A Magnifying Glass And Amplifier for Reid Genauer and AOD
When Reid Genauer left Strangefolk for life as a Masters of Business Administration student, it seemed as if his creative side lost out to the realities of life and frustrations of being a member of a band. Time on campus and away from the concert stage didn’t last long as Genauer found a quartet of musicians, which he named Assembly of Dust, to back him up on new material. Soon, he realized that he was part of another band, and, more importantly, a better situation.
Bearing the personality of classic rock’s better elements concise songwriting and deceptively casual arrangements, Genauer discusses AOD’s latest, “Recollection.”
Explaining how the others moved from being back up musicians to a part of the whole, he said, ”This is really, as a band, our second [studio] album because the first one was, for lack of a better word, a solo record. It just so happened that the band that I assembled was Assembly of Dust. Going into the recording process, I wasn’t really sure whether or not we were going to be a band or not. But I thought we would. That was a real defining moment for us. Since then, the records have been approached a little more holistically, if you will.”
JPG: Looking at your upcoming tour schedule, Assembly of Dust is set to play a bunch of festivals Langerado, Green Apple, Wakarusa, All Good. Which brings up this. I’m listening to the album and it’s a nice mellow intimate experience is a challenge to present that music in a festival setting?
Reid Genauer: Whether it’s a festival or just a club, we rock more than our album does, partly by design and partly by default. The design part is for a studio record you have the ability to be a little more subtle because, one, the sound is perfect. There’s less distractions both for you and for the listener in that there are not other people coming in and out of the room and talking, volume-wise. It’s a pristine environment. It’s a chance to be more subtle and speak and show your softer side. That’s appealing to us. It’s something that we don’t get to do.
We do have a fairly tolerant audience, but by and large people want to be hit over the head when they come to a show. And, truthfully, that’s what you want to do, this massive kind of kung fu fight. So, the live show, is based on the environment and on the energy and the anticipation of being in front of a live audience, and just the expectation of what a live show is.
JPG: Do you find some people who discover you by seeing you live and then they get Recollection are a little surprised? Are there others who like the album and then see you live and ask, You guys are loud. What happened’?
RG: Right. I haven’t experienced much of the latter. Most people that discover the record are pleased, come to the show and they get enough sensitive moments that they feel warm all over and still get what they came for. Probably, some of our diehard fans will listen to the record and be surprised by the restraint, but again it was intentional. The tempos are a little more moderate than we do them live. Like I said, the playing is certainly more subtle.
All of us had listened back to records that we had made back in the past and felt like they fall flat because you’re trying so hard to recreate the live thing, and, ultimately, that’s not what you’re doing. You’re not playing live and so we were very, very measured and intentional about trying to use the studio for what it’s best for, which is this magnifying glass or this amplifier that enables people to see you in your naked truth.
The other thing is, if you give people the option between rocking out and mellowing out, I think a lot of people prefer, especially in this scene, to rock out. But, a lot of our fans come for those poignant moments. Just to draw parallels between the Grateful Dead — I don’t have delusions of grandeur, there was something magical there that I don’t think anybody’ll ever repeat — but some of the most powerful moments were the ballads. It’s really about the dynamics and the juxtaposition of volume versus space or volume versus quiet.
JPG: AOD’s last album, the live album, The Honest Hour, captured those elements of songcraft, intimacy and “rocking out.” Did you have to consciously remind each other or did Recollection producer Josh Pryor encourage you to drop the energy level from the stage to the studio in order to get that this time around?
RG: No, the primary way we did it was through tempos, the production values and how it was mixed. Instrumentally, it’s a little less about what was laid [down] and more about how it was presented.
JPG: Are you referring to space between the notes as well?
RG: Yeah, and tone, and where all the instruments sit and how they’re EQ’ed, what effects are on them. The best parallel I can draw is on some of the nights when we have the most fun, when the crowd feels it the most, when the sound is good and when the energy is good and you can actually play quietly. Because it’s the difference of trying to have a conversation in a quiet room with somebody you know versus shouting at a stranger at a bar. There’s a place for both, but, ultimately, having a conversation where you can hear somebody is more rewarding. That’s how I would summarize what we were going for, to be able to have that intimacy. Quiet intensity is how I would put it.
JPG: Going back to the Grateful Dead, I see the parallel of that band rocking out for a number of years and then doing something much quieter and intimate on Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty. It might have been easier for them due to their backgrounds to make that music.
RG: I think that’s a great example. Talking to the scene, Billy Breathes from Phish is certainly not what one might expect after seeing from a live show. Those are the albums that I gravitate towards. Neil Young, I feel the same way. I’m not as captured by his rock sound as I am by things like Harvest.
JPG: When you’re talking about the Grateful Dead, were you like me where you got into the band and through them sprouted this wider net of musical interests?
RG: I would say them and The Beatles were really the gateway for me. It was like, Wow, this really tickles my taste buds.’ Then, it was The Allman Brothers and Traffic and dare I say, Steve Miller Band, Crosby, Stills and Nash. It was like discovering all this music that the world already knew about, but as a 14 year old in 1984 or 86 or whatever it was when I was 14 was just totally new to me. In the early 80s to mid-80s, sure there was good music happening, but a lot of it was A Flock of Seagulls kind of stuff that didn’t really speak to me. And that stuff was only 10 years old at the time and it’s still really, really relevant.
JPG: A number of artists popped into my head while listening to Recollection. The album does sound like something made in the early 70s, as if someone found the master tapes and finally put out. Do those comparisons sit well?
RG: That’s great. That’s the music I love. That’s the music that to a large extent that really resonates for us, collectively, as a band. Another example of quiet intensity is J.J. Cale. His records just sound so effortless. Clapton to an extent as well. Steely Dan, most of their records feel pretty effortless. It’s not that they’re listless. It’s not that there’s no energy. It’s that they’re subtle, that notion of quiet intensity. Those are all great examples.
JPG: Keyboardist Nate Wilson contributes more to the songwriting on Recollection. How does the process work itself out? And what do the other members bring into it?
RG: We all have similar tastes in music and I think instinctively, with a few little signposts and a little bit of coaching, when Nate and I bring a song to the band, nine out of 10 times they just nail it. They just get it. There’s not a lot of teeth pulling. Once in awhile you get one that doesn’t come to life naturally and usually those fade to the back of the repertoire.
JPG: When you do come up to them with a song, how fully developed are your demos?
RG: It depends on the song. Nate, when he writes a tune sometimes he’ll do a full demo. Just writes it all himself. The ones that he and I write together, I’ll send an MP3 of me strumming a tune on the guitar to the whole band with maybe a little intro note, Thinking of this one as a Paul Simon-y Calypso thing. However you describe it. A Beatle-y thing. Kind of a J.J. Cale groove for the verse with a CSN thing for the chorus.’
JPG: Do you really mention other artists to get what you want?
JPG: I read that you felt like you were losing control in Strangefolk, and that was a big reason for you leaving. Do you feel more in control now or what have you done to have a degree of control so that you don’t fall into that situation of not enjoying it again?
RG: I guess it’s just a whole variety of things. A lot of it just stems from mature communication, in terms of what you’re cranking out creatively and then just how the band functions. Some of it is a function of age. Some of it is the function of experience. Some of it is the function of personality. It’s almost like they say about your second marriage. I’ve never said that. If it’s true that second marriages have better stats than firsts, I would say it’s for those reasons.
JPG: The idea that in a second marriage you already know what to avoid from before and what you expect from one another.
RG: Both in terms of how you relate to other people musically and personally and also how they relate to you.
JPG: You mentioned earlier about the ‘scene’. Obviously, you’re referring to the jamband scene. Over the past several years of talking to musicians who would be viewed as being part of the scene, there seems to be more displeasure or resistance discussing or being part of the jamband style. They’d rather emphasize songs over jams.
RG: There’s a few reasons for it in my estimation. One is that, again, to tie this back to the Grateful Dead, it’s fair too in this context. They were sort of the Godfather of the jambands, but when we look at their roots and what they were composed of you had folk and blues and early rock — Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly — as a centerpiece, which really was about traditional songwriting and storytelling. Then, they infused it with a jazz philosophy. I don’t even think their music was in terms of the composition of the notes that were played that jazzy, but it was more the ethos that they borrowed, which was improvisation. The Allman Brothers, the same thing. And there are other bands too. Traffic, the Doobie Brothers for that matter. There was this balance that occurred. The center of the band was around those more crafted traditions, and then they allowed themselves the liberty of taking the songs out.
What happened, at some point, and I think largely with the popularity of Phish, was that the improv piece really became the focus. For Phish, they are such phenomenal musicians and, as a listener, Phish is interesting when they play a 20-minute jam because they’re smoking.
I’m getting to my point, which is that there’s two reasons why I think musicians are more resistant to talk about the jamband scene and jams. One is that what happened after Phish is you’ve got all these bands that just got out there and wanked. There’s still some that are great, but there are a lot of bands that don’t say anything. There’s no song. Maybe they have a smoking guitar player and moderate players everywhere else. For me it falls flat. That’s one piece of it. They forgot that you either have to smoke on your instrument or you have to have great tunes or both. If you have neither, it’s a shallow thing.
Two, this is the biggest one, is that the media doesn’t like to talk about jambands. It’s a stigma. It’s like the kiss of death in terms of rock critics and radio and all that stuff. I think a lot of musicians are scared because you’re going to get this freakish stigma that you’re this outcast, marginalized, irrelevant artist. It’s a shame and a frustration to me because there’s so many artists that the jamband fans are so welcoming and so open to so much that they should be celebrated as the music aficionados that they are. And not relegated as this left of center margin.
JPG: Is that something that is discussed among peers, that sort of struggle, because you have fans that are totally loyal and willing to go down just about any creative path a favorite artist takes yet it can keep your career from blossoming and being what should rightfully be heard from sea to shining sea?
RG: I think it depends on the band. I think that there are some bands that from their inception are just so right in the sweet spot of what people want to hear within the jamband scene that it makes sense just to dedicate their musical career to doing that as best they can. Then there are others where the world is missing something or there are people who would enjoy it who are missing it if that’s all that they focus on. Leftover Salmon is one that will go down in the history books as a jamband, but when you listen to something like their Nashville Sessions album with Del McCoury and Lucinda Williams and Taj Mahal. Man, that is just Americana. And I don’t think most of the Americana fans ever heard that record.
JPG: It’s a shame that it’s not justifiably heard on wider basis.
RG: It’s true. There’s an upside and downside. The upside is that, and I don’t want to sound like a jaded anti-mainstream guy cause I like some mainstream music, but there just isn’t a home for a lot of non-commercial sounding music these days. There are a few exceptions of commercial success with non-commercial sounding music. I applaud that. Norah JonesDave Matthews, it’s definitely not standard pop. Even John Mayer. It’s like real music and I applaud the fact that Jack Johnson, Ray LaMontagne…I’m excited that the mainstream has accepted them, but by and large musicians who are not dancing or wearing stupid hats are not getting embraced by mainstream media. So, it’s refreshing that there are pockets of people who want something other than that.
And it’s not just the jamband scene. The indie rock scene is really vibrant as well in that regard. They’re starting to cross over more and more if you look at the lineups for the festivals. But they’re the same. Even though they have different musical aesthetics, they’re looking for something with a little more crunch and a little less noodling. Their musical taste or philosophies are similar. They want music beyond the mainstream.
JPG: It’s funny that you mentioned Steely Dan earlier. I recall years before the two reunited, a column in “Hits” magazine wondered what category the band would fit in based on the current music climate.
RG: There’s so many artists who, back to the jambands conversationwhat the hell is J..J. Cale? Is he a jamband? Eric Clapton, is he a jamband? I just think of them as roots musicians, country, but they jam.
JPG: Clapton gets a break because of his Classic Rock background. Of course that doesn’t mean that AOR stations would be playing much of the album he did with J.J. Cale because it’s new, not old and familiar. Looking at the situation you almost can’t blame Rod Stewart for making a rock album of cover tunes because, at least, it’ll attract a Boomer audience that may buy a CD rather than a younger one, which will pick and choose what it likes on iTunes. We could be talking about this for hours.
RG: It’s pretty interesting. It’s the core of what I talk about. The thing that’s exciting to me is that there’s just more, whether it’s a jamband scene, the internet at large, the indie rock scene or the singer/songwriter scene or the bluegrass scene, there’s just more and more ways for people to have access to real music. That’s great. There’ll always be a place for pop music. Again, I’m not knocking it. Whatever’s entertaining. People like watching shows about funeral homes. They find that entertaining. Fine. But I think for a long time, there’s been frustration that there wasn’t access to music that was tickling people in the right way, largely because, as you say, radio and other mass appeal things, they’re not playing it.
JPG: It’s like the last four, five, six Widespread Panic albums. I keep thinking, Why isn’t the local AOR station playing anything from this?’ It totally fits next to whatever act you’ve heard five million times before.
JPG: You’re currently touring to promote Recollection. Are you still working as a Director of Creative Marketing with eMusic? And is that a by-product of earning your MBA?
RG: Yeah, this is a perfect place for me. It sounds a little corny or a little gimmicky, but I feel lucky to be able to live a life of passion around music. I get to be myself all day long and I get to talk shop about music all day long. And eMusic is one of those outlets that I was talking about where people who want something beyond the mainstream can find it. It’s just amazing to me how many people there are! We have 250,000 to 275,000 subscribers. Not a single one of them is looking for Britney Spears. That’s just pretty amazing, especially in the face of all these mom and pop indie record stores going out of business, all these great radio stations going out of business, all these great clubs that have gone out of business, all these great independent bands that have broken up over the years. I’m not saying that all those things are coming to an end, but it’s just nice to see that there is a community that can support a business that’s founded on something other than commercial music.
JPG: Knowing others who have been in the program, getting an MBA is a difficult thing
RG: It’s by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It’s like running a marathon for two years. It was brutally, brutally challenging.
JPG: Do you think it helped how you now look at things, other than something obvious such as a contract, but how you look at life and playing music?
RG: Oh, absolutely! A, it gave me a renewed sense of confidence where I could take no prisoners. B, it gave me a real expanded worldview, for a variety of reasons, for what I studied because of who I met…people from around the world. And also because of the kind of people I met there, people who were taking on the world in gulps. And that’s really intoxicating to be around. It doesn’t mean that you have to gulp Wall Street. You can gulp whatever you want. It’s just people who are ingesting life. I found that really inspiring.