Few modern rockers are as perpetually bright-eyed as Dan Layus. The 21-year-old frontman for San Diego’s Augustana is almost always on — ebullient, laughing, unpretentious, likable.
It’s hard to imagine anyone not taking a shine to the singer, who tosses around such archaic lingo as “rad” and “right on,” and whose only concession to hipness is the hint of a soul patch on his chin. But it happened, Layus says, when he met his bete noire in the form of “this crazy Asian lady, Professor Kwan.”
Kwan, a music teacher at Greenville College in Illinois, didn’t like the cut of her new student’s jib.
Thanks to her, Layus failed piano class twice. He says, “And there was no way I could make it up. I pleaded with her, but she just said no. She was just crazy.”
A glutton for punishment, he signed up for Kwan’s course his sophomore year and got the same sad results.
“It’s pathetic, really,” he admits. “I tried, but I just never really wanted to learn how to read notes, and I still haven’t learned.
Undeterred, Layus tried his hand at music theory and failed that twice.
In retrospect, he sees, “I really wasn’t that good of a student in college. I spent more time writing music and playing shows in Kentucky, all over the Midwest.”
Unfamiliar with sheet music, he instead wrote his piano parts on computer, demoed all of his early material the same DIY way. Greenville wasn’t all bad, he adds: “That’s where I met everybody in the band, and I never would’ve met these guys anywhere else.”
But Professor Kwan’s little failure has become a huge success.
Layus still remembers the snowy winter day he and his chums were sitting around, saying, “I don’t want to be here. So let’s just go.” They hopped into his Isuzu and high-tailed it back to California, where they braced themselves for a long struggle.
But Augustana was inked to Epic almost immediately, then sent straight into an Atlanta studio with legendary Pearl Jam producer Brendan O’Brien, who brought out the best in Layus’ Tom Petty/Counting Crows-inspired work on “All the Stars and Boulevards.”
The MTV/VH1 breakthrough ballad “Boston” (plus a year of relentless opening-act touring) has earned Augustana a headlining gig at the Fillmore in San Francisco tonight.
Layus says, “This has all happened really fast. But by sophomore year I knew that this is really what I want to do in life. And Ialways thought in the back of my mind that something like this could actually happen.”
If you go
Where: The Fillmore, 1805 Geary Blvd., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. today
Info: (415) 421-8497 or www.ticketmaster.com