Augustana’s star forced to mature, and band followed

On a recent radio tour promoting his sophomore album “Can’t Love, Can’t Hurt,” 23-year-old Augustana leader Dan Layus turned to his band mates and asked, “Do I look old to you? Because I feel five to 10 years older than I am right now. I feel like I have so much more deep purple and blue in my eye sockets, so many more lines in my face, and so much more grit in my belly. I mean, I really do feel a lot older.”

Perhaps maturity has something to do with it. The SoCal songwriter, who plays with his band Friday at the Fillmore, was still a teenager when he penned Augustana’s now-signature anthem “Boston,” not yet of legal drinking age when it hit No.1 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart in 2005.

And he’d just turned 21, he adds, when he got the most unexpected news of all. His girlfriend Nina phoned him on tour to inform him she was pregnant. “And I remember, again, being on the road in Raleigh, N.C., and talking to her on the phone,” says the now-married Layus. “And there was just this moment where I understood, this is it, this is the right thing to do. This is going to save me, this is going to save her, this is going to save us. And we decided right then to have the baby, and whatever struggles we might have, it was going to be worth it.”

Daughter Eloise is now nearly 2. And directly, or indirectly, she and Nina inspired almost every track on the decidedly grown-up “Can’t Love,” which finds Layus making quantum leaps forward as a hook-savvy composer and emotive, truly original vocalist.

The change is exemplified by the new single “Sweet and Low,” a meat-and-potatoes platter of savory folk-rock that’s the perfect antidote to ubiquitous Coldplay schmaltz.

In it, Layus says, “I was imagining a letter my wife might write me, in the verses anyway, like ‘When you get out there on tour, this could happen, and so could this. So don’t forget this.’ And the chorus is me replying back to her ‘When the worst comes, hold me low to the ground and protect me in a way that only you can.’ Because I don’t want to make the same mistakes my parents did.”

Layus, a child of two divorces, now calls three guys dad, and is barely acquainted with his biological father. And it wasn’t until he struck out on his own for college in Illinois that he truly found himself, and formed Augustana with some simpatico classmates.

If he’s fast-forwarded into adulthood too fast, he doesn’t seem to mind. “It’s funny, because I don’t know that I’m a great musician, I don’t know that I’m even a great songwriter,” he sighs. “I’m not really sure and I doubt myself a lot on the road. But I know — and I mean really know — that I’m a good dad. That’s the one thing I know how to handle — it’s the most solid thing in my life, it’s like my rock.”

IF YOU GO

Augustana

Where: The Fillmore, 1805 Geary Blvd., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Friday

Tickets: $20

Contact: (415) 346-6000; visit www.thefillmore.com

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