2016 has been a year of milestones for Jenn Wasner. In September, the singer-songwriter — already well-known in indie circles as a member of Wye Oak and the electro-pop duo Dungeonesse — debuted her first full-length album with her solo project Flock of Dimes. Much like the rest of her discography, If You See Me, Say Yes is shakingly earnest. Through the buzzing hum of songs like "Ida Glow" and fervent chorus of "Semaphore," Wasner examines how our spatial and metaphorical distance from the places and people we love can shape our journeys as individuals. Each song is a living testament to the impact of that distance, the direct result of tireless focus, deliberate solitude, and artistic evolution. "I wanted to see what I was capable of once I took away all of the distractions," she says. In order to do so, Wasner left her beloved hometown of Baltimore to live alone in a house nestled deep in the woods of North Carolina, where much of the album was written.
I spoke with Wasner over the phone shortly after her return from a tour in Europe about her solo debut, why solitude is essential to her process, and how collaborating with friends gave her songs new life after a tiring record-making process.
Dianca Potts: You dropped out of college to pursue music. Was that a difficult choice to make?
Jenn Wasner: I've been making music and writing songs from a really early age. It was always my dream and my highest aspiration, but I never assumed that I would get to do it as a job. I went to college briefly and in that time made a record with Andy [Stack] just for fun, and it got picked up by Merge [a record label]. I was about nineteen when that happened, and when I found out, I dropped out of school. I was like, I'm gonna give this a try. It felt like a sign, so I went for it and I never really looked back.
DP: The song "Semaphore" examines what it's like to be shy. Do you consider yourself to be an introvert?
JW: I never thought of myself as an introvert until recently. There's different styles of introversion, and I'm not a shy person in the traditional sense. You could see me at a party or at a show talking to people and you'd never notice that something is amiss, but I have a lot of internal anxiety about the way that I interact with people, and a lot of that is because for a large part of my life I was a people pleaser. I worried about satisfying and meeting others' needs at my own expense. It took me a while to figure that out. "Semaphore," like a lot of my songs, is about the anxiety of making sure that I communicate myself as honestly as possible to people. I think that's why I gravitated to making music and writing songs, because it's an opportunity for me to say what I want exactly they way I want to and to be understood.
DP: You've lived in Baltimore for most of your life but recently moved to North Carolina. Why did you decide to leave?
JW: Baltimore is everything to me and I still think of it as home, but I couldn't resist the pull of learning how to operate outside of my comfort zone. I have a lot of complicated feelings about leaving, but in order to do what I do, I have to be absent for a lot of things and away from a lot of the people that I love. I'm really happy here in North Carolina, though! I'm living by myself for the first time, and it's amazing. I know that it's necessary. I wouldn't have been able to make this record without being here.