Life has a way of keeping you on your toes. You'll think that you're happy and content and then something will come along and rock your world. Sometimes that happens within your family, sometimes that happens at work When it happened with Augustana's Dan Layus - it seemed like it was a mix of both. When the other two core members of Augustana, Jared Palomar and Justin South, left the group - Layus had an uncertain future with Augustana. Should he move on and go solo? Should he start a new group? Or should he just keep going with Augustana? Layus chose the third option. After the band left, he went out and did some solo acoustic touring. Eventually he figured things out with the Augustana moniker, signed with Washington Square/Razor & Tie, and recorded a new album called Life Imitating Life. The new record comes out this month. 2012 and 2013 were big years for Layus. They weren't big years for Augustana necessarily, but they were big years for the personal growth of the songsmith. In a recent interview with Alternative Addiction, he talked about the new record, his new view on life, and getting back on his feet over the last two years.
"I went out and did a couple of tours after the band dissolved," said Layus. "I took a bit of time to think about my passion and my approach to it all. I sorted out a few things in my personal life too. I got everything restarted and feeling fresh and clean. I moved out to Tennessee with my family. I did a bunch of writing in L.A. before we moved and I did a bunch of writing here too. I wrote for myself and I wrote for outside projects. That's something I'm still doing outside of my own stuff."
That's the short of the long of what Layus went through from the last Augustana record to this one. Layus has changed. You can tell that by listening to him talk now. Four years ago he would have talked about everything that went wrong and everyone who wronged him. Not this time. The vanity of youth makes you think in terms of what you're going to do and why everyone else is responsible for your problems. The wisdom that comes with age and experience makes you think in terms of what you can do now and what you could have done better.
"That's kind of the main focus on this record. A lot of the records come from the same reflective place but there's even more to reflect on now. The more years you build up, the more you have to look back and regret or celebrate.
"There's a sense of looking ahead with this record as well. It bounces between those two things. I look back, I'm 29 now, that's not old by any means, but it's older. I lived a lot of life through my 20s; three kids, four records, a marriage, alcoholism, sobriety, touring, labels, the list goes on. But at the same time, I'm in a happy place right now. It's a good feeling. This record reflects that. The title, 'Life Imitating Life,' it's battling between some questions. Have I come full circle? Is that a good thing if I have? Am I just going in circles? Is this all pre-planned? Is this just a social experiment of people? How much can I control? If I can control that, can I control myself? There's a lot of questions there. I think about that stuff all the time and I'm sure I'll continue to think that way as I get older. It's something that a lot of people battle with all the time."
Once Augustana went from three captains steering the ship to one, Dan had to figure some things out. It took some time to get accustomed to both touring and recording without his longtime friends. Recording in particular was something different. Life Imitating Life was recorded in two different places. Half of it was recorded in Rhinebeck, New York with John O'Mahony producing where Dan got a bit of help with drums, bass, and programming. The other half of the album was recorded in Nashville with Layus producing and playing all of the instruments too.
"It was different to get used to at first, but I knew that if this was going to be something that I was going to continue to pursue, I knew I needed to get my hands dirty. I found something that really works for me. I wanted to make things sound as real as possible, whether I was singing or just playing. I went for the gut reaction approach with everything. Once it's recorded, If I got a gut reaction that it felt right, I'd keep it and move on. I didn't try to perfect it or tune it in the computer. I just wanted to record it and make it feel real, because it was real," added Layus.
In addition to recording, Layus took a serious approach to the lyrics he wrote with these songs too.
"I wanted to dive a little deeper as far as the way I said things. I wanted to use the english language in a more interesting way, at least to me, to the peak of my abilities. I feel like I did that and hopefully I'll be able to do that with the next one and continue that. I took a lot of inspiration from artists like Peter Gabriel and Amy Mann. In my head, it blends between those two worlds mixed with Augustana - if you can call that something."
Layus has changed. Three years ago he wasn't a starving artist looking for motivation, but he wasn't exactly filled with hope and passion either. Now, he is. How has Layus been in the music business for the past decade and not become jaded and negative about his path and his past? He's upbeat and positive, because he intentionally tries to be.
"That's been a process. That's something that my wife and I talk about all the time. Not just in the career, but with life in general. How can we make tomorrow a better day? How can I make someone's day better tomorrow? We want to put good things out there in the world. I'm starting to see the longevity of these songs and what they really mean to people. It's kind of an elementary thought, and I don't mean this in an arrogant way - but when you've been doing this as long as I have you know that jaded is not a flattering look. It's not a good look on me. I think I went through phases in my 20's like everybody else where I was angry and depressed. I got disappointed in other people and other things, myself and my abilities or lack thereof. That's part of the process of growing up. Now, I think differently. I know that you can control what you can control. If I put good things out and I treat people right - hopefully that gratitude reciprocates and snowballs. If that comes back to me in a positive way, that's great. If not, I can go to sleep at night knowing I did the right thing that day. I'm finding out that's the most important thing in my life daily."
Life Imitating Life comes out on April 22nd.