Q&A: David Wax Museum
Fresh from a three-week tour through Europe and after playing this year’s SXSW, Boston’s David Wax Museum is seeing some major momentum: The band played more than 200 shows last year and has been performing nonstop since February. David Wax and Suz Slezak met in 2007 through a mutual friend when Wax was looking for a fiddle player and shared an instant connection. “We really felt the electricity when we started singing together,” says Wax. “It was magical.” The duo’s Mexicana-tinged folk music has been winning over the crowds one city at a time — and with a schedule packed full of summer festivals in the U.S. and Canada, including a performance in Williamstown tomorrow night and a return to the Newport Folk Festival at the end of July — the band is showing no sign of stopping. Happily for Boston Daily, Wax made time to answer a few questions.
What’s it like being an up-and-coming band in the Boston area?
It’s been a wild ride these last few years. I started out in Boston playing open mikes, busking in the subways; my first show was a house concert that I organized for myself because I couldn’t get a gig anywhere in town. So from very humble beginnings, it feels gratifying to have found a receptive audience for the songs.
You’ve been getting a lot of positive press and exposure lately. Do you feel like the band is taking off?
Yes, it does feel like that to us. But there are also hundreds of towns where hardly anyone has heard of us. So we’re always just trying to win new fans over each night. But to have had the critical reception and buzz around the band is an amazing boon. It helps us [when we] show up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and have 50 people there to see us for our first show in the town.
You’re not currently signed to a label, but have said you’re open to the idea. What’s your take on what it means to get signed by a label these days?
It certainly isn’t a magic bullet for anyone’s record or career. But I think with the right label, it helps expand the team of people working to advance the commercial possibilities of any artistic project.
You’ve spent some time in Mexico — how did being there influence your music?
I’ve lived in many different places in Mexico. The Mexican folk music that provides the most direct inspiration comes from southern Veracruz. I initially went down there to do volunteer work with an NGO that collaborated with the American Friends Service Committee. That work first brought me to Mexico in 2001, but then I became deeply interested in the culture, history, literature, and music. I ended up studying Latin American history and literature at Harvard, which continued to provide me with great excuses to get back down to Mexico. It wasn’t until 2006 that I began to seriously study Mexican folk music, and it came together pretty naturally. A wonderful Mexican musician, Anastasia Guzman, encouraged me to try writing a Mexican-styled song and asked me to try using a Mexican rhythm on a straight-ahead Americana song of mine. The results were fascinating. At around the same time, I was singing in English over traditional Mexican songs and finding very inspiring possibilities.
Is there anyone on the bill for this year’s Newport Folk Festival that you’re particularly pumped to see?
Elvis Costello, The Civil Wars, and Emmylou Harris.
What music have you been listening to lately that you love?
The new records from Iron and Wine, The Low Anthem, and Josh Rouse.
If you could play anywhere in the world, where would it be?
We’d love to tour India. The editor of the Hindustan Times is a big fan, so maybe it’s not just a crazy pipe dream.