Newport Folk Fest 2011: Interview with Suz Slezak of David Wax Museum

With a lot of talent and a little bit of luck, the David Wax Museum found themselves at last year’s Newport Folk Festival by winning a contest.  After a year of recording and touring, the DWM crew was back for more this year, and had the honor of taking the main Fort Stage at 11:30 Sunday morning.  Following their captivating and lively performance, we had the pleasure of speaking to the band’s Suz Slezak.  “Our whole landscape has changed,” Suz says of the progress they’ve made since last year.  “Newport led to NPR coverage.”  Before Newport 2010 and their NPR Tiny Desk Concert, they played a lot of “house concerts” and shows in almost-empty bars, but through perseverance and great live shows, their fan base grew to where it is today.  And their progress didn’t just stop there.  They recently released a new album, Everything is Saved, which is a follow-up to 2009’s Carpenter Bird.  Their newest work is more layered with the Mexican folk sounds that inspire them.  Suz said in regards to their major musical strides, “First off, we just matured as a band.  Also, Sam Kassirer [the album’s producer,] really helped us find our voice.”

The band is well-known for their use of unorthodox instruments like the jarana guitar and the jawbone.  We went out on a limb and asked if the band has intentions to add any more instruments to their repertoire.  Lucky for their fans, Suz did not disappoint.  “We are trying to add more [instruments].  I’m trying to pick up the accordion, and I play the harp, so we’re thinking about using that on the next album.”  Though they look forward to experimenting, Slezak recognizes that the jarana guitar is a defining sound on the album, particularly recognizable on their first major single, “Born With a Broken Heart.”   They have no intention of losing that sound on future albums.

During their Newport set, one of the most powerful songs was actually their quietest. They played “Look What You’ve Done To Me,” which featured haunting vocal support from Rhiannon Giddens from the Carolina Chocolate Drops.  Suz said the collaboration was organic. “We opened for them in Boston, and we have the same support team, booking agent and manager.”  For Suz, her only disappointment was that she and Dom Flemons of CCD, who plays the bones, couldn’t collaborate on-stage with their respective archeological instruments.

Lastly, Suz and I talked about Boston, which will always remain the band’s “unofficial headquarters.”  She says, “because the band formed there, it will always be home for us, but no one actually lives [in Boston proper] anymore.”  However, they’ll continue to visit as much as possible, especially since the band’s major core of fans is there.  Luckily for us, we won’t have to wait long for their return.  Suz Slezak and the David Wax Museum will be stopping by to play at the Museum of Fine Arts.  Get your tickets here for this intimate performance on August 24.


Posted on by Caroline in Newport Folk Festival Recap

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