Augustana: Back and Better Than Ever (Interview & Review)

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Photo by Jeremy Cowart

Three years ago, Augustana almost ceased to exist as a band. Lead singer Dan Layus would not let that happen, though. After several members departed from the lineup, Layus took on Augustana as a solo act. Now, Life Imitating Life,the new studio album from Augustana, is being released. Substream caught up with Layus to talk about the brand new record, spring tour plans and moving on.

Substream Magazine: You’re kicking off a tour with Twin Forks on April 19th and your new album, Life Imitating Life, comes out on April 22nd. Are you excited about getting back out on the road and playing new material?

Dan Layus: Absolutely, I’m very excited to get out there and play these new songs in front of everyone. It’s always a very gratifying experience anytime I’m able to get up on a stage of any size and play material that I’ve written and feel intimately connected to.

SM: What inspired the title Life Imitating Life?

DL: It’s a phrase that’s derived from a song I wrote on the album called “According to Plan.” It’s a thought process questioning the subject matter on the album, essentially wrapping up by asking oneself, “Have I come full circle? Or am I just going in circles?”

SM: The first single off Life Imitating Life called “Ash and Ember” sounds similar to many of the songs on 2011’s Augustana. Is that why you decided to release it as a single?

DL: No, not necessarily. It just felt right to me as the first single. This album has hints of all of Augustana’s previous records, and hopefully a little bit of something for everyone.

SM: What song(s) on the new album do you hope fans will connect with? Which one(s) mean the most to you?

DL: I really do have equal amounts of love for the entirety of the album, and I hope people will find their own connections to any and all songs on the record.

SM: When members of the band decided to leave Augustana in 2011, what was your motivation to keep the name alive and continue making music?

DL: It was a hard thing to do, carrying on without the guys who I shared so many years with on and off the field, but in my gut, I felt it was something I needed and wanted to do, for both the fans of the band and for my own artistic reasons.

SM: When Augustana was released in 2011, the response wasn’t exactly what you were hoping for. What are your expectations for Life Imitating Life?

DL: I’m really excited about the collection of songs on Life Imitating Life especially because I feel there’s a consistent thread of very positive thoughts and sentiment.

SM: Even though a few members are now missing from the band, the voice of Augustana remains the same. Do you hope that fans will still be drawn to your music because of this?

DL: I’ve been extremely fortunate to have been able to tour over the last few years. The lineup changes from time to time, but those in the audience who come to the shows are generally very open to the idea of different guys on stage. I just want to go out every time and deliver a sincere and honest show.

SM: You were unsigned for a while and just recently signed with Washington Square. What drew you to signing with them? 

DL: I liked their vision of what that label was going to be, and wanted to be and what we all wanted to do together. I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity and couldn’t be happier there.

SM: Were you working on the album during the in between period? 

DL: I’m essentially always writing songs for another album, just by nature of the way my mind works. These songs document times in my life from about 3 years ago to present day.

SM: Where and with whom did you record the album? What was the recording experience like this time around?

DL: I was fortunate enough to get in the studio with Producer John O’Mahony and additional production member Kurt Uenala up in New York. We did about half the record up there, and I did other bits of the album between Nashville and Los Angeles. 

SM: Any plans for this year other than the upcoming tour with Twin Forks that you can announce? If not, any final words for your fans? 

DL: I’m just really excited to get on this tour and have people hear these songs in person and live, and I have nothing but appreciation and gratitude for everyone who has been so supportive of this band.

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Album Review:

Dan Layus had every reason to quit music. After being dropped from a major label and losing his band mates, Layus was left with a difficult question: carry on making music as Augustana or call it quits? Three years later, the answer is very clear. Augustana is still a recognized name in music with the same familiar voice behind the songs. Life Imitating Life is the new full-length studio album by Augustana. With all the hardships Layus has dealt with the last few years, you might expect the album to come across as dark, but in fact, it has the opposite effect. Life Imitating Life teems with positive messages and hopeful lyrics. Layus has allowed the negative in his life to fuel an album filled with positivity.

The first track of the album, “Ash and Ember,” gives listeners an introduction to the positivity found throughout the album. The phrase “Is it too late?” echoes throughout the entire song, questioning not only Layus himself, but also the listeners. The song depicts Layus’ internal battle to continue making music or move on. It captures the essence of the quiet years since Augustana’s last album and gives fans a peek into Layus’ thoughts. It’s almost impossible to listen to this song and not see the connection to Layus’ life, which makes it all the more relatable especially to Augustana fans.

“Need A Little Sunshine” keeps the album moving at an upbeat tempo. Before the song even starts, listeners know this will follow suit with the positive theme on the record by looking at the title. The song just puts you in a great mood with a catchy melody and chorus. The vocals in the chorus of “Youth Is Wasted On The Young” contain that passionate energy heard in older Augustana hits like “Boston” and “Sweet and Low.” The last track on the album called “Remember Me” is one of the most beautiful songs on the record with only Layus’ vocals against a piano for the majority of the song. Such a stripped down song really allows Layus to show off his talent.

The rest of the album is filled with piano-driven tracks. Without this element, the songs just wouldn’t sound like Augustana. Many things have changed within the band over the last few years, but the incredible songwriting and simplicity in the tracks remain the same. The only flaw I found within this album is the lack of surprises. After all, this is Augustana’s reintroduction to the music world. As a fan of Augustana, I found myself wanting to hear something new and exciting within the tracks, but I just didn’t. Only a few songs stand out. The rest lack diversity and just don’t hold your attention as well. It’s not that I don’t like the album; I just know Augustana is capable of much more.

Life Imitating Life is available April 22 via Washington Square Music.

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