I recently had the lucky opportunity to be a fly on the wall for Guster's 25th anniversary show at the Beacon Theater. I wrote a feature on that night and the band's history for Relix. It was an amazing experience that I'll forever be thankful for. I mean, check this: Sidestage during Satellite. Felt like I could reach out and touch the kit.
As usual, plenty of content didn't make it into the article. As usual, I want to put a lot of that material -- all of it on the record -- on the Internet rather than let it float in the dark forever. So here are some tidbits, quotes, nuggets, facts and random one-offs. I know there are Guster diehards out there. This is for you.
-- First off, a new Guster LP should be on the market by the end of 2017. It wouldn't be a surprise to see a couple of candidates make their live debuts at Guster's four-night run in Boston in January.
Via lead singer Ryan Miller: "We have a handful of really, really good songs. The quality control, it takes us a long time because we don’t just put out the first thing, and sometimes thing have to gestate for a while. We have eight songs we’ve written in the past six months, and four of them are OK, and four of them are great. The idea is you try and not inundate people with stuff that isn’t the best that you can do. I think we’ll start recording relatively soon. We kind of need to to keep the momentum of the band. I will be super bummed if we don’t have an album by the end of ’17.”
He added: "Every record has been really important for us to not make the record we made before."
-- The group appears to be in a great spot in terms of knowing the rhythms of the band, the wants. The desire to keep going is strong. That wasn't as certain five years ago, even three years ago.
“We’re in a really awesome zone where we’re actively choosing to be in this band and balancing our outside lives,” Adam Gardner said. “The music and this band is still at the forefront. ... Every time we get together, no matter how long, there’s always good stuff that comes out that we’re excited about. I’ve never walked away from a writing session with the band where I felt like nothing happened.”
-- The first song the band wrote (and performed live)? Fall In Two.
-- Most underrated Guster songs, by fans? From the perspective of the band, these tunes qualify: Hang On, Expectation, Do What You Want, Two at a Time. (My opinion: C'mon is a top-15 Guster song all time, and the band should play it every other show.)
-- Brian Rosenworcel, drummer/percussionist, on the band's need to change its style in order to them to literally continue to be able to make music: "I couldn’t say we had a gameplan for longevity, but looking back it, you’ve gotta change, you've gotta reinvent yourself, otherwise you get stagnant. After three albums we had a huge following in part because of our instrumentation, then we decided, very controversially, to shed that instrumentation. It was a bold decision. I'm agood percussionist and an average drummer, so it was humbling in some ways but was a good decision to open up our minds. I needed it for my own longevity. My hands were in really rough shape from like 1999-2002. The shows were becoming way too abusive. It was my own fault. I played a brand of percussion that was untrained and hitting cymbals and snare drums that are not meant to be hit with your hands."
-- Multi-instrumentalist Joe Pisapia changed what Guster was. After joining the band full-time in 2003, he left in 2010. I asked the members about that amicable separation.
"I don’t think I saw it coming," Rosenworcel said. "He told us after some show in Pittsburgh, right when Easy Wonderful was about to come out. It was hard on me, but Joe is my friend and I want what’s best for him. But when you look at the fact that he wrote an album with KD Lang. He wrote the songs, he played the songs and sang the songs with her, and the album meant so much to him, and therefore he wants to go on the road and support it. Whereas Easy Wonderful was such an awful process. It took forever. It wasn’t anything like what his process with KD was like. Then, the two songs that Joe sang [for Easy Wonderful] didn’t make the record. And there’s reasons those songs didn’t make the record -- they didn’t quite fit -- but our relationship with Joe is super strong and super bonded forever. He did things to our music that we needed. I’m very grateful for Joe. I think he’s off the road and those days are pretty much over. ... Joe always played the hardest part on every song; he was the one real musician in our band — and when he goes away, it’s when you take out of the 3-4-5 hitters, like we have nothing. Luke (Reynolds) is equally capable of playing all the difficult parts."
-- Regarding some of the tough times in the studio, here's what Rosenworcel said about the Goldfly and Easy Wonderful sessions and how they compared to Lost and Gone Forever.
"There was a culture in the studio where they rolled their eyes at you if you wanted to experiment with stuff. In particular there was a view of our instrumentation as insufficient. Steve Lillywhite, who is a much better known and loved producer than Steve Lindsey (Goldfly producer), is the opposite. [Lillywhite] built us up and got the best out of us. We worked with producers who have like, I don’t know, tyrannical edge — David Kahne on Easy Wonderful — and it was really hard. It’s really not good for a band to have to suffer through it. I understand producers are artists and are opinionated, and that’s what makes them distinct, and whereas (Evermotion producer) Richard Swift didn't necessarily think he was right 100 percent of the time. I could respect that. I don’t really know how we ended up in the studio with some of those guys. It wouldn’t happen that way again. We’re too smart to make that mistake. ... You can’t regret that. I look at Goldfly as a missed opportunity. We worked with a producer out in LA that we just had a terrible relationship with, and made that a negative process, and after Parachute, which was wildly successful for us, just being a college band, it sounded disappointing. You could feel it. Whereas some of the songs on there were still pretty good. It didn’t really hurt us, because we came back on the next album."
-- There is a song from the Ganging Up on the Sun sessions entitled "Emily Ivory." It was initially slotted as the "main track," per Rosenworcel, and treated as the best song on the record. Eventually the band soured on it some. Then the lyrics got a rewrite. Then it was scrapped altogether. Now Rosenworcel says it's one of the worst songs the band's ever written and it will probably never see the light of day. This, of course, makes me want to hear it all the more.
-- The album that sounded the most different as a final product vs. the expected sound going in? This one shocked me: Parachute.
-- States Guster has yet to play: Hawaii, Alaska, South Dakota.
-- The band hates the gaps between studio albums' releases. For Keep It Together, Ganging Up on the Sun and Easy Wonderful, the reason those albums came out months after the original plan was due to record execs asking for different songs with different sounds. This frustrated the band every time (and is partly why they are now running their own label), but these mandates did wind up producing some terrific tunes. Songs that were born as a function of record company demands for rewrites: Hang On, Careful, Homecoming King, Amsterdam, Keep It Together, Lightning Rod, One Man Wrecking Machine, Do You Love Me, This Could All Be Yours, What You Call Love. Satellite, which the band wanted to be the lead single off Ganging, was rejected by the suits. (Ooops!)
-- Gardner's involvement, passion and professionalism when it comes to running Reverb can't be overstated. He's helped changed the mindset of a lot of bands and people in the music business, specifically when it comes to touring with a responsible mindset for being environmentally aware. He's gone to Washington, D.C. and pushed the cause to politicians. Being a member of Guster is 1A, and running Reverb is 1B.
"I'm super proud of what Lauren, my wife, and I started and the team we’ve built here at Reverb and the passion they have. It’s amazing. To me, it adds meaning to what I’m doing in Guster too. They feed each other. The more Guster’s out there, the better it is for Reverb."
-- Regarding Gardner, I had to ask him about a dynamic that's changed in Guster. For the past decade, there's been one or two songs that he's sung lead on. When Guster formed, he sang lead more than Miller. A big draw to Guster's sound is how great those two fellas' voices sound together. So why the change, and could the new record have more Adam in the forefront?
"A lot of this just has to do with melodies," he said. "It has lots do with who wrote what and what works with each song. A lot of my writing role within the band has to do with harmonic structure and feel. And a lot of the melodies tend to pop out of Ryan’s mouth. It just kind of naturally, the melodies lend itself to his voice. Ramona is one of my favorite songs, but I did not write that melody. Ryan did. So it really just comes down to what works best. Do You Love Me, a lot of those phrasings, I wrote a lot of that, and it’s hard to tell who wrote what because we just explode ideas in a room together. I don’t think it’s specifically like, 'We don’t want Adam to sing' or 'I don’t want to sing anymore.' It's more, where do melodies come from? I do miss some of the intricate harmony stuff and I do hope there’s more of that in the future. Sometimes it’s hard to do that when you want to focus so much on melody. A lot of it this is letting go of your ego."
-- Found it interesting that Miller didn't have a wide knowledge of music when he got to college. He didn't discover albums by The Cure, The Grateful Dead, Van Morrison, The Beach Boys, New Order, etc. until college -- and even after. Now, from my view, those bands, and a lot of avant garde acts from the past 30 years, feel like they have their colors in his paints.
-- I asked Miller: You all seem like politically knowledgeable people, but that hasn’t really been reflected — too much — in your music. Intentional? Do you find it hard to write political or environmental without cringing?
"Adam has been a hero to me on the activism tip, watching how he even approached the environmental thing. He says, 'You just tell them it’s here and it’s available to them. This is what we’re passionate about personally, but you can take it or leave it.' Of course I respect the fuck out of bands like Rage Against the Machine or Radiohead, who made politics part of the music, but as a primary songwriter I’ve never been drawn to that. We don’t define our music by our politics, and that was never a conscious decision.”
-- The band has had frustrations over the years at a lack of widespread critical acclaim and falling short of making it to a next level of success and fame.
“Sometimes it’s hard to watch,” Gardner said. “It’s like, ‘Jeez, how come that hasn’t happened for us?’”
They have thankfulness for where they are, without question, but they've also seen everyone from Maroon 5 to John Mayer to the Avett Brothers to fun. open for them ... then go on to be much bigger acts. (There have also been dozens upon dozens of bands who came and went, not even making a dent, and the band is very aware of that, too.)
"On the level that people ask me what I do and I say that I'm a musician and that’s not a hedge and I’ve made my professional life as a musician and I support my family with playing music, it’s fucking incredible," Miller said. "I don't think I would’ve had the audacity to say that even as a college kid. Yes, that’s insane. But we call it the reverse curse. 'Open up for us and you’ll win a Grammy.' That has been, on some level, as a band that has ambitions to have as many people connect with us as possible, has been extremely frustrating. We haven’t gotten critical nods, and in retrospect I don’t know if we deserve them. So there’s been a ton of frustration kind of watching it play out but as we’ve gotten older and were realize what place our music does hold of people, again, it is very humbling and something we take very seriously. Would I want to be selling out three nights Red Rocks instead of having to open up? Sure. And would I have liked to have a couple platinum records instead of no platinum records? Absolutely. But that said, for every band that’s ahead of us, there’s thousand and thousands that are probably better than us and are behind us. I don’t wish we were Vertical Horizon, who had a big hit song and kind of went away."
One more video: Mona Lisa, the best song off Parachute.