David Wax Museum's new album, "Guesthouse," is flying on all cylinders, says principal singer, songwriter and guitarist David Wax.
Touring as a five-piece — Wax, Suz Slezak on fiddle, accordion, keyboard and jawbone, bassist Chris Dammann, electric guitarist Charles Rivera and Danilo Henriquez on drums and trumpet — the group finished seven weeks on the road behind the new recording released in mid-October before taking a week off for Thanksgiving, then headed to the West Coast and central states.
"We feel like the songs are connecting with listeners," Wax says. "My hope for each new batch of songs is that they take me in new directions as a singer and performer, that the songs are asking something different of me. That's been the case on this record. I've stretched out a lot. It feels great."
David Wax Museum layers Americana-style lyrics over traditional Mexican folk music. The music's roots stretch back almost a decade, to when Wax was a student at Harvard University. During that time he traveled south of the border to study Mexico's traditional music and culture.
"I lived in a couple of regions and studied different styles of Mexican folk music," Wax says. "I was first introduced to the music while living in La Huasteca, a region in Central Mexico, and in Michoacan, where they play son calentano. Then there's son jarocho from Veracruz, the style that most directly influences our music. They're all rural folk styles, a mix of African, Spanish and indigenous styles, with 6/8 rhythms. Very danceable."
Wax's band will perform at 8 p.m. Monday, Dec. 7, in the Music Recital Hall on the Southern Oregon University campus, 1250 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland. Tickets to the One World Performance Series concert at SOU are $22, $8 for students, and can be purchased online at oca.sou/box-office, at the box office in the music hall or by calling 541-552-6348.
David Wax Museum will perform live at 2 p.m. Monday on Eric Teel's "Open Air" on Jefferson Public Radio.
Wax — who performed as a singer and songwriter in college — was eager to form a band after his visit to Mexico. He and Slezak met in Boston, and the duo fused traditional folk with Wax's Mexo-Americana into an energetic blend that turned the heads of listeners and critics at the 2010 Newport Folk Festival. NPR hailed them as "pure, irresistible joy." The band took on an active touring schedule and self-released a trio of independent albums.
Its newest — "Guesthouse" — blends the band's acoustic sound with synthesizers and layers of percussion.
"The music has changed as I've gotten deeper into it," Wax says. "Sometimes I borrow from song structures, or just take a rhythm or a certain chord structure. Sometimes I'm using instruments and sounds to do something distinctively not Mexican."
Wax and Slezak started the band as friends. Now they are married and have a 2-year-old that tours with them, a change that inevitably has to show up in Wax's songs.
"I'm really not that objective about it, though I get asked that question a lot," Wax says. "My songwriting has changed over the course of becoming of father, but it's just that there's a lot of energy tied up in the role, which is so important, and I'm thinking about it when I choose themes."
Wax always has enjoyed writing songs that are exuberant and joyful with serious lyrical content. In that sense, he's not breaking away from his style. The new album is more of a natural transition than any digression.
"We've just got our heads down, makin' music," he says. "We're trying to make something different from the last album, trying to grow as artists and performers. Whatever our intentions are is one thing, how people listen to our music and perceive can be entirely different."