If you go
What: Augustana, in concert.
When: 9 p.m. May 2.
Where: Doug Fir Lounge, 830 E. Burnside St., Portland.
Cost: $20 through Ticketfly, 877- 435-9849 or ticketfly.com.
Information: 503-231-9663 or dougfirlounge.com.
As new phases for bands go, the chapter Dan Layus is opening with Augustana's new album, "Life Imitating Life," is about as drastic as it gets.
In 2011, Augustana finished touring after releasing 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. The band also struggled to make it financially, Layus said.
"I think we just got to a place where we were all pretty exhausted," Layus said in a mid-April phone interview. "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."
The split brought to a close an eight-year run that had featured some major high points and a good share of difficulties for 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"). "Boston" made an impact on three different singles charts, reaching No. 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, there was a major shake-up in the band. Josiah Rosen departed and was replaced by Sachtleben, while 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 Records reject half of the songs and ask Layus to try co-writing with outside hit-making tunesmiths. Layus reluctantly agreed.
The self-titled record was released, but it only sold about 12,500 copies. 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," 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."
Despite all the change, "Life Imitating Life" still sounds very much like the earlier Augustana albums. It's perhaps a bit leaner and more rootsy sounding, but Layus is still specializing in creating mid-tempo pop songs, such as "According To Plan," "Say You Want Me" and "Need A Little Sunshine," that are built around graceful melodies and heartfelt 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 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 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."