Flock of Dimes' Jenn Wasner Says There Are 2 Types of Artists: Healers and Destroyers

Flock of Dimes' Jenn Wasner Says There Are 2 Types of Artists: Healers and DestroyersEXPAND
Will Hackney
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Flock of Dimes plays Granada Theater on Tuesday, Aug. 29.

In much of her creative life, Jenn Wasner walks the line. She volleys between two primary projects: Wye Oak, the two-piece band in which she’s partnered with Andy Stack for 11 years, and Flock of Dimes, the solo project she’s touring now that operates as a creative foil to Wye Oak. Flock of Dimes’ first album, 2016’s If You See Me, Say Yes, got its start in Wasner’s bustling hometown of Baltimore but wasn’t completed until she uprooted to a quieter space in Durham, North Carolina.

Wasner has a theory about art that places artists into two categories: healers and destroyers. In her work, she aims for the overlap.

“There is art that is meant to confront and reinvent existing culture. When someone is truly visionary in that realm, they're hard to know what to do with, but it's an important part of progress,” Wasner says. “I think of healers as people who make art that is unabashedly beautiful and brings people a sense of peace. I don't think there's anything wrong with inhabiting either space completely, but I think it’s possible to have a bit of both. That’s what I’m shooting for.”

In 2012, Flock of Dimes released a handful of singles, then fell into a four-year silence (Wye Oak released two albums in the meantime) until If You See Me, Say Yes, a self-produced album on which Wasner played nearly everything. It was intended as a creative outlet during Wye Oak’s breaks, as well as a personal challenge to expand her technical capabilities.

If You See Me is a healer’s record documenting the development it took to come to fruition. “I can tie my own laces / find the solace I seek in other places,” Wasner sings on lead single, “Semaphore.” But there are glimpses of the esoteric throughout — lilting vocals where a straightforward pop melody is expected, electric beats against orchestral sweeps.

“Neil Young is someone whose songs rest in tradition, but he always integrates something a little rough or challenging, to kind of take someone's hand and lead them in the direction of something they wouldn't have been open to otherwise,” Wasner says. “Those are tendencies I want to emulate, bringing people into the fold and then challenging their perceptions of what is possible from that space.”

On a less granular level, If You See Me, Say Yes also challenged assumptions of what’s possible for Wasner.

“A big part of how it unfolded was to prove what I'm capable of,” she says. “A lot of people are just like, ‘Oh, well she's just a singer,' and there's so much more that goes into what I do than that. It was frustrating to have that reduced to something that didn't feel like an authentic representation of who I am.”

When Wasner's summer tour with Sylvan Esso wraps, there’s a new Wye Oak album in the works, a process she’s looking forward to because of — not despite — her newfound artistic independence.

“One thing I took from making a record pretty much entirely on my own is that I can't wait to make one that's as collaborative as possible,” Wasner says. “It sounds great on paper, but when you’re in that position, sometimes it’s like, ‘Oh my God, someone tell me what to do.’”

Beyond that, expect more collaborations and solo work. This time, with the pressure of self-actualization off the table, perhaps those dividing lines will blur a little more.

“At this point, it almost doesn't matter as much to me whether people get it,” Wasner says of her solo work. “It feels like I can relax because I did the thing I set out to do.”

Sylvan Esso with Flock of Dimes, 8 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 29, Granada Theater, 3524 Greenville Ave., sold out, granadatheater.com

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