Finding Home with Suz Slezak of David Wax Museum

Photo by Tristan Williams

For our May issue, artists across the Blue Ridge talked with BRO about what it meant to make music in a year without in-person performances. For the next four weeks, we will be featuring each of those artists and taking a deeper dive into their creative process.

David Wax and Suz Slezak of David Wax Museum have been touring nearly non-stop for more than a decade, taking their kids on the road with them. BRO caught up with Slezak on a walk around her neighborhood to talk about their complete lifestyle change and the future of music in the midst of the pandemic. 

BRO: Heading into 2020, what were your plans for the year? 

We had just released our seventh studio album at the end of 2019. So we toured the East Coast and Midwest but were planning to tour the rest of the country in 2020. We had just packed our van to go to South by Southwest in early March, and it was really the first national event to be canceled. We just watched our tour dates fall like dominoes after that. 

Virtual shows took off in 2020. How did you approach staying connected with fans and audiences during this time?

SS: Because David and I live together and are able to do a duo show, we decided just to hop online. We did our first online streaming show March 17 and were doing three a week for the first few months. Then we dropped down to one a week. Of course there’s so much lost when you’re not in person. But it was also a way that we could connect with fans from Alaska to Europe to New Zealand at the same time; people who we don’t get to see very often. So it was this amazing community building in this surprising and unexpected way. 

The move to virtual felt like a natural step. It was like the only thing left. It felt like a lifeline to our fans. Once we started doing them, the feedback was so amazing from people. We’ve been doing a lot of private Zoom shows. People will throw a birthday party or house party and we’ll show up on the other screen and play a set for them. We’ve been Zoomed into hospital rooms of people who are sick or dying. We’ve been to first babies’ concerts. It’s really been quite amazing. We’ve done wedding parties. There’s always such a privilege of being a musician and being welcomed into sacred spaces.

You all decided to start a Patreon as a way to help keep the band afloat during the pandemic. What has that process been like, and what can fans expect when they subscribe?

It’s an amazing way that fans can be small patrons of the arts and commit three bucks or 10 bucks a month to a band they care about. That combined effort of almost 250 fans is incredibly sustaining and is allowing us to turn our focus to making music at home for the first time.

It’s such an easy, direct way for someone who’s seen us for the past 13 or 15 years of being a band. The music has meant something to them. We feel really close to a lot of our fans because we’ve toured so much in the past 15 years. We’ve toured with our kids. They’ve seen our family grow. We’ve played in people’s homes. The Patreon community has felt like this natural extension of this community that we’ve built. Art is in another realm than commerce inherently. It’s so hard to ever put a financial value on art. The Patreon model feels so right because I don’t want to put a value on music. Music is emotion. It’s connection and nostalgia. 

What we’ve decided to do for the Patreon community is release some of our new music there first. We’ve also been giving private online shows to our Patreon community. We’ve had different Zoom hangouts where we focus on a topic like mental health, which is something that I’m open about my own experience with bipolar disorder and love talking to people about that. We had a conversation with our producers who’ve been working with us on these new records. We will post an old song and talk about the process of its being made or show some early drafts of the song that often sounds completely different from what we ended up finally releasing.

In a year when we’ve all been pretty socially isolated and unable to do a lot of our routine things, what were some of the things that helped you get through the past year?

We have toured extensively since 2009. We would rent a house somewhere but we would never be there. The kids have been to 43 states and 11 countries touring with us. When you’re in the current and it’s fast moving, you just swim and you keep up. As soon as that stops, there’s just such relief that I didn’t even now I would have. A band, if you’re offered a gig, you say yes even if it means flying all night to get there and then flying back the next morning. It’s just impossible to say no to a gig. It’s an opportunity.

Sleep is such a huge, amazing part of my life now that wasn’t there before. It’s so much easier to parent at home. Parenting is hard no matter where you are but they have the same bed. You have the same food, you have your own refrigerator. We had only parented on the road basically. 

We had this creative surge. So much energy of ours was used planning a tour, getting nine people to the same place, and moving them from place to place for several weeks. There’s so much logistics to keep track of. So to have that all of a sudden taken away, David and I both felt this sense of energetic space to work on things we wanted to work on. I’ve been doing a lot of writing, and was finally able to make a solo album that I’m really proud of. He dove into recording ourselves for the first. That’s been so gratifying.

From your perspective, as a musician and someone who tours a lot, what do you see the live music industry looking like going forward?

Our agent just called us and said I think we’re pushing all your dates that we moved to 2021, we’re going to bump them to 2022. In some ways, it feels like we have a whole other year ahead of us at home because I think music in small venues is going to be the last thing to come back. We’ll do some things outdoors this summer but in general we’re assuming we have another year at home.

I think that we will never go back to the same crazy touring schedule that we’ve had for the past 10 years. It’s just not balanced. Now we’ve seen what home can be and how creative home can be. We never had that chance before. I feel committed to having a different balance.

David Wax Museum released the new album “Euphoric Ouroboric” in April. 

Places to Go, Things to See: