Dan Layus isn't afraid to face the cold, hard truth. For his charming little folk-rock outfit Augustana — which scored hits with 2006's "Boston" and 2008's "Sweet and Low" — the past couple of years have been filled with trials and tribulations, the kind that could convince most lesser artists to pack it in and give up on showbiz altogether.
"Things have never been worse on paper, our stock has never been so low within the industry," says Layus, who parted ways with his bandmates in late 2011, just months after the release of the group's fourth major-label album Augustana. "And yet things feel the brightest that they've felt in years, so it's kind of exciting."
What went wrong for the once-picked-to-click singer? For starters, he lost his label deal with Epic, and he's not even sure how. All he knows is what he heard secondhand: "L.A. Reid came in when the label had essentially folded and kind of gutted the company and a lot of the employees. So I think we went the way of a couple of other acts that were gutted, as well."
Still, the 28-year-old Southern California native is being Zen-like about it. He had a good run with Epic, he says, no hard feelings. His bandmates, unfortunately, couldn't maintain the same optimism. One by one, they gradually left to pursue other projects.
"So basically, I'm essentially it at this point — I am Augustana," he sighs. "When we disbanded, it was sad and it was heartbreaking, but it was the right time and everybody was ready to move on. And it was cool to see everybody move on through life to different things, like USC law school, marriage, all sorts of stuff. But I'm still here, chugging along, writing and touring."
Hindsight being 20/20, Layus is now in a position to recognize past mistakes — like his drinking problem, which derailed many an Augustana performance.
"I spent my twenties at the bottom of a bottle," he confesses. "But I've been sober for a few years now, and that really cleared up a lot of problems. I'm playing very clearheaded shows now, and I've never been so focused and intent on doing great things, on and off stage. It's freed up my mind to write some really sobering new songs, as well."
The composer's latest material — self-explanatory numbers like "Alive," "Comeback Story," and "Need a Little Sunshine" — aren't metaphorical or pompous, he notes. They're written in plain English, in terms that everyone can understand. He's been recording them at home, too, and he currently has an entire album's worth in the can, which he may release digitally or possibly shop to a more artist-friendly label.
So everything happens for a reason, Layus believes. "And it's all good — I like the life I'm living now. I'm up at about 4:30 every morning, writing songs before the sun comes up, and there's a whole lot of positivity in the work.
"And it's funny — in the demos you can hear my three kids, and sometimes I'm actually holding the baby while I'm singing. I'm almost compelled to release that as a record, because it's just so damned real."