The Kids are AU-Right 

Portland Band Experiments

For the last four years, Dana Valatka and Luke Wyland have made up the shimmering, experimental Portland, Ore., band AU, (pronounced "eh-you"). That is until Valatka saw the young Holland Andrews perform at a yoga studio in 2010.

Andrews was looping her vocals and clarinet under her solo project, Like a Villain, at The People's Yoga in Portland. The evening was captured on Vimeo, which Valatka later showed Wyland.

"I approached her and said, 'I'm recording this album, and I'd really like you to come help out,'" Wyland said.

Andrews remembered being nervous during that conversation.

"I saw Dana after the show and he just came up--I was already a fan of the band--so after he said 'hello,' I was just quiet. And I said, 'Oh that's cool.' And I was really super quiet because I think they're great musicians," Andrews said with a laugh.

Andrews lent her pipes to the brassy track "Solid Gold" on AU's 2012 release, Both Lights. Wyland encouraged her to let her vocals bleed in at the most emotional part of those songs.

"I didn't know if they were secretly trying to see if we'd get along to have me in the band," said Andrews. "They were. Somewhere in that mix, I became a permanent member of the band."

Andrews just finished a Canadian tour with the boys and is preparing to embark on a United States tour that will bring the trio back through Boise Saturday, Aug. 11.

"I think it just sort of makes sense, because what I do is kind of avant garde, weird-type music. And AU definitely falls into that category," said Andrews.

AU was originally a five-member collective before dwindling to a duo. In 2008, Wyland split ways with Jonathan Sielaff and Marq Kaylor after releasing the album Verbs, and brought in Valatka.

But even before AU became a trio, Wyland's songs were expansive, a ploy that relied on digital trickery and borrowing musicians from the Portland music scene. The duo's 2009 release, Versions, managed to emulate Animal Collective by tapping a handful of artists for contributions. Both Lights used Valatka's percussion, as well as glockenspiel, trumpet, trombone, keys and saxophone from contributing artists like Colin Stetson of Arcade Fire. Andrews brought clarinet and her glimmering vocals to that equation.

"Sometimes Luke sneaks in some secret samples, triggered with his feet," said Andrews. "And Dana has a drum pad and triggers stuff there."

But American audiences have sometimes found AU's experimentation too esoteric. The band hopes that Andrews' soulful harmonies--she once covered Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit"--may soften up AU's sharper edges, without losing that experimental feel.

"We actually do a little bit better in Europe," said Wyland. "I certainly can't complain about it. In certain countries, like France and Italy and the U.K., people are a little bit more excited about what we're doing."

Wyland said his musical influences--which include traditional and contemporary Indian and African music, classical composers and jazz artists--might lend his layered, sometimes cacophonous, blends of analog and digital sounds a foreign feel.

"It just seems like the indie world in America is more about either folk history or the history of rock," said Wyland.

Wyland said he loves those genres, but the rhythms and structures of non-American songwriting have more sway on his music.

"I never had a teacher or anything like that, I just spent a lot of time listening and mimicking, but trying not to steal or anything. ... My goal hopefully is to make it my own, and not just be a parody or a similar kind of cheapened version of something that's very kind of historic," said Wyland.

Wyland doesn't know whether European audiences are more willing to sit through AU's often frantic explorations, or whether their interactions with more far-flung sounds helps them recognize the band's world music influences. But he does know American audiences have been slower to warm up.

"There's this need for immediacy right now from the culture. If it's not a reference point, a door into something rather quickly, I feel like the American culture is kind of dismissive," he said.

Having to put real listening work into an AU album might scare the iTunes "singles" generation away from investing in the full album. Even after seven years making music, Wyland said he still feels clueless trying to work within those parameters.

"If you don't grab somebody right away, they move on to the next thing because there's something right behind you," he said. "It's a weird business right now. It's in a huge transition, on the business side of things. Audiences are forming very different relationships with their music these days."

But Wyland said his band's selling point is its live shows.

"When people do come out, that's the moment when they're like, 'Oh my gosh, now I get it.' In a certain sense, it's what I hope for," said Wyland.

But while Wyland said Both Lights didn't do as well as the band's previous releases, the trio has done more live performances in an attempt to connect with audiences. On the long trek between Austin, Texas' SXSW festival and the band's Portland home, AU swung by Boise's Treefort Music Fest in March, which Wyland called a huge step for Boise.

"That was one of my favorite shows here in the U.S.," said Wyland.

Clearly, Boise audiences speak AU's language.

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