Layus, Augustana bouncing back from the brink

Layus, Augustana bouncing back from the brink
Dan Layus and the rest of San Diego’s Augustana will perform at the House of Blues in San Diego Dec. 8. Courtesy photo

As new phases for bands go, the chapter Dan Layus is opening as Augustana with the current album, “Life Imitating Life,” is about as drastic as it gets.

In 2011, Augustana finished touring behind its third album and bassist Jared Palomar, guitarist Chris Sachtleben, drummer Justin South and keyboardist John Vincent decided they were finished with Augustana. This left singer/guitarist and primary songwriter Layus as the lone man standing.

The end of Augustana as fans knew the group happened for some of the most common reasons bands split — burnout and band members who were ready to focus more on family life.

“I think we just got to a place where we were all pretty exhausted,” Layus said in a recent phone interview. “I think everybody had spent so many years doing the ground and pound and swinging away at it with sort of diminishing results as far as commercially and as far as being able to strictly do this as a career. It became more apparent that we were going to have to start maybe talking about finding other ways of living. Eventually that kind of got everybody to a place where they were ready to try something else.

“We just all kind of saw the writing on the wall that if we were going to do this, it was going to entail a lot more touring and a lot less of a home life,” he said. “And when we were all 20, that was fine. It’s us against the world.

Then when we all started having families and other passions and other things that we were interested in, it starts to become how much do I really love this? And I think it’s a really natural evolution for anybody in any career.”

The split brought to a close an eight-year run that had featured some major high points and a good share of difficulties for the Augustana.

The group hit a peak early, when the song “Boston,” from its 2005 debut album, “All the Stars and Boulevards,” got used on several television shows (“One Tree Hill,” “The Big Bang Theory” and “Scrubs”) and was released as a single.

“Boston” made an impact on three different singles charts, reaching number 10 on “Billboard” magazine’s Adult Pop Songs chart and 34 on the all-genre Hot 100 singles chart. Meanwhile, “All the Stars and Boulevards” eventually sold about 350,000 copies in the United States alone.

But before Augustana had finished touring behind “All The Stars and Boulevards,” there was a major shakeup in the band, as Rosen departed and was replaced by Sachtleben, while a keyboardist, Dan Lamoureux, was added (and later replaced by Vincent).

The band returned in 2008 with its second album, “Can’t Love, Can’t Hurt.” It failed to produce a hit single, but still sold more than 120,000 copies. Then came a third album project that lived up to the cliché of being the “difficult third album.”

Augustana finished a version of the third album with producer Jacquire King (known for his work with Modest Mouth, Norah Jones and Tom Waits), only to have Epic reject half of the songs and ask Layus to try co-writing with outside hit-making tunesmiths — which he reluctantly did.

The self-titled record got finished and released, but stalled out at about 12,500 copies sold. Augustana was then dropped by Epic, leaving Layus without a band or a label.

But Layus dusted himself off and decided to make a fresh start — both with Augustana and with is life.

“I was just freshly sober. I’ve been sober almost three years, I think this summer,” he said. “I was kind of figuring my life out at that point, and I just started wanting to write…There was a refreshed perspective on life, there was a refreshed perspective on what mattered to me. And songs like ‘Need A Little Sunshine,’ ‘Alive’ and ‘Love In The Air,’ those were really easy songs to write. They just came out and they felt positive and they felt like they had a real momentum from my own life and sort of, everything sort of feeds itself.”

Despite all the change, “Life Imitating Life” still sounds very much like the earlier Augustana albums. It’s perhaps a bit more lean and rootsy sounding, but Layus is still specializing in creating mid-tempo pop songs like “According To Plan,” “Say You Want Me” and “Need A Little Sunshine” that are built around graceful melodies and heartfelt — and this time, often buoyant — lyrics.

Layus is using a rotating cast of musicians in touring as Augustana and said he has come to like the varying vibe that shows can have as he plays with different combinations of musicians. Regardless of who’s on stage on a given night, fans can expect a generous set.

“Over the last year or two I’ve gone out and done pretty long sets, rolling out, I mean, sometimes 25 to 30 songs a night,” Layus said. “I’m just grateful to have people show up and I want to make sure it’s worth their time and money and they get everything they can get.”

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