Interview: Dan Layus

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Dan Layus wears many hats— from writer, music-maker, and Augustana frontman, to husband and stay-at-home-dad, new adventures are the name of the game. Today, Layus adds yet another accomplishment or two to the list—his new country-cana solo album Dangerous Things is out, and tonight, he makes his debut on the hallowed stage of the Grand Ole Opry.

“Growing up in San Diego, I heard a lot more Bob Marley than I did George Jones, you know?” Lays says with a laugh. “When I was 16, my stepdad turned me on to Ryan Adams’ Gold, and it changed my musical mind—it changed a lot of minds I think. It was an important introduction to this world we call Americana; it scratched the surface, and I discovered The Stones and Dylan, The Birds, Graham Parsons, Emmylou Harris, which then lead me to Buck Owens, George Jones, and Tammy Wynette,” he adds. “It snowballed when I moved to Nashville; Augustana got dropped, the band had broken up, I felt it was time to write something outside of what I had already done.”

Layus’ passion for touring had waned, so he spent a couple of years writing with and for other artists. “I had gotten a little round around the edges when it came to my passion for travel; I do it all myself these days, all around the world. If we have a 12 hour drive, I’m driving,” he says. “You miss school performances and birthdays, you show up to perform and you’re exhausted and your throat hurts from working so much, that gets hard. I never complain though, I know how fortunate I am that anyone cares. I just internalized it and turned it into songs.” Eventually, he decided it was time to relearn how to write alone. “I hit a hot streak, and I got a really clear vision of what I wanted to do—this was the music coming out, and I wasn’t going to fight it,” he says of the twangy new form shaping his sound. “I’m more invigorated and energized than I’ve ever been. I’m glad I stuck it out, because I found some music in me that wouldn’t have made it out or been given a shot.”

“I made this album for me. It feels like the most creatively fulfilling record I’ve made. It’s country, which is crazy for a kid from San Diego…it’s southern, right? Southern California, I guess,” he laughs. “I just hope it feels like a guy on the same life path as his listeners. We’re all on the same road, we’re just trying to figure it out. I’ve let go of high expectations;  I like being a little on the outside, it’s nice to have your own identity. When you’re younger, you want to fit into a scene, I’m not worried about those things anymore.”

When he walks onto the Grand Ole Opry stage tonight, Layus will become a part of an almost century-long tradition that has made country music famous. “I’m going in with a great respect for the tradition; I’ve truly found my favorite genre and style of songwriting. I’m also thrilled to play with world-class musicians on that stage, it’s incredible that I’ve been invited to perform there,” he says. “I’m going to savor every moment.”

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