Reid Genauer: Dust Never Sleeps
Many are familiar with Reid Genauer from his days with Strangefolk, a band whose popularity snowballed in the late nineties. When the group headlined the 1999 Gathering of the Vibes, performing in front of more than 10,000 people, it seemed that things were falling into place perfectly. However, Reid’s gut was telling him otherwise and in a bold move he decided to leave the band and return to school to obtain his MBA. That was more two years ago.
Today, Genauer suddenly finds himself right where he wants to be, although his journey was not planned. His new band, Reid Genauer and the Assembly of Dust, nonchalantly formed in the summer of 2001, almost by accident. The line-up features a talented collection of mutual friends and touring veterans – including keyboardist Nate Wilson and bassist John Leccese of Percy Hill, guitarist Adam Terrell of Groove Child and drummer Andy Herrick of Moon Boot Lover. After a few initial gigs, (which were "fucking awesome" according to Leccese) a few more dates were booked and soon an album was in the works. The disc, The Assembly of Dust, blends Reid’s poetic lyricism with earthy arrangements, accomplished chops and studio perks such as glossy gospel back-up vocals. After the recent success of singer/songwriters such as John Mayer and Jack Johnson, it will be interesting to see if the mainstream will embrace the record; it’s certainly in the realm of possibilities. The disc hits stores March 15 and is currently available online. It can also be purchased at any of the band’s live shows.
JW: Things seem to be going pretty well for you these days with a solid new band and a new album out this week. When you left Strangefolk, was this what you envisioned?
RG: It really wasn’t. It was something that just kind of evolved. I didn’t have a real, astute musical vision when I left Strangefolk. I had just sort of had it on all fronts and I slowly but surely picked up the reins again and jumped back into the saddle. It was really a gradual thing and then all the pieces started to make sense. The whole prospect of making music started to make sense again.
JW: Take us back to when you first started to put the band together. You started playing music again at an open mic night, right?
RG: Yeah. The frustration for me, prior to leaving Strangefolk was a really draining, rigorous tour schedule and feeling sort of like my destiny was not in my own control; musically, organizationally, geographically and financially. Those were all things that sort of drove me to go my separate way. Going back to school was a great thing and an empowering thing, emotionally, and it gave me some time to just sort of figure out what I want to be when I grow up. I was definitely down in the dumps about not playing live music. That had been the bulk of my adult life, spent chasing the dream and it was like a point of light on the horizon. As destructive as it was in some ways, it was really a focal point and a beacon in other ways.
The first time I played again after I left Strangefolk, I went to an open mic in Ithaca. I was watching a couple guys play in front of me and they were probably a good ten years younger than me. I remember sitting there watching this duo and thinking it reminded me a lot of me and [Strangefolk guitarist] Jon Trafton in college. I just found it amusing, their whole persona and the songs that they were writing. It really, really reminded me of myself. So they got done and I got up and did my three songs in front of like five people.
JW: Did you go there planning to perform or were you just inspired by the duo?
RG: I went there to play. I went with like two friends. There was literally like ten people in the place and the [house engineer] was like giving me my three song minimum and telling me how to plug my guitar in and stuff. So I did my three songs and he pretty much pulled the plug on me. When I was done, that kid that had gone before me came up and before he even spoke he lifted his shirt and as an undershirt he had a Strangefolk shirt on. That was like…it gave me the chills. I was with friends from school who didn’t really know much about what I did prior and didn’t really fully comprehend the extent to which I’d been playing music. So that kind of blew their mind. It blew my mind.
RG: Yeah, it really blew my mind. It was just a neat moment. It was Step One. Then I figured I’d just book my own gig there and kind of show them who’s boss [laughs]. So I booked this gig at the ABC Cafn Ithaca. It holds all of 100 people. So I played the gig and I actually sold it out in advance. People came from all over the Northeast. It blew me away the amount of support that was still out there. It went over really well. I felt oddly complete doing it again. It just gave me such a high. It just felt right. I still hadn’t made any divine plans, but I continued to do a few sporadic solo gigs. The culmination of those was when I finally headlined the Wetlands as a solo act in late May of 2001. That was a coming home in a lot of ways. That was a big gig for me as a solo acoustic guy and I had spent so much time there with [Strangefolk] so that was neat.
JW: And then that summer you hooked up with some of the guys that are in your band now?
RG: Yeah, that summer I was in New Hampshire and I had been hanging out with the guys from Percy Hill a little bit, socially. I had their manager Al Ostroy book me some gigs for the end of the summer. So those were all set and in the interim I was at the Stone Church, which is a really cool venue in New Hampshire, and in talking with the owner there I found out they had a cancellation in like two weeks time from when I spoke to him. So I decided to take the gig. About a week later, I went to see Percy Hill play and I sat in for a tune and I had spoken to John [Leccese] a little bit and I ran into Adam Terrell who I had known through his other musical endeavors. I mentioned that I was playing at the Stone Church and the idea popped in my head to have him come sit in with me. We practiced one night and he learned like ten tunes and then came and sat in with me. Somewhere in that timeframe, I had also spoken with John and he had told me that if I wanted him to come play bass when I did any of my solo shows, he would. At that point I kind of said, "Well, shit. We’ve got four gigs booked. We’ve got guitar, bass and songs. All we need is a drummer and we’ve got a band." So, those guys all knew Andy Herrick real well and I knew him fairly well from mutual paths and so we called him and he was game. We practiced two nights and went out and played those four gigs and they were just explosive. I mean it was totally, totally magical. There’s one tape from the Middle East in Boston and Leccese thanks everybody and says, "This is fucking awesome" and it just was. So, from those four gigs, I think I booked another four and I decided to make an album. We sort of put a stake in the ground and booked some studio time in February.
JW: It seems like there’s a certain duality that you were trying to achieve with the album. The songs are concise and catchy, but also stretch out nicely in the live setting.
RG: Right. It’s a trick to play in both worlds. My first priority was to make a record that was a sound record that stood on its own for the presentation. My first priority was to make a well crafted, well structured, succinct studio album. It’s really a trick to do that on one hand and then go out and have those songs have the elasticity and the strength to expand to unknown horizons. As we put this band together, a lot of it was fortuitous and it was the right place at the right time. But also, I looked at the fact that I had a lot at stake here. You don’t get two tries at reinserting yourself. If you come out and you suck, that’s the end. You suck.
JW: Right. You only have one debut as a solo artist.
RG: You really do, especially when you’ve got some sort of reputation to live up to. I was really conscious about the people that I was getting involved with and there was a huge element of risk when we threw this thing out into the world. I felt like you can only do what you can do, but the first step is making sure you have great players in your band and that they’re great people. That is the case with the all the people that I "assembled."
JW: It seems like you guys have an advantage because of the fact that all of you were in other bands and have had the chance to make mistakes and mature, both musically and psychologically.
RG: It’s true. First and foremost musically, but then beyond that as far as what our expectations are, what are limitations are, when we’re writing a song or creating an arrangement for an old song or whatever, it’s a touchy thing to be in a room of people and have to give and take criticism. You learn grateful ways of doing it. These guys are all really good at doing it; both offering and receiving constructive criticism.
JW: You added Nate Wilson a little bit later. How did that change your approach since you had never been in a band with a keyboardist?
RG: That was sort of an obvious choice, first of all because everybody knew him and second of all because he’s awesome. It’s great. It’s really liberating for a few reasons. One is that the obligation of holding down the rhythm part for me is not quite as foreboding because there’s someone else doing it. Then as far as interest and dynamics are concerned for a set, it’s great to have more than one soloist because you get a freshness that you don’t get if you just have one person banging out solos every night. There’s a richness that the keyboard has, tonally, as a singular instrument and then just the fact that you have one more instrument playing gives you that much more richness.
JW: Take us through the process of making the album. How democratic was it?
RG: It was an unusual situation in that as a band, we were so young. It was definitely my vision that was defining what this thing was. I mean I wrote like a two-page vision statement on what this thing should be and what it should not be. I suggested elements of certain albums that I liked and asked people to listen, whether it was tonal qualities or the use of certain instrumentation. Then I had a list of what the album should be and what it should not be. I’m not exactly sure why it was a success, but it was. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to really achieving what the initial vision was. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that there was a clear vision and that there weren’t 15 cooks in the kitchen trying to decide what it should be. Everybody kind of pulled together as a team to work towards a common goal.
We also had Rich Hilton, who even though it doesn’t say it on the album, pretty much co-produced [Strangefolk’s] A Great Long While with Nile Rodgers. He’s Niles’ right hand man. At this point, he’s doing all the Pro Tools and a lot of engineering. He is a technical genius. He really is. He happens to be a really gifted musician as well. So he helped write a lot of the vocal harmonies, as did Adam and Nate. He was a great quality control filter. He listened really intently on the performances and would say, "You know what? That was good, but you can do better. Go back and do it again." If there was a bum note somewhere, he was on it. If there was a glitch in the rhythm, he was on it. It was a really neat process and by far the most fun I’ve ever had making a record just because we weren’t under the gun time wise to make it happen and because there was one unified vision of what this thing was.
JW: You also took matters into your own hands on the business side of things by going back to school to get your MBA. How has that helped your music career?
RG: My vision of how that fit into my life is still evolving, but basically I went because all I had done for ten years was play music and it was coming to an end. I felt like I didn’t know what I was gonna do, but I felt like I was pretty grossly unprepared for anything but playing music. That’s part of what always made playing music a scary proposition for me. With most jobs, there’re transferable skills where you if get sick of doing something in ten years, you can go work for a different company and do a slightly different thing. There’re escape routes. I felt like playing music is playing music and that’s all you’re really prepared to do. As I sat through my coursework, I viewed everything through the musician’s lense. I realized that a lot of the things that I had gone through, whether they were music industry stuff with contracts and lawyers and volume of records sold or whether they were interpersonal things with how group dynamics work, it was all really relevant to the stuff I was learning.
To circle back to what I said earlier, when I left Strangefolk, I felt like my life was really out of control and this was a sort of dramatic way of regaining control. The education is a powerful tool in driving the boat.
JW: There are a lot of common themes in your lyrics to which your fans really seem to relate. What inspires you as a songwriter?
RG: There’s no one starting point to sitting down and doing it. I look at songwriting like a merry-go-round. There are all these places that you can jump on. I jump on at different places for different songs. Maybe it’s one lyric or one phrase that I heard somebody turn that I think is so cool and that’s the inspiration for the song. Broadly, because I’m fortunate enough to be part of a genre of music that takes from all genres, I’ll incorporate different elements: Motown or country or harder. For example, I went to see moe. play once and they’ve definitely got some edge. I thought that a lot of my songs are pretty folksy, so it would be cool to have a song that sort of knocks people over the head in a more distorted, rock and roll kind of way. I wrote "Burn Down" after that. It’s got some big sort of power chords and a section in the middle that sounds a little bit like Led Zeppelin. Lyrically, I draw from different places. I remember seeing the first Lord of the Rings and I wrote a song after that.
JW: Which song?
RG: It’s a new song called "Pedal Down." I went recently to see this art exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum by Richard Avedon. We went on this walking tour and there was this really descriptive language about his photographs. He happened to take pictures of a lot of poets so they had excerpts of poetry and stuff like that. I wrote a song recently that we haven’t even unveiled yet that was inspired by that. There’s also this book Cold Mountain. It’s a really lyrical book. The pace is a little slow, but the whole thing is written almost like a song. That inspired "Cabin John." Lyrically, I search out expressive places that contain expressive content. As far as what a song’s gonna be about, I don’t really know. That’s a little more unconscious. Sometimes I have cool phrases and I form the subject to fit around the phrases. Other times, I think of a subject and choose the phrases to fit around it.
JW: What’s the deal with the Assembly of Dust? Enlighten us.
RG: [laughs] The Assembly of Dust was a counterculture movement that originated in the middle ages and went for hundreds of years. I’m not exactly sure where it died out. It’s unclear to me whether or not it ever existed or it was just a mythological invention, but regardless, it’s a really cool concept and it basically parallels a lot of what goes on in today’s music scene and especially in the jamband scene. At the core of it is the notion of congregating with a bunch of likeminded people to lose yourself and step away from the rigors of daily life by listening and playing music [Editor’s note: to learn more visit www.stonechoirtablets.com.
JW: You had a similar theme for your New Year’s show? I heard that was quite a trip.
RG: Right, it was. People came for the weekend to this really rustic inn [Full Moon Resort] in Woodstock, NY with vegetarian food. It was a great vibe. We had a bonfire and everyone was sitting around the fire. It was an incredible evening.
JW: Right now the band seems to be performing sort of semi-regularly. How is the next year shaping up? What can fans expect? Will there be a full national tour?
RG: At the moment, our CD release tour is going to focus around the Northeast. I think our first national exposure will be the festival circuit this summer. The other way that people can connect with the band and see what’s going on in the live setting is through our website. We have what we’re calling the "Digital Dust Series." The majority of the shows we’re videotaping and then we release a recount or an episode of the shows. So Episodes One through Five are up on our site now. It’s a mixture of interviews, backstage footage and performances.
JW: Digital Dust sounds like a futuristic drug. I guess this is how fans can get their Reid fix?
RG: Right. The hope is that people on the West Coast and in the Rockies who aren’t able to come to the shows can sort of go to the cyber show.