and be humbled by the experience of having people show up every night or download your record or strip it or rip it off line or whatever it is - the fact that they're interested to hear it is a really gratifying experience.
I think that was something that took me a lot of years to really understand just how special that is - what those songs can mean to people and how it can translate to their lives. I'd say that's probably what I've learned the most other than sort of becoming more comfortable within myself as a performer, as a songwriter...being confident in, "okay, this is me, this is what I do." You know, in your 20s, you go through so many phases: "okay, I gotta be Dylan, I gotta be Bruce, Tom Petty, I gotta be..." ...whatever it is, Velvet Underground, whatever. Now, I feel like I'm really happy being myself and Augustana. And I'm in a place where I feel very happy about trying to let that be my musical identity and that's a good place to be.
On that note, how have your goals for your career changes from when you started out?
Daniel: When I started out, I wanted to be the biggest rock band in the world. I think a lot of kids, when they're 17 or 18 and starting a band, that's they're dream. But you don't really know why at that age...it just seems like this grandiose kind of idea that if you're crazy enough seems attainable.
At the time, it seemed attainable. I was wrong [laughs], which is fine - and I think it's a good thing because like you mentioned, with "Boston", we had a little bit of early commercial success, but I'm really glad it never went too far beyond that because I don't think I would have been ready to take advantage of the moment at my peak. I think I was just truly coming of age at that moment and sort of blossoming as a person and it was gonna take me a lot of time and a lot of years to get to a place where now, I feel like, it's funny, I'm very very comfortable with the stage we're at, very happy with the stage we're at.
The tickets and the records that we sell - they're just part of it - but they're no longer the goal or the reason why I can sleep well at night. I have a very grounded sense of self now, with my wife and my kids, my career and my band. I'm very happy to just have people connect with the songs. If they impact people in some positive way, then that's a really gratifying experience and it's humbling. That's now the goal...I think that's why it feels so good. When that's the goal: to connect with people in a positive way, that's a pretty good feeling because then you can't lose. As long as you're being authentic and you're not doing it for any other reason, then somebody will hopefully connect and then you win. Everybody wins. Then you're sort of part of the world community at that point. And that doesn't have anything to do with money or fame or success in any kind of material way.
I would love to hear about what kinds of things inspire you...
Daniel: Well I follow politics very closely...which I will not speak about [laughs]. However, you can know that I do follow politics!
I definitely take a lot of the world in around me. I've become a lot more observant than I used to be. As far as inspiration...I used to only take inspiration from my own life and use the records as a personal journal - a sonic journal essentially.
Now it's become a bit more observational in kind of an outward sense. I think I'm pulling things in around me and sort of mixing those in with my own emotions and my own sense of being. I think that's where a lot of this album stands as well. A lot of existential thoughts in here, a lot of 'why am I here?' and 'what is the purpose of this?'.
I'm playing at Neumo's tonight and I'm on my fifteen thousandth tour and whatever, and it's like...what is the purpose? And I think it comes back to being inspired by putting good things out into the world and connecting. That's what keeps me driven out here. And at home, as a father and a husband and a songwriter.
Thank you so much, Daniel!