Living the dream

It’s easy to image that the passports of David Wax Museum’s three core players (frontman David Wax, Suz Slezak and Greg Glassman) are dog-eared and stamped to capacity from use. In addition to touring the U.S. and traveling to Mexico to collect field recordings for September release Knock Knock Get Up (it was produced on the opposite end of North America, in Maine), David Wax Museum also spent a week in Shanghai this spring as cultural ambassadors.

“We’ve all lived and studied abroad and we do gather our influences from all over the world,” says Slezak.

For her, China was “the first time to be back in a really different culture” since a year abroad after college. “It felt really good to go back with this gift of music to share,” she says. David Wax Museum was not in Shanghai to gather sounds as much as to meet with and play for students. “We thought, ‘Are they going to get it?’” Slezak says. But the end result was that the Chinese audience responded the same way fans all over the world have to David Wax Museum’s unique mash up of Americana and Mexican son (a south-of-the-border folk tradition) styles.

With Knock Knock Get Up, the band’s most fully realized to date, Slezak says the two major influences find a balance and the songs sound less Americana, less Mexican, and more like the sheer joy with which the band infuses its music.

Here’s an example of that joy: A couple of seasons ago, David Wax Museum performed in the barn at Lake Eden Arts Festival. The members of the band often walk off stage and into the audience and, at one point during their LEAF performance, Wax himself wandered downstairs, letting his voice float back to the crowd through the floor boards.

Slezak says the group has been known to come off the stage during festivals, depending on the size of the crowd. “We’re always trying to break the barrier between the audience and the stage, keeping people on their toes,” she says. Part of the surprise of the band is in their instrumentation: Wax plays jarana (a guitar-type instrument from Mexico) and Slezak plays quijada (a percussion instrument fashioned from the lower jawbone of a donkey). And then there are what Slezak calls “tricks”: The musicians stand on chairs, sing harmonies, even sit in the laps of willing onlookers (as she did in Shanghai). Though the idea that music breaks down barriers may be a cliche one, for Slezak and company, it proved to be a happy truth.

At one point in China, Slezak recalls, the students asked David Wax Museum’s members what their parents thought of them pursuing music. She says on the video of the band’s trip that they “embody the American dream of pursuing happiness” — an idea perfectly on par with the upbeat, rhythmically complex, hooky-happy sounds on Knock Knock Get Up. Expect a preview at Bele Chere.

“Even in America, people really value artists,” Slezak says. “There’s a sense that this country values what we’re doing.”

who: David Wax Museum
when: Coxe Avenue Stage, Sunday, 4:30 to 6 p.m.

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts writer and editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs.

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