First, the basics: Flock of Dimes is thirty-year-old Jenn Wasner. A native daughter of Baltimore and founding member of the indie rock duo, Wye Oak – you might have heard of them? Jenn is a versatile performer, equally comfortable in the studio or on the stage and right now she has a new album out on Partisan Records called If You See Me, Say Yes.
TGA catch up with the singer while she’s on tour to discuss the struggle in balancing two musical outfits, being able to make records, and her reason to move from her hometown of Baltimore to Durham, North Carolina half way through writing her album. “I actually started writing this record long before North Carolina was even a twinkle in my eye,” she says. “The truth is that I had been slowly coming to terms with my increased need for solitude, and the move away from Baltimore was the natural culmination of that process.”
Though Flock of Dimes is her own project, her creative impulses haven’t changed much from her time with Wye Oak. Her approach remaining intuitive and rooted in musical instinct. “It doesn’t really respond to a rational approach,” she considers. “The projects differ quite a bit as far as what happens to the song once that initial moment of inspiration has passed.”
Whereas Wye Oak lies somewhere between the beautiful, meanderings of folk rock and a creeping sense of something grittier lurking, Wasner positions Flock of Dimes first and foremost as a synth-based electronic act. “I use ProTools and Ableton Live, and a whole host of softsynths/plug-ins. You know, typical production shit.” Jenn happily reels off a list of recording equipment, including a Juno 6, some “weird Casio keyboards”, a Korg Micro Sampler, and homemade instruments made by her friend Thor…
“This is super boring, I’m sorry,” she apologizes with a laugh, before admitting she’s never been into equipment for equiptment’s sake; rather, “it’s only as good to me as what I need it for in the moment, then I’m over it.”
She assumes that most of the people following her as Flock of Dimes know her primarily by way of Wye Oak, but she has been enjoying the newer element of discretion that starting afresh brings. “I don’t mind playing for fewer people. It’s actually quite freeing to not have any expectations for what the show is supposed to be like.”
This was proved earlier this year when she performed her song, Semaphor in the baggage claim area of the Baltimore-Washington International Airport!
“Now, I understand myself a bit better and I have a good sense of what I want from a career—sustainability rather than growth, and creative freedom above all else. When you grow a band into a juggernaut, it essentially becomes, first and foremost, a business. People expect certain things from you and your continued existence depends on your ability to deliver those things, over and over.”
Though she had spent a lot of time thinking about making a solo record, she found it more challenging than she anticipated. “The thing about inspiration is that it never lets you take the same road twice,” and the experiences she’s accumulated over the years always find their way into her music, no matter how mundane the experience. “The trick is learning how to live your life while remaining present and attentive to the things that are worth returning to later.”
The music on If You See Me, Say Yes is propulsive electro and anchored perfectly to Wasner’s voice. That voice is the eye in the storm of synths that twinkle swirl and percussion that keeps the beat moving. It’s experimental, anthemic, intense, but also reflective. It is music that has expanded beyond bedroom pop in search of a higher calling.
Wasner, however, is content to continue to defy expectations.
“I can’t deal with too much repetition and I hate the constant pressure to draw attention to myself. So, basically, I’m looking for the minimum amount of notoriety, money and attention for me to be able to live and make what I want to make,” she laughs. “Anything more is a distraction. It’s a fine line, though, and I worry that I’ll never be able to find that sweet spot. But if I can get by and people keep letting me make records, I’ll be thrilled.”
As long as the music she makes continues to be of the high standards so far, we’re sure she’ll be absolutely fine.
By Stephen M. Tomic