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David Wax Museum takes the stage with young approach to music, some unique Mexican instruments

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By DAVID W. WANNOP
For 21st Century Media  
Mexo-Americana is what they often call David Wax Museum’s music. Sure, there has always been border country styles from cowboy tunes to Tejano sounds. Artist such as Doug Sahm, Freddy Fender, Sam The Sham and the Pharaohs and Linda Ronstadt have drawn upon Mexican-American influences, but they didn’t often include the true folk instruments of rural Mexico, nor did they update the music in such a forward looking direction. David Wax has a way of linking current singer songwriter conventions with a trace of indie rock in a concoction which would be very Old Mexico otherwise. The band includes David Wax and Suz Slezak as core members, plus  unique and special contributions from Jordan Wax, aka  (David’s cousin), Greg Glassman, Philip Mayer, Mike Roberts, Alec Spiegelman and Jiro Kokubu. I spoke with David Wax via phone as he prepared for another round of shows at his place in Charlottesville, Va. The band stops at the Ardmore Music Hall on April 26 for a 9 p.m. performance.

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Raised in Columbia Mo., Wax has moved around a bit including going to Harvard. His knowledge of the instruments runs to primary sources. “I was living in Mexico in 2007 and that’s when I discovered the jarana. It’s inappropriate to show up to certain cultural events with a standard guitar and there are many guitar-like instruments that are traditional.” Wax explained a percussion instrument called the quijada which is made from the jaw of a donkey.  Wax calculated the instrumental scheme used in the bands shows. He estimated, “Eleven or twelve instruments for five people. More than two instruments per player.”
The musical mix raises the number of instruments. He explained, “When I was living in Mexico I started writing songs that blended the two influences of mariachi and Appalachian.  Some of our music doesn’t fall into any specific category. Our music tends to be much more joyful than the average singer songwriter and there are some indie/hip/rock people who are interested in what we are doing.”

David Wax Museum Photo by Todd Roeth

David Wax Museum
Photo by Todd Roeth

Wax has an answer for purists that criticize musical blending. He surmised, “I don’t think we should block off different kinds of music and keep them pure. Things are global.” The fresh look at music may also come from his mixture of practice, intellect, and self-taught simplicity. He offered, “I studied history and authors. I was interested in Latin American politics, and poetry, plus literature. This gave me a richer understanding of the music. I am not an ethnomusicologist nor do I have formal training as a folklorist or anything like that.”
These days the band lives all over the country and they get together a week prior to a tour to rehearse and go over new songs. Wax has been known to really cut himself off from the world in order to get into the inner-reaches of his music. He confided, “For a couple of years I was living out in Western Massachusetts at a Quaker Retreat Center with little cabins with no water or electricity. And that was probably the most productive time for me. The newest songs are freshest to me. New songs are a discovery for all of us. ‘Everything Changes’ is a song we debuted in San Francisco the other night. It’s a Mexo-Americana fusion song. Of course, he’d like to do a complete tour of one place in particular.”
I’d love to tour Mexico. I’d like to show them how we fell in love with the music,” he said.
It is surprising that David Wax Museum hasn’t been signed to a major label or a snitch outfit as of yet. Time Magazine. The New York Times and the Huffington Post have written about the band. The Newport Folk Festival and SXSW Festival have featured them. They have multiple Boston Music Awards. They have released nearly an album a year since 2008. It makes one wonder if the band is flying just under the radar by choice. But one can also suppose that if you are doing well through touring and recording with the current method then there would be little reason to change tactics. It is comforting to know that for some acts indie really does work as a model.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: David Wax Museum
WHEN: April 26. Doors open at 8; show is at 9
WHERE: Ardmore Music Hall, 23 E. Lancaster Ave., Ardmore.
TICKETS: $14 in advace, $18 day of the show, $30 VIP.
INFO.: Call (610) 649-8389 or check www.ardmoremusic.com.

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