As up-and-coming musicians, members of David Wax Museum took a grassroots approach to their music. Borrowing from generations of musical languages, the Boston-based band remained firmly rooted in authenticity while breaking into the mainstream.
David Wax Museum will present its fusion of traditional Mexican folk and American roots music at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6, in the Music Recital Hall on the Southern Oregon University campus, 1250 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland. Before the concert, the group will join Jefferson Public Radio's Eric Teel for an interview and live music session at 2 p.m. on "Open Air."
"We actually coined the term 'Mexo-Americana,' " says fiddler Suz Slezak, one of the band's core members.
Slezak and songwriter Wax met in Boston, where she was playing with old-time music groups, and the two formed David Wax Museum in 2007.
They'll be joined Thursday by bassist Greg Glassman and new drummer Philip Mayer.
"We play a mix of acoustic Mexican guitar, fiddle, quijada (a percussive instrument made from a donkey's jawbone) and some electric instruments such as guitar, bass and keys," Slezak says. "The quijada is an interesting instrument to play. It's the teeth rattling in the jawbone that give it its percussive sound."
The band's shows bring together music, storytelling and conversation, engaging everyone in the room.
"We love using the whole space," Slezak says. "If there's a way to play face-to-face with people, we will do that."
Wax grew up in Missouri, inspired by alt-country, bluegrass and folk. Slezak was homeschooled in music.
After finishing his first year of higher education at Deep Springs College near Bishop, Calif., Wax took a summer job in Xilita, Mexico. It was where he first heard son huasteco, a style of rural folk music from Mexico's northeastern region. Wax wanted to learn more and eventually earned a fellowship to return and study son jarocho and son calentano.
"After that, there was no turning back," Wax said in a video taped early this year at the University of Chicago.
He studied at Harvard University, learning Latin American history and literature and graduating in 2005.
David Wax Museum has kindled a bonfire of success with its innovative musical approach. Its breakout performance came in 2010 at the Newport Folk Festival. The band was invited back to Newport in 2011 to play the main stage.
The band's newest album, "Knock Knock Get Up," was independently released in September. The recording is another step in the band's development.
"It feels like we've matured as a group and developed our own sound," Slezak says. "Our earlier music included songs inspired by Mexican folk and Americana. The new album really exemplifies that fusion and has more complexity and richness that our earlier albums."
Tickets cost $15, $5 for students, and are available at the Performing Arts box office inside the Theatre Arts Building on the SOU campus, online at www.ijpr.org or by calling 541-552-6348.