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Portland’s AU on Music Making, Touring, Inspiration

Luke Wyland and Dana Valatka of AU. Photo by Seppi Ramos.

Looking for something different, yet refreshing? Look no further than AU (pronounced “ay-you”), a self-proclaimed “experimental pop,” multi-instrumental band out of Portland, Oregon. Their sound is something new, something beautiful and I can’t seem to get enough. Neither can Portland. AU’s self-titled debut album was named Portland’s number two album of the year in 2007 by Portland Mercury.

The talented Luke Wyland is the master behind this musical genius of a band. Wyland himself is in charge of singing and playing the lapsteel, guitar, sampler and electronics. Holland Andrews, AU’s latest addition, contributes vocals, and plays clarinet, glockenspiel and percussion. Dana Valatka brings it all together with his energy on the drums.

Originally comprised of just Wyland and Valatka, who met while Wyland was attending art school in Boston, AU had been receiving help from vocalists from local Portland bands throughout the years. A little over a year ago, Valatka happened to see Andrews performing under her stage name, Like a Villian, and immediately wrote Wyland to, “rave about how incredible she was,” recalls Wyland. Just a few days later, Andrews was signed on to record their new album, Both Lights, released earlier this year.

Holland Andrews. Photo by Coltrane Jones.

So, what is the meaning behind the name of AU?  “I’ve been gathering many meanings over the years. The most obvious is gold from the periodic table of elements. It is also an astronomical unit, or both ears in medical shorthand, ‘ouch’ in Norwegian, etc.,” shares Wyland.

The band has undeniably struck gold with their incredible sound.

Last night, AU performed at day one of SxStateside at the Rhythm Room in Phoenix, and I am proud to say I got to see them play. Andrews’ impeccable voice blends with Wyland’s multi-instrumental abilities perfectly. AU is a delight to watch live, they make the experience enthralling with their stage presence. Watching these three come together and make such fascinating music is an unmatched event. AU is definitely a sight to see and as Valatka told me last night, they will be back in Phoenix to play again. So keep an eye out and go see them next time they are here! You do not want to miss it.

Read our Q&A with the band to find out how their album Both Lights was put together and who has inspired them along the way…

How excited are you guys for this tour?

Luke – We are really excited to be traveling with Holland Andrews for the first time. We’ve been a two piece for years, and having that extra presence on stage, especially someone as powerful and enigmatic as Holland, has been a real joy. It’s also been a few years since we’ve really hit it hard and have been itching to road test all of these new songs.

You guys have toured extensively in the past few years. What have been some of your favorite memories or favorite bands to play with?

Dana – I came to love everyone that we toured with: Deerhoof, WHY?, Dark Dark Dark, Serengeti & Polyphonic. It’s been so good to get to know them as people and therefore come to appreciate their music even more. Also loved playing to large crowds who knew nothing about us and being able to surprise them. The End of the Road festival in England and La Terra Trema festival in France were especially amazing nights. The most interesting locales were the squat that we played in rural Latvia and the yard that we played in in rural Italy. And the extreme conditions of the First Unitarian Church basement in Philly, so hot and unventilated, with the spirit of those kids, was a delirious and memorable experience for sure. Overall, I just loved waking up in the morning and being excited to go to work later.

Talk about the songwriting and recording process and what makes this record, Both Lights, different from your previous EP. Who does what in the record-making process?

Luke – I’m primarily at the helm of the process as I’ve recorded, mixed and produced everything AU has released. This one was a bit more intense and involved building a rather small room in the back of a garage to record in – essentially just large enough to fit Dana’s drum and my recording setup. It also took much longer than any other album, about 10 months all in all of full-time work. Well worth it though, as I feel as if I allowed all of these songs to gestate long enough to lead me to their natural and strongest resolution. It’s also as close as a recording has ever sounded to our live set. All in all it’s a much more dynamic and jittery musical experience.

Dana – I remember that some songs started as a very small idea, a short segment that was looped and improvised on and then recorded so that we could remember it. Then Luke will be the fantastic producer that he is and shape it into something more mature over time. We took some songs out on the road, which allowed us to realize what did and didn’t work. Many songs ended up almost unrecognizable compared to what they were. But mostly they became as good as they were because of the many hours that Luke spent slapping them around getting them to tell him what they knew. If the roles were reversed, there probably wouldn’t be an album at all.

What are some of your guys’ inspirations? Favorite bands or singers that made you decide you wanted to be in the music business?

Luke – Terry Riley, Paul Simon, Michael Jackson, 60s Minimalism (ala Cage), Keith Jarrett, King Crimson, 70s Miles Davis…. and on and on.

Dana – How do I answer this without writing a book? There isn’t anything that necessarily made me decide to get into it. My first record that was my own was an Adam Ant record. My first show was Van Halen and BTO. As a young’un I loved The Beatles, The Residents, Motley Crue, Pink Floyd, The Pixies… I graduated to Anthrax, Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer. I went through a death metal period: Entombed, Sepultura, Napalm Death, and Carcass. But also at the same time listened to PJ Harvey, Clutch and LOTS of Ween. I am big into Neurosis, Boredoms, Crash Worship, Neutral Milk Hotel. Eventually, I was introduced to 70’s Miles Davis and Sly & the Family Stone. Oh, I don’t know how to be more precise, and I could surely keep going!

Holland – A couple people that inspired me to become a performer were Björk and Michael Jackson. Both of them exist in very different music worlds, but both are artists that I have looked up to ever since I was a kid.

Anything else you would like to say?

Dana – Yes, there is.

Holland – Girls rule, boys drool.

Luke – I’d have to agree with both.

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