A donkey’s jawbone.
What about it you ask? Well that’s exactly it. Who thinks of a donkey’s jawbone? A more relevant question: who thinks to use a donkey’s jawbone as one of the main instruments in music making?
The David Wax Museum has molded and melted its way into the crevices of the up-and-coming niche of folk music by introducing an amalgamation of American folk, Mexican folk and a dash of eclecticism to the music world.
The band has recently been recognized by TIME Magazine, The New Yorker, PBS and NPR. In 2010, the Boston Music Awards deemed them Boston’s Americana Artist of the Year.
Formed in 2007, the David Wax Museum is rooted in Boston, but enjoys a diverse melange of culture through its band members and their history. David Wax (guitar, lead vocals) and Suz Slezak (fiddler, singer, donkey jawbone extraordinaire) are the heart of the band. Sometimes the duo is accompanied by a few other players, but between the two they inspire innovative “Mexo-Americana” music.
Wax, after whom the band is named, grew up in Columbia, MO, writing and playing all types of music; music was a big part of his experience growing up as a teenager. Wax said he was heavily influenced by Bob Dylan and the Beatles at a young age. Those are the artists that guided his decision to start playing music and writing songs.
After graduating college, Wax jetted off to Jalapa, Veracruz in Mexico.
“I was living and working in rural Mexico, where they were playing a lot of Mexican folk. I fell in love with the music and the rhythm and the whole kind of community that was integrated with this folk music.”
After his love affair with Mexican folk, he decided to return to Jalapa a few years later to study Mexican folk on a fellowship. During this time, he traveled and traipsed about taking lessons from folk musicians, trying to adopt and integrate their lifestyles.
Critics repeatedly call The David Wax Museum a fusion of Mexican and American folk, so what exactly differentiates Mexican and American folk?
“There is a stronger Spanish Flamenco influence in Mexican folk music, a much stronger indigenous current … Both have African influence, but it’s the Spanish indigenous influence that makes the two stand apart.”
The indulgence in the Spanish and Mexican roots of The David Wax Museum (hence the role of the donkey jawbone as a primary instrument) is not merely for namesake and appearance; it can be felt in the tension of the melody’s buildup and the intertwinement of the voices that make the listener long for the physical contact of dance.
“Unfruitful,” from their album Everything is Saved (2011) perhaps embodies their Spanish roots best.
It opens with an almost sexual friction on the fiddle that builds a restlessness in the listener, releasing a piano’s simple but hypnotic control. The voices of Wax and Slezak weave and twist in an unsettling manner that causes the listener to surrender to the helplessness the song recreates.
It is not very surprising that “Unfruitful” is Wax”s favorite song to perform. The chorus of the song was inspired by a germane poem by Chilean poet Gonzalo Millan. The chorus is a translation of Millan’s poem by Wax himself: “Tunnels in the same, tunnels in the same / Like two worms we have opened / Tunnels in the same, tunnels in the same / Tunnels in the same apple.”
Admittedly the are very odd lyrics, but they are poetically integrated into one of several meaningful songs.
Their new album Everything is Saved features “Yes, Maria, Yes,” one of the band’s more upbeat well known songs, as well as “The Least I Can Do,” and “Wait for Me,” which is mellower but most definitely features nurturing more tender, heartfelt lyrics.
“[Music] is about joy and it’s about community and it’s about expression of one’s values and one’s sense of place in the world.”
Wax emanated a more timid, low-key demeanor during the brief interview with The Sun, but the music he and Slezak create with The David Wax Museum bellows melodic innovation and a proudly executed espousal of ethnically rich indigenous roots with rustic American folk. The fusion is something to be admired for its grassroots tendency to reintegrate diverse cultures and ethnic influences, using music to make tangible principles and beliefs, but also link communities that seldom meet in song.
The David Wax Museum will play at The Haunt this Thursday, March 1st.
Original Author: Sam Martinez