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ARI SHAPIRO, host:

Four years ago, a couple of friends dropped out of their small, Midwestern college and went to San Diego. They wanted to make it big in the music industry. The band, Augustana, has been touring almost nonstop ever since.

(Soundbite of song, "Sweet and Low")

: (Singing) Hold me down, sweet and low, little girl; hold me down, sweet and low, I'll carry you home; hold me down, sweet low, little girl; hold me down, and I'll carry you home.

SHAPIRO: Augustana has just released their second album, "Can't Love Can't Hurt." This is a bit of the first single from the CD called "Sweet and Low." In just a couple of minutes, we'll hear an acoustic version here in NPR Studio 4A played by a couple of the band members.

Dan Layus is Augustana's front man and songwriter. Hey.

Mr. DAN LAYUS (Front Man, Songwriter, Augustana): How are you?

SHAPIRO: And Chris Sachtleben plays guitar and sings backup. Thanks for being here.

Mr. CHRIS SACHTLEBEN (Guitar, Backup Singer, Augustana): Yeah, thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: Dan, I know a lot of people who started college bands with their friends, but I don't know many who dropped out and actually decided to go try to make it big. Was that a tough decision?

Mr. LAYUS: Actually, it wasn't a very tough decision because we probably would have failed out of school if we didn't drop out. So it was kind of like quitting-before-you-get-fired kind of thing.

SHAPIRO: What did your parents say when you told them you were going to go try to make it big as a rock star?

Mr. LAYUS: They were actually pretty excited. You know, I mean, they're really great. They just wanted to support me. I think they knew that there was at least some basis of - I don't know, like, if it was talent - but it was at least something that, you know, I wasn't going like, hey, I'm going to try to be an architect, Dad. You know, because they both knew, obviously, I was not going to be an architect. So, I think they understood that I could play music and that it wasn't something like throwing away my life maybe or something, you know.

SHAPIRO: Well, tell us about the first single from this new CD. The song's called "Sweet and Low."

Mr. LAYUS: I guess when I was writing the song, I was thinking about something my wife would say to me when I'm on the road or, you know, kind of when the storm's coming kind of a thing. You know, and I think sort of the moral of this story, I guess, is even through the ups and downs and the peaks and valleys of a relationship, you know, and of love, I think kind of having that person there through all those times is important, you know.

SHAPIRO: Will you play it for us?

Mr. LAYUS: Yeah, I would love to, yeah.

(Soundbite of song, "Sweet and Low")

Mr. LAYUS: (Singing) Anywhere you go, anyone you meet, remember that your eyes can be your enemies. I said, well, hell is so close, and heaven's out of reach, but I ain't giving up quite yet, I've got too much to lose

Hold me down, sweet and low, little girl; hold me down, sweet and low, and I will carry you home; hold me down, sweet and low, little girl; hold me down, and I'll carry you home.

The rain is gonna fall, the sun is gonna shine, the wind is gonna blow, the water's gonna rise. She said, when that day comes, look into my eyes, no one's giving up quite yet, we've go too much to lose.

Hold me down, sweet and low, little girl; hold me down, sweet and low, and I will carry you home; hold me down, sweet and low, little girl; hold me down and I'll carry you all the way, when you say you're fine, but you're still young and out of line.

When all I need is to turn around, to make it last to make it count, ain't gonna make the same mistakes that put my mama in her grave. I don't wanna be alone.

Hold me down, sweet and low, little girl; hold me down, sweet and low, and I will carry you home; hold me down, sweet and low, little girl; hold me down and I'll carry you home.

SHAPIRO: That's "Sweet and Low." Dan Layus and Chris Sachtleben of Augustana here in NPR Studio 4A, along with backup vocals from Augustana's John Vincent.

I've got to say, you know, hearing the CD right up against the live version, I kind of get the sense that you guys are being marketed as this rock band, like the next U2 or the next Coldplay. But it feels like you've got this bluegrass soul underneath.

Mr. LAYUS: Yeah, I don't know. We honestly - with the music that we were sort of raised with and I think the music that we all love today and are influenced by today, it's like you said, it's, like, bluegrass and country and Americana.

SHAPIRO: So is your next album going to be bluegrass?

Mr. LAYUS: No. But I would definitely say we are not going to be afraid of stepping out of the box as far as - like what you were saying - as far as the way that it's probably being heard. But, you know, I mean, it's no one's fault but our own. We need to be competitive, and I think that's something that's natural. I want to be at the level of those other bands. And it has to be something that can be heard by, you know, a massive amount of people, which, you know, a lot of music like that isn't.

But maybe somewhere down the road, I would love to see, you know, I think a lot of the songwriting is definitely going in that direction.

Unidentified Man: This is Augustana's "Sweet and Low" cover.

(Soundbite of music)

SHAPIRO: I notice that your Web site has a contest for people to record themselves singing "Sweet and Low" and post it on YouTube. And so you can go online and literally see dozens of people of varying degrees of talent perform your music. How does that feel?

Mr. LAYUS: It's weird thing, definitely.

(Soundbite of song, "Sweet and Low")

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) Sweet and Low, little girl...

Unidentified Woman #1: (Singing) Hold me down, sweet and low and I will carry you home...

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) Hold me down, sweet and low, little girl...

Unidentified Woman #2: (Singing) And I'll carry you home.

Mr. LAYUS: We weren't actually too crazy about the contest. We were, like, I mean, the song's only been around for about two months. I don't know if I want somebody to outdo us, you know?

SHAPIRO: Is that the fear?

Mr. LAYUS: Somebody could step it up above our level of talent. I don't know.

(Soundbite of music)

SHAPIRO: The big single off your first album was called "Boston." That song kind of bounced around for a long time until it was on television, and then it just propelled you guys to fame. Tell me about the role that TV has played in your career. Chris.

Mr. SACHTLEBEN: It's helped us a lot, for sure. Like, VH1 gave us a lot of support with that video and...

SHAPIRO: But, I mean, it's kind of unusual, isn't it, for a single to come out and then months and months and months later, it pops up in a show like "Scrubs" and suddenly everybody's playing it everywhere.

Mr. SACHTLEBEN: Yeah, it's a weird process, especially when it's your first record, I think, you know, and there's so many bands coming out of the gates at the same time, you know. And there's so many people trying to get that same spot on "Grey's Anatomy" and that same spot on "Scrubs" or, you know, that same You Oughta Know on VH1. Like, I mean, there's probably a million bands gunning for that, you know.

But that song specifically, it was just a really long run and, you know, it just sort of slowly traveled along. It wasn't ever, I don't think, like, in the fast lane but it was definitely, it was just kind of cruising and then just, it made its way down the road, which I was really, I mean, we're, like, beyond fortunate. I can't believe that we had a song that actually did that.

(Soundbite of song, "Boston")

Mr. LAYUS: (Singing) Oh yeah. She said I think I'll go to Boston, I think I'll start a new life, I think I'll start it over, where no one knows my name. I'll get out of California...

SHAPIRO: Dan, when you were in college, I understand you were studying Christian music and then you left to start Augustana, which is a secular band. How does religion inform the way you write your songs and make your music?

Mr. LAYUS: Actually, it's funny - I've actually never been asked that question before. Which...

SHAPIRO: Really?

Mr. LAYUS: ...is crazy as far as - yeah, nobody's ever talked about sort of the college that we went to.

SHAPIRO: Tell me the name of the college again.

Mr. LAYUS: It's called Greenville College. It was, like, a private Christian school. I grew up in San Diego and John did as well. And a lot of us, a lot of the guys in the band grew up with - I think Jerry's dad was a pastor. And we were all sort of - how am I going to say this without offending people?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LAYUS: The way that I feel that - I almost feel like I was sort of, like, spiritually taken advantage of, I guess you could say. I look back now and I'm just, like, how did I actually think that that was normal or that that was okay to say this is how it is and this is how the world works and I'm 16 and I know it. You know what I mean? And going into college, I was still sort of in that state of mind.

And, you know, I still had a lot of friends and a lot of adults around me that were just, like, you know, this is how the world works, you know. Got to college and life just kind of started happening, and I started seeing things - what I feel like was a little bit more clear. And I've definitely completely abandoned that way of thought.

And it's part of that journey was definitely going to a school like that and, you know, hooking up with friends and stuff that sort of were feeling the same way.

SHAPIRO: Even though you've left the formal religious practice behind, is there still a spirituality that underlies your music, do you think?

Mr. LAYUS: I think what happened is, I think just the way that I put the same passion into that back then, I think I still have that same drive or whatever that passion is, and I think I have a much more positive and realistic place to put it now, which is my wife and my daughter and our music.

And I think writing songs and just being able to love my family like that is just, it's more than enough for me.

SHAPIRO: Well, before we say goodbye and ask you to play us out with some music, I want to thank you guys all for being here. Dan Layus is the frontman-songwriter for the band Augustana. Dan, thanks a lot.

Mr. LAYUS: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: Chris Sachtleben playing backup guitar and vocals. And John Vincent also here singing backup. Thanks, John.

Mr. JOHN VINCENT (Backup Vocalist, Augustana): Thank you.

SHAPIRO: What would you like to play us out with?

Mr. LAYUS: This is a song that's on our new record. It's called "Fire."

(Soundbite of song, "Fire")

Mr. LAYUS: (Singing) No, it don't come easy; no, it don't come fast. Lock me up inside your garden, take me to the riverside. Fire burning me up, desire taking me so much higher, and leaving me whole...

SHAPIRO: You can hear more songs performed by Augustana in NPR Studio 4A and see YouTube videos of people covering "Sweet and Low." It's all on our Web site, NPR.org/Music.

Our feature on Augustana was produced by Ned Wharton and recorded by Neil Tealvault(ph).

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro.

(Soundbite of song, "Fire")

Mr. LAYUS: (Singing) Like fire turning me on, desire taking me so much higher, and leaving me whole...

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