8pm. Inadvertent home intrusion. Nobody wanted to miss this one, so our crew is overbooked – we show up in triplicate.
Brief salutations in the doorway, and Loki the pitbull is in a full-body wag, patiently anticipating all the new friends he’s about to make. Next, to the inevitable case of brews – that delicious fermented stuff with hops in it.
The house is teeming with nervous energy, so we shuffle out onto the patio, feeling like that bulky Tetris piece without a clean interlock. Back inside, line check is taking forever. One of our sound engineers argues with a 17 year-old girl about how many points there are on a marijuana leaf. Feels like home.
AU = Luke Wyland (vocals/multi-instrumentalist) + Dana Valatka (drums/percussion). They’re working through an updated arrangement of “Solid Gold.” A group of local musicians make up the backing band, rounding out the detailed phrases of Luke and Dana’s telepathic interchange.
Luke’s cornered now, so we spend a few minutes throwing questions at him and dodging the emphatic hand gestures that accompany his answers. He’s stretching his arms wide, trying to convey the size of the space where they created their new release, Both Lights (out April 3rd on Hometapes/The Leaf Label).
To be clear, that space—a rectangular quadrant that Luke built inside Dana’s old garage—is where the entire album was recorded. (Luke confirms this detail, emphasizing, “EVERYTHING”).
“I think what really got into me was that everything was so internalized,” Luke explains. “We got the drum tracks down relatively quickly, and then it was just me re-structuring songs and getting layers on top. I re-wrote numerous songs many times - it was this real knotted process.”
In total, Luke spent more than ten months working everyday in The Room; trashing songs, writing new ones, and oscillating through self-doubt before finally pausing to get perspective on the net result of a three-year gap between full-lengths.
“Yeah it’s true, I did go crazy. Well maybe not crazy, but certainly it sucked. There were months where I was just in the studio working on one song for days on end - I just couldn’t get it out of my brain and into the songs.”
Eventually, persistence won out. In “Solid Gold,” the ideas from Luke’s brain have finally been translated into a multifaceted and unique piece of music. We find them fully realized here in the big-band arrangement.
Voice bellowing over soft piano chords, the tempo shifts rapidly and Luke is trading vocal lines with Holland Andrews (Like A Villain) over a rolling, frenetic bustle. Reed Wallsmith (Blue Cranes) and Nick Sweet drop staccato melodies via alto sax and trombone, and Dan Duval is on guitar, doubling horn riffs and tossing chords over the mix. Luke’s keyboard falls into the Konono-inspired crunch of a distorted mbira, and the whole group reunites for sixteenth-note blasts before clearing the floor for Holland’s symbolic purge, allowing the piece to dissolve into a victory lap of African-laced progressive pop.
I hear the song as a triumph over negativity, an assurance against doubt, and a confidence in off-kilter art. It’s the illusion of this kind of safety net—one that takes years to erect—that forms the fine line between creativity and insanity. AU have focused their career on the repeated construction and destruction of this safety net; constantly testing the boundaries of their audience and pushing the limits of their own physicality. The process takes a toll, but the rewards are tenfold. So maybe it’s insensitive to ask this question so soon after Luke came to terms with his epic struggle, but fuck it:
Could the bar be raised any higher?