The Southern California, and now Nashville transplant group's fourth full-length album, Life Imitating Life, and first for Washington Square and Razor & Tie sees singer, guitarist, and songwriter Daniel Layus wholeheartedly embracing Augustana's musical touchstones, while simultaneously progressing. His own journey proves central to these ten tracks, making for a passionate, poetic, and powerful story.
2011 will be remembered as a turning point for Layus both personally and professionally. The original members of the quintet decided to disband and go their separate ways.
"We had and still have a very special connection from our upbringing on the road for eight years, we were all struggling to find something new and exciting within what we were doing together. It took a while for us a while to let that all settle, sink in, and figure out who we were and how we could move forward. Once we decided what we all wanted to do, I took some time to really sit back and make sure writing and making records and performing on the road was something I was still passionate about, it didn't take me long before I knew what the answer was and I started writing. A lot of things started to really come into focus for me both on and off stage in my life and that's really the foundation for a lot of this record."
Layus spent the next two and a half years feverishly composing songs, and he organically sparked the group's current chapter.
"I wrote a ton of music," he affirms, "At times, I was very unsure of the direction I should take, while other moments were completely invigorating and natural and obvious. It was a long and deliberate attempt to deal with some things in my life that I didn't want to think about anymore, being in a better place emotionally and physically it's hard to go back down into that past sometimes. However, I find that when you dive down into that world and dig up that sense of self-awareness, you can find some of the most poignant and important parts of yourself. The goal was to flush out all those feelings with a pen and a melody in a therapeutic way, and hopefully that translates from paper to a record."
That's precisely what he did upon retreating to a studio in Rhinebeck, NY with producer John O'Mahony in December 2013 for tracking as well as producing some of the record in his new home in Nashville. John O'Mahony (known for his work on Metric and Sara Bareilles) brought a sense of comfort and peace to the project, while pushing Layus to reach for something bigger than himself. Together, they harnessed that same energy. Now, the set's first single and opening track "Ash & Ember" commences with a resounding piano melody before building into an uplifting and undeniable refrain bolstered by shimmering guitars and the vocalist's soaring delivery. The lyrical imagery of a phoenix rising remains quite a propos as well.
"It felt like the right way to introduce this album and re-enter the atmosphere as an artist," he goes on. "I put a lot on my plate over the years. I made a ton of bad decisions and many good decisions, I hurt a lot of people I cared for and loved, including myself. The song is about how it can be easy to beat up yourself. You've got to be able to acknowledge that who you are now isn't defined by who you were but that it is a part of your makeup. It's a mix of reflecting on the past as well as reflecting on the present, questioning one's self and saying "Am I okay? Because I think I am, Is it okay for me to be okay now? Is it appropriate for me to be happy yet?" And then looking forward and knowing that although I can never replace the past, I can acknowledge and live for a better day today and tomorrow."
That future looks as bright as ever, and it's easy to feel that same sunshine on "Love In The Air." Conceived as Layus gleefully enjoyed the smell of fresh laundry and a spring day outside his Los Angeles apartment, he captures that energy in the moment with a lithe melody and gospel-size backing. At the same time, "Youth Is Wasted On The Young" pensively ponders its titular subject with resounding keys and an intensely irresistible refrain.
"That's a different chapter of the same book," adds Layus. "It's when you're lying in bed thinking about your life and what led you to the place you're in. It's frustrating sometimes and you start chasing your tail. There's no time machine to go back, and even if you could, would you or could you do anything differently? Because I suppose you only know what you know now because you you're here now, you weren't here back then."
Since starting while its members were in college, Augustana has built a remarkable history of their own. 2005's All The Stars and Boulevards, its follow-up Can't Love, Can't Hurt in 2008, and most recently Augustana cumulatively exceed sales of 500,000 albums. In addition, they've enjoyed single sales of 2.5 million and counting. Meanwhile, "Boston", "Sweet & Low", and "I Still Ain't Over You" vaulted to the Top 10 at AAA Radio, while "Boston" reached #1 at Hot AC and landed in the Top 25 of Top 40. Not to mention, they've played to packed houses around the world while headlining and supporting the likes of OneRepublic, Snow Patrol, Dashboard Confessional, and more.
Ultimately though, Layus is inviting everybody along to live this Life with him. "Ultimately I just want to put something positive out there in the world. I feel an undeniably strong need to create and release something that feels positive and hopeful and important in an artistic way. If it can inspire somebody or help them when they're in a rough spot in their lives, a place I've been before and survived to tell the tale, then what a special thing to be able to do."