Interview: Dan Layus Embraces ‘Dangerous Things’ on Debut Solo Album
Everything's coming full circle for Dan Layus. On Friday (Oct. 21), the former frontman of mid-2000s rock band Augustana will release his first official solo album, Dangerous Things. Following his move to the Nashville area in 2013, Layus found himself inspired -- and rejuvenated -- by country's "traditionalists with a twist" (Glen Campbell, Dwight Yoakam, Ray Price, etc.); as such, his new 11-track project combines from-the-heart lyrics with minimalist production and features pedal steel, fiddle and the Secret Sisters' harmonies.
It's everything, Layus told The Boot during the 2016 Americana Music Festival, that he wanted, and more.
"Musically, creatively, [Dangerous Things] is definitely owning a bit more of a specific sound and direction; I don't think it's scattered across as large of a landscape," Layus says, comparing Augustana's music to his solo material, "and certainly the way I made the record is very different -- very minimalist, from beginning to end, both in its composition and recording and release. It's very hyper-focused ...
"I just wanted to make this one record with a certain sound and a certain amount of songs that really spoke to me," he continues, "and just go to bed happy and just feel comfortable and excited about it."
Plenty of Augustana's material would have fallen within the Americana / alt-country genre -- "I do feel that we very comfortably resided in that world," Layus notes. "I think, sometimes, the fans ... didn't know it was influenced by that." -- but Americana and alt-country weren't really really "a thing" a decade ago. It was, however, to a lesser extent, a prominent musical style when Layus was growing up; the artist cites, specifically, Ryan Adams' 2001 album Gold as his "gateway drug to alt-country."
"I really wanted to show that [Americana, country and alt-country] are where my love is," Layus explains. "I've been wanting to feel at home in that sort of genre for 12 years ... Ever since high school -- junior year in high school -- I've been in love with and completely attracted to this style of songwriting, performances, instrumentation."
When Layus and his family moved to Franklin, Tenn., three years ago, the singer "felt like we had lived here in a past life or something ... just felt immediately connected to the area." He also felt a creative spark that, by Layus' own admission, had dimmed in recent years.
"I was in sort of a dead spot creatively in LA ... The band had broken up, I wasn't doing much," he recalls. "[I had to] re-learn how to write on my own. In Nashville and in LA, I started learning a little too well how to lean on other writers and use that as a crutch."
On Dangerous Things, "to overuse a common phrase, less was more for me," Layus says; he was ready to simplify after, on past releases, shooting for production that was "as big as possible, from as left to as right as possible."
"Sometimes when you try to blow the speakers off, the message is lost ... You feel like, in the studio, like you're taking it to a more dynamic, important level, when really, after a while ...," he admits. "This time around, I just thought, 'This is how these songs are being written, this is what is coming out of me naturally, and I'm not gonna fight it, and I think I should record it like that.'"
Dangerous Things was "90 percent there" (or, rather, Layus thought it was) when he and his manager decided to bring the Secret Sisters in to sing on five of its tracks. He'd become a fan of the sibling duo via satellite radio, and when he put in the ask, they were on board to do as many songs as Layus wanted.
"Now, looking back, I don't think [the album] was 90 percent there; I think it was 60 percent," Layus says, calling the Secret Sisters "incredible" and noting, "They just crushed it ... It was wonderful."
Although Layus says he "doesn't feel too nostalgic about the past in general, especially my own music," he thinks he's found "a zone," creatively, where he'll stay "for a while."
"I just have a real innate desire to move forward at all times -- at least in my creative endeavors," he confesses. "I like being comfortable and at home and happy in my life, but creatively, I'm always sort of itching for the next scratch."
Friday will be a big day for Layus: In addition to the release of Dangerous Things, he'll be making his debut at the Grand Ole Opry.
"I'm ... um, I'm pretty overwhelmed by it. I'm not anxious about it, but -- well, that's a lie, I guess I am anxious about it," Layus admits. "I'm gonna dress in my finest suit, and I'm going to go up there, and I'm going to sing my two songs with some of the finest musicians on the planet. In Nashville. At the Opry. I'll be in good hands.
"It's an incredible notion to me that I get that invitation," he adds. "I'm going to seize this moment and enjoy it, because I may never get back."
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