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Beginning before they were even “old enough to drink,” as frontman/songwriter Dan Layus puts it, the band Augustana has grown up tremendously over the past three years, touring relentlessly while supporting Epic debut All the Stars and Boulevards (which reached #1 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart) and hit single “Boston.” Inking a producer before they’d been seriously tested before an audience, and finding themselves in the recording studio tracking a major-label debut before the masses knew who they were, the band had to grow into the ambitious blueprint they’d set out for themselves, and grow they did. The results of the time in the trenches are found on Can’t Love, Can’t Hurt, the band’s assured follow-up. While the record is about the experience of becoming more seasoned as a band; Layus’ songwriting grew up as well, informed by becoming a husband and father, dealing with life’s attendant challenges. “It really affected us in a positive way,” observes the pianist and native Californian, who formed the band in Illinois with pal Jared Palomar (bass) before finding the missing pieces in L.A.— Justin South (drums) and John Vincent Fredricks (keyboards/vocals), the latter of whom Layus had known for years. Chris Sachtleben (guitar), a childhood friend of Palomar’s, moved from Nashville to join up. The increased responsibility also had Layus getting more serious about his chosen profession. “I took voice lessons, we changed management and I did anything I could to get better and learn—and I’m still doing that,” he says. “I also worked a lot harder on my songwriting, and spent enough time to get it absolutely right.” While most bands spend all their lives writing a debut record—then six months on a follow-up, Augustana actually did it backwards; arriving at the label with what everyone agreed was a solid single and a few other songs, but not much else. “We had six months to write our first record,” Layus recalls. “But then all of a sudden we were on the road for three years, with really nothing to do but write and demo. I was constantly writing songs and weeding stuff out.” As a result, Can’t Love, Can’t Hurt is 10 studiously-chosen cuts of modern, melodic, piano-driven rock, informed by Layus’s love of classic pop/rock songwriters—from The Beatles to Tom Petty—and covering deeper subject matter than the band’s debut. “Still Ain’t Over You” is a love song in the context of a committed relationship, while “Dust,” with its a capella introduction, is the sound of Layus attempting to make peace with his religious upbringing. “Meet You There Someday” was inspired by Layus’s young daughter and his frequent need to leave her behind in order to tour. Augustana hit the road even before All the Stars and Boulevards was released, crisscrossing clubs with the Stereophonics before graduating to much larger venues. By the time the band was logging well-received stints opening for Snow Patrol, Dashboard Confessional and Counting Crows, “Boston” was in rotation on radio, the video was getting plays under VH1’s “You Oughta Know” banner, and the band knew it was onto something. “I didn’t realize that this wasn’t always the way it happens, to come out with your first record and get a single on pop radio,” Layus recalls, laughing. “It was hard to get any real perspective on how incredibly lucky we were to be in that position.” With “Boston” well on its way to being certified digital platinum by the RIAA, the band made appearances on The Late Show with David Letterman, The Ellen Degeneres Show and The Today Show among countless others. The band chose producer Mike Flynn to usher Can’t Love, Can’t Hurt into the world. “I think he did an incredible job in terms of getting me outside my box and really exploring the potential of the songs,” Layus recalls. “Some of these songs I had been singing the same way at shows for over a year. Then comes this producer who says, ‘I think you should try it like this.’ I could feel it, physically, when I’d go home every night, like an uncomfortable stretching sensation. But I can’t look back and see that the songs would be even close to what they are right now if I hadn’t done the stuff that Mike and I had worked on.” The result is an intensely emotional album, borne of the band’s growth, cohesion as a unit, and Layus’ newfound fatherhood. And thanks to Flynn’s spot-on production, the results are delivered winningly. “I’m so happy I actually got to say things the way I wanted to say them and how I wanted to say them,” Layus says. “We all feel really confident about it.”

My Artists Sessions

Wednesday, March 16