Critically-acclaimed “Mexo-Americana” singer-songwriter David Wax joins Cindy Howes’ Basic Folk podcast as one half of the group David Wax Museum, which he does alongside his wife Suz Slezak.
The two chat about the unexpected beauty of life during lockdown, Wax’s affinity for Mexican folk music and his time in the academic realm at Harvard as well as their upcoming album Euphoric Ouroboric, which drops April 16.
Howes also plays the band’s newest single, “Juniper Jones” in an effort to showcase the band’s unique sound, which Wax explains is heavily influenced by traditional Mexican “son” music.
In sharing Wax’s musical metamorphosis, he reveals that it was the iconic Cuban band Buena Vista Social Club and other seemingly serendipitous forces that originally piqued his interest in music outside of the traditional American soundscape.
“I think someone might have an idea of like, ‘Oh, he grew up in Missouri, pretty white bread background,’ but I was just very lucky to have these kind of moments that opened up my eyes to a larger cultural landscape beyond Missouri,” he says.
From there, Wax attended Deep Springs College in Deep Springs, California and spent the summer of his freshman year in Mexico. Upon return to school, he became close with a professor of Mexican anthropology and was afforded the opportunity to learn all about Spanish folk music.
Spending a year in Mexico for a Harvard-awarded fellowship allowed Wax to see the cultural differences between Mexico and America in their approach to music and performance as a whole through local parties called “fandangos.”
“I certainly dealt with culture shock when I got back to Boston after living in Mexico and kind of struggling with how the performers are always up on the stage,” Wax says. “There’s this distance and separation. There’s the spotlights. And it’s like this specialized skill. There’s just all these layers put between the performer and the audience … We kind of like all these demarcated zones where it is allowed to happen, or where we go for music. So I think that I was inspired by what I saw in Mexico and felt like we can do this however we want to do it. Like the way that this is set out is arbitrary.”
In this way, Wax not only has become experimental in his musical process through all kinds of Mexican instruments but in his performance process as well, and with the pandemic his creativity has only increased.
He explains that over quarantine he and his wife have shifted into using Patreon and doing weekly livestream shows for their fans.
“For us to be able to just do these shows from our house and no travel and like put our kids to bed and then come up and do a show and not have any expenses for the show, it’s been amazing,” Wax shares. “I think we were just lucky that we had been out for so long that we had that relationship with the fans already. People knew us and our music. Because it’s a partnership, there are nights where I’m not feeling that great and Suz is just kind of like putting on an incredible show and engaging with everybody in the audience and making people feel like we’re together in this new weird way. I just feel like we’ve learned and grown so much as a musician this year in terms of all the songs we’ve learned and just trying to keep the livestreams fresh.”
For more information on the band’s Patreon page click here and check out their album Euphoric Ouroboric upon release on April 16 as well as the rest of the conversation on the Basic Folk podcast.