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Dan Layus bringing rootsy sound to Tower Theatre

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Dan Layus will be performing at The Tower Theatre this Thursday.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – Dan Layus, best known as the frontman for the polished pop-rock band Augustana, which had a 2006 hit with “Boston” and was a popular number with the CW/WB TV crowd, getting played on shows like One Tree Hill, finally shed the “Augustana” moniker in the past few years, moving to a new stage of his musical incarnation, and embracing his own name this time.

And while Augustana, which had its roots in San Diego-via-Illinois, would be lumped in with other sensitive and earnest bands of that era – Five for Fighting, Train, The Fray, etc. – the usual band disagreements and whatnot led to Layus being the last man standing by 2014, with Life Imitating Life, which would be Augustana’s last record, and right after relocating to the Volunteer State, to be closer to the Nashville scene and the opportunities it offers, along with its storied musical history.

So, when Red Dirt Report spoke with Layus via telephone late last week, the San Diego native, who now calls central Tennessee home, was on the road driving from San Antonio to a show in Houston, “making the rounds through Texas,” as he put it, now that he has “decided to create something under my own name.”

So in 2016, Layus released his first, true solo album, Dangerous Things, an album that wears its influences proudly on its sleeve, from To Waits to Woody Guthrie and from Dwight Yoakam to Roy Orbison. Clearly, Layus is in good company with the 11 rootsy, country-rock numbers on this Plated Records/ADA release, put out just about one year ago.

In a press release, Layus had said that he “always knew this alum was out there waiting, I just had to let it come to me,” by just letting the songs come to him, “organically and purely,” rather than forcing them to come.

And so you listen to the bittersweet, pedal-steel-influenced song “Driveway” where you hear the heartfelt ache in his voice, you see how Layus seems comfortable in this Americana guise where it is truly about the song and the message behind it.

“Every day I wake up out here on the road, or at home or step out on stage and I have to remember and refocus my attention and energy as to why I am there that day, why I’m driving from city to city in Texas,” Layus said. “If I make it about success in the conventional sense, that we’re generally used to, I’ll drive myself batty. I have to remember that … we can tell our story in a unique way and connect on an authentic level and (the audience) can go home with something that will alter their perception of things or give them ways of thinking about things in a different way. And then later, I get to hear their stories.”

While Augustana had a pop sheen, it also had a rootsy core and Layus, growing up in the 1990’s, embraced the rootsier sounds of rock bands like R.E.M, Counting Crows and The Wallflowers, along with the alt-country music of that period, the sounds that Layus “cut his teeth” on in those formative years when success struck and they were getting radio play and touring with big names.

And while that influenced his sound, Layus said he later dug a little deeper, finding solace and inspiration in the music of an earlier generation – Gram Parsons, Flying Burrito Brothers, The Byrds, Chris Hillman – that California country sound (Layus is from San Diego, after all) and when those records hit him, he said, “I found out that’s where my soul was.”

And Layus also mentions singer/songwriter and composer Randy Newman as an influence as well, taking a Newman-esque approach to writing songs, and pushing himself a little harder, a path Layus says he is “certainly on.”

“Everything has gone on from there,” he said. In a lot of ways, my appreciation has gone further down the channels of where they were getting their musical influences from. Many people progress through different stages of life, noting who influence them 10 years earlier, for instance, through music or American literature or what have you.”

Layus is also taking on the role of solo artist very seriously. There’s no band name to hide behind. And he said he is taking the challenges that poses in stride.

“I go up there every night … and I’m on this run by myself. I’ve usually always had one accompaniment. But I challenged myself. There’s no one to lean on except my own ability. I have found that to be challenging at times.

And when Layus plays the Tower Theatre this Thursday evening, he will be sharing the bill with Will Hoge, an award-winning songwriter who has been on a similar path to that of Layus, while also challenging himself musically by recording music that has depth and features complex topics, all performed in a style that blends elements of vintage country, roots-rock and folk.

“First and foremost Will (Hoge) is one of the better songwriters in America,” Layus said. “I have the pleasure of hearing him every night. That guy can write a tune! I feel I am very much on the same wavelength as Will, the way he builds a song and delivers a song. He puts on a great show. He has a great band. He’s also a great storyteller and a comic genius.”

Asked if he has begun writing songs for a presumed follow-up solo album, Layus, who comes off as exceedingly friendly and soft-spoken, said his time on the road has given himself a chance to grow as a writer and a thinker, while “penning quite a few new tunes.”

“I’ve been focusing a lot of my energy on piano, which is the place where I started my musical journey,” Layus said. “It’s a place where I found more, well, I found that it’s an instrument that’s a natural extension of my thought process, more than guitar. I find myself being creative behind a piano.”

And that has led the musician to further explore themes and ideas that he had only lightly touched upon before.

“What I’m trying to do in my music and in my life is keep an eye on the little things,” he said. “Thinking globally and acting locally. Finding peace and happiness in my own day. And then reach that vibe out to people at the gas stop – the clerk at the gas station – or the person I’m signing a record for that night.”

Asked if had performed in Oklahoma before, he says he recalls playing at Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa but doesn’t remember who Augustana was opening for that night. What he does remember was taking in the history of that venue and being in awe of all those who came before.

But don't expect a lot of onstage banter, he noted.

"Finding the entertainer and storyteller on and off stage has been a challenge," admits Layus. "But I've found abilities in myself I didn't think I had. I've had to push myself to get better. Music, songwriting, it needs to be touching people in a positive and encouraging way. Whether it's a down song or more open-ended, I'm getting a lot of satisfaction being there.

Asked how it feels to continue pursuing his musical dream, Layus is quick to say he is happiest in this element.

“I feel successful,” Layus said. “I don’t know what the answer is as far as making a living at being creative and putting out what I consider art. If I can make an honest, blue-collar living at this, I’d feel very successful, going into my mid-30’s.”

Added Layus: “I’m grateful for having this opportunity. I certainly work for it, like anybody does.”

Dan Layus and Will Hoge will be performing at the Tower Theatre on Thursday, Nov. 2 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $18-$25. The venue is located at 425 NW 23rd Street. For more information, go here.

And to learn more about Dan Layus, go here.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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