You probably remember the Americana-rock band Augustana from the 2000s. The band released three studio albums and found great success with the hits “Boston” and “Sweet and Low.” After the group amicably disbanded, Dan Layus, the band’s lead vocalist and songwriter, continued performing. He eventually dropped the name Augustana and has since released his debut solo album under his own name.
Dangerous Things was released in October of 2016 and Layus says that it is the most organic work he’s produced. “It’s really satisfying to play these songs live. Musically, the songs feel very close to my body and mind. They feel very natural to me and more broken down,” Layus says of his new music that channels a very different perspective compared to the songs he wrote with Augustana.
DuJour caught up with Dan to discuss the challenges he faced while creating Dangerous Things, the most powerful song on the album and who you might be surprised to hear he’s been listening to lately.
How was it been performing these songs live?
For Dangerous Things, I recorded almost all of the songs the way I perform them live. I would take one, two or three takes and that was it. As long as I felt the magic of the song and it spoke to me, I would move on to the next one. It takes a lot of weight off the live shows because I’ve been able to just continue that process on the stage. On previous records I’ve stacked a lot of production elements into each song and it made reproducing the songs in a live setting a bit intimidating.
Was that a refreshing change?
I’ll be honest; it takes a lot of self-control and a lot of restraint to not stack a lot of stuff into a song. I gave myself one rule for the record and that was to never have more than two instruments on any song. If I was singing and playing the piano, I could only use one other instrument. The only other sound I allowed was the background vocals from the Secret Sisters.
How was it working with the Secret Sisters on this album?
So, my manager brought the Secret Sisters to me and I was onboard immediately. They came down to Nashville a couple of days later and after singing on two songs, we just kept going and they’re on five or six songs. I could’ve put them across the whole record- they have such an angelic sound. It was amazing to work with them.
What was the main inspiration for Dangerous Things?
For the album in general, I had a bit of outside influence. I felt that I needed to put more of an effort into getting away from my own narrative. In the past I’ve written songs lyrically about my own experience and my personal viewpoints. For Dangerous Things I needed to be very politely nudged into writing other people’s stories and their narratives.
Did you face any challenges while writing the album?
What was challenging was the fact that I’ve been in a very happy place in my life for a long time now, and I’m the type of writer who has a hard time writing during happy periods. It was very helpful and liberating to recognize that I can be a writer and not always channel my own spirit. I’m allowed to get outside of myself and I should embrace that. That’s not to say there aren’t songs that reflect my personal feelings and my heart, but it was refreshing to relieve myself of that burden of wondering if there was anything else I could possibly say about my life.
Lyrically, what do you think is the most powerful song you wrote?
I think that my fans identify with many of the songs in very different ways. For myself, the song that was the heaviest to write and the most burden-filled was “Driveway.” It was a fast write, but it was heavy. It was the first and probably last song that I would write with my wife. We were lying in bed and I showed her the lyrics I had and she stepped in to help me finish it. It was a tough song to write but it’s an even tougher song to perform. I feel the responsibility to channel that character and that sentiment that my wife and I felt when it was written. Before I perform it, I always have to take a step back and put myself back in the headspace I was in when we wrote it.
What is a band or artist that fans would be surprised to know you listen to?
I’ve really jumped on the Run the Jewels train with my wife. These days though, everything is so accessible, it’s so much easier to become a fan of multiple genres. I think the younger generations are far less restricted in their musical tastes.
Main Image Credit: Justin Clough