Behind Columbia native David Wax’s journey in releasing his ‘best work yet’

The day after David Wax performs at Rose Park on Saturday, May 20 will be a milestone. 

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It will be the third stop in his 10-show tour with David Wax Museum that spans from Minnesota to Missouri to Maine. It’s also the beginning of the third week since the band’s newest album, “You Must Change Your Life,” released. 

Amidst the tour and the new album, Sunday the 21st will be a personal milestone for Wax. It’s the day he can finally start driving again.

Saturday will mark six months to the day when Wax was faced with some of his biggest fears. A medical scare that left him unresponsive came with the reality that he might not be able to perform or make music anymore.

He remembers getting cared for at University Hospital, and being told not to exert stress on his body or undergo strenuous activity. 

“They were like, ‘What do you do for work?’” Wax said. “I had that sinking feeling that they were going to tell me I couldn’t do this anymore.”

This happened while Wax was putting the finishing touches on the new album, which is a project the band has been working on for years. 

Now Wax, a Rock Bridge High School graduate, will get to play this album live in Columbia. With his wife and bandmate Suz Slezak, that journey will come full circle while also looking forward to a future with their best work on display.

“I’ve just felt so much relief that this record is out in the world now,” Wax said. “I almost can’t believe it.”

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The album

To put in perspective how long “You Must Change Your Life” has been in production, Wax described it as a journey.

The band originally began fleshing out songs in the winter of 2016. Some of those tracks became the groundwork for “Line of Light,” a previous album. Others laid the foundation for “You Must Change Your Life.”

Wax began demoing these songs in Missouri, and began recording in 2018. When the pandemic hit in 2020, that elongated the process even more, but it allowed Wax to build a music studio in his Virginia backyard with the assistance of some crowd fundraising.

“It was hard to sit on a record like this because it felt like our best work yet,” Wax said. “It just felt like a magical record internally in terms of just what happened creatively on the record.”

Wax said “You Must Change Your Life” was under wraps for so long as the band developed the sound. That gave the record a “larger-than-life” quality to it.

Once the album was released, Wax felt a release in his own way. It was hard to believe there were listeners out in the world becoming closer to this project in their own way, because Wax had been chasing this his entire career.

“I just felt like such a creative flow emerge in my own process after that,” Wax said. “I felt less bounded in by my ideas of like what the band is or what I’m trying to achieve.”

This career was aligned by different sounds, from Mexican folk sounds to the band’s roots in Missouri, and the experiences in between. They aligned together in a project Wax considers to be his best.

“These three pillars are still so, so strong in everything I do,” Wax said. “That kind of like the Missouri roots of the project, the Midwestern sensibility, the kind of this version of country, or Americana country rock, it’s like inescapable. It’s kind of bound up in the DNA of my finding my voice and developing as a songwriter. And so I’ve maybe become more hyper-aware of how intertwined that is with my voice and these songs.”

Wax was still unsure if he would ever get to perform this live.

‘I just felt at peace’

During the Thanksgiving holiday, Wax was running on a treadmill at his parents’ home when it happened.

He collapsed. He completely passed out. He was unresponsive when his wife found him, and they thought he was dead.

Wax was rushed to the hospital, where he underwent different tests.

“At first they thought I had a heart attack, and the doctors became alarmed by some of the tests they saw,” Wax said. “For a couple months they were like, don’t do anything.”

This made Wax wonder if he would be allowed to make music again. But he had another feeling wash over him.

It was a comfort. Even further, Wax felt peace amidst a terrifying time.

“They were wheeling me in to go look in my heart and do this heart catheterization, when they go in your heart and remove blockage if they find anything, and kind of feeling like, gosh, I’m so glad this record is done and is coming out,” Wax said. “I don’t care. I don’t know, I just felt at peace with what I’ve done with my life and my career.”

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In the months following, Wax said there was a looming cloud as doctors still tried to find what had happened. Doctors tossed theories, but nothing definitive.

He said it was difficult to see through that looming cloud even as the album’s release date drew nearer. However, before touring, he was given the OK to perform again.

That tour led him back home.

“The symbolism is not lost on me that I’m back in Columbia at this six-month mark feeling good, feeling hopeful that this is just a small kind of speed bump and not like a major life detour,” Wax said.

The return to Columbia

Wax’s musical journey began years ago in Columbia.

The three decades since have seen him rally with support from mentors and loved ones as he looks to a future with his greatest work on display.

After touring, Wax said he’ll keep experimenting. He has a collection of Mexican instruments he’s going to play and test with. He’s going to try sounds and see where it all intersects with his own voice.

“I’m kind of interested in digging deeper with each one in and kind of pushing it to the edge of my knowledge of the instrument and what it can do sonically,” Wax said. “That’s kind of the most immediate project in front of me.”

Before then, Wax will lead David Wax Museum to the Rose Park stage Saturday in the middle of a stressful and trying yet gratifying journey.

Wax said he’ll see all of the expectations he had growing up in Columbia before him. His ambitions from when he was younger will present themselves, which were academically-driven to make a change in the world.

Music was secondary then, but in the years since it’s become a spiritual calling. “You Must Change The World” is the answer to all those past expectations placed on him.

“I was playing in bands since I was maybe 12, 13 years old in Columbia,” Wax said. “For almost 30 years now, to kind of see all these people in the audience that have mentored me and encouraged this path, it’s very gratifying and deeply, deeply satisfying.”

Saturday’s show begins at 8 p.m., with support from The Onions. Tickets are $17-$20. Visit for more.

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