When you hear the term "Americana music," you usually think "United States of." But the band David Wax Museum has been tracking that Americana tradition from the plains of Missouri all the way down to Mexico and beyond.
The band's core is the duo of David Wax and Suz Slezak — they originally hail from Missouri and Virginia, respectively, and are currently based in the Boston area. Wax tells Weekend All Things Considered guest host Linda Wertheimer that the idea for David Wax Museum can be traced back to his days at Harvard University, where he studied Mexican history as an undergraduate. Harvard later gave him a fellowship to live in Mexico and study its music, which he started to use as the basis for original songs.
"It came together pretty naturally for me," he says. "Often, I would take songs that I was learning in Spanish, and I was still kind of having trouble with the words, so I would just make up my own words in English."
Slezak says she knows comparatively little about Mexican folk, but sees a lot of parallels between it and the old-time music she grew up singing and playing outside Charlottesville, Va.
"It's always a real communal activity," Slezak says. "People kind of chime in singing, the songs are very simple [and] very repetitive, and the rhythms are kind of the most important part — almost more important than the melody."
David Wax Museum's latest album, Everything Is Saved, incorporates a few exotic sounds, including a Mexican string instrument that's sort of a guitar-ukulele hybrid and a dried-out donkey jawbone whose teeth rattle when it's struck. But despite a name that suggests being trapped in time, Wax says David Wax Museum utilizes plenty of modern elements, as well.
"We weren't afraid to put electric guitar on the record and kind of bring together a lot of different sounds from all the music we listen to," he says. "We look at the model of bands like Calexico and DeVotchKa, which have a toe in a lot of different musics that they're passionate about and bring that to bear on their own creations. That's the model that we're trying to follow."