Guster’s Easy Wonderful: 20 Years with Brian Rosenworcel
Earlier this month, Guster returned with their first album in four years, Easy Wonderful. The work is a thoroughly enjoyable and melodically enchanting work which focuses on expert songcraft, pop hooks, warm musings and moments of tongue-in-cheek imagery. The result is one of the band’s most cohesive and winning offerings to date. Jambands.com sat down with drummer/percussionist Brian Rosenworcel on the eve of a sold out Beacon Theatre show in New York, before Guster ends the first leg of their tour with a gig on Saturday night at Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel in Providence, Rhode Island. The quartet has seen its lineup change with the key departure of Joe Pisapia who now tours with k.d. lang. Their sound has also evolved over the years, slowly finding that they are more of a band that records great music and occasionally plays landmark concerts, rather than their old reputation of being a touring machine may have led one to believe. Rosenworcel is an insightful conversationalist who isn’t afraid to clarify and just tell it like it is as the man and his band head into their 20th year as a band in 2011.
RR: Guster is about to complete the last few dates on the first month of the tour supporting your new release, Easy Wonderful. How has the tour gone thus far?
BR: It’s going good. We are in Burlington, Vermont tonight, and we’ve got a guy in our band, Luke Reynolds, and it is his first month in our band. Every soundcheck has been like “Hey, let’s try to add one more song to our repertoire,” even though we’ve learned 40 or 50 or whatever. So, yeah, we’ve been breaking Luke in, and it’s been a success.
RR: Exactly. Tell me about the transition from having Joe Pisapia in the band for about seven years to now having Luke Reynolds.
BR: Yeah, a little over seven years when we tally them up. Joe is not an easy guy to dispense with. He’s an amazing musician. He plays every instrument, and he fits seamlessly into our thing, and knew exactly what to play on every song. Not to mention that Luke realized—when he inherited all of Joe’s parts—that Joe is playing the hardest part on every song. The rest of us are songwriters first and musicians second. So Luke has to step into the hardest part in every song, but he’s just the perfect guy to do it—his attitude, which is really positive, and really inspires to make everything better, and his musicianship. He plays banjos, wicked pedal steel, harmonica, and I was worried that he really wouldn’t be a bass player because a lot of Joe’s parts were bass lines, and I was wrong because Luke is an awesome bass player, so it was just a great fit.
RR: Let’s follow the Joe Pisapia thread. Guster switched studios, headed out of New York, and worked at Joe’s studio in Nashville for the Easy Wonderful sessions.
BR: Yeah, let me think about it. We moved to Nashville in 2009, and started finishing up some of the unfinished songs that we had begun at the end of 2008 in New York with David Kahne. The wonderful and easy side of that recording was definitely the Nashville side of it. The hard, awful part was the New York part.
RR: Isn’t the New York studio you used called ‘The Dungeon’?
BR: Right, no, it’s not an official thing. (laughter) We just called it that. It’s like a basement with a foundation, rock, stone walls, low ceilings and no windows. For someone like David Kahn, it can be very comfortable working in there, getting inside his computer and his brain. For the rest of us, it just contributed to the lack of vibe, and the lack of feeling it.
RR: Indeed. But, what was the original pull towards Nashville back in the day?
BR: We went to Nashville after we had done the Lost and Gone Forever tenth anniversary tour [fall 2009]. That tour had forced us to overcome many of our differences that had kept us away from revisiting the record for months and months. It’s great. We played to audiences who loved us and reminded us that “Oh, this is why we do this.” After that tour, we just got in with Joe.
[Later, for Easy Wonderful ] we had gone in with David Kahne, but then the recordings did not sound great. That was very frustrating for me. I’m a very hands on person, and I envisioned all the things I would be doing if I were producing the record. We had produced a record ourselves in the past, Ganging Up on the Sun, was mostly self-produced.
When we got to Joe’s, we said, “All right. Let’s do this. Let’s take off this keyboard. Let’s take off that keyboard. Re-do this guitar, let’s add a tambourine, let’s re-sing the vocal. Oh, holy shit. This sounds fucking amazing.” A lot of the David Kahne tracks, the ones that were started with David, had solid basics, but just needed our touch and our aesthetic. I don’t know why it took so long to just do it, but when we did it, it was very redemptive.
The other side of that is Ryan [Miller] had this unbelievable flurry of creativity, and wrote pretty much eight songs from scratch where everyone said, “Well, we have to record this. We fixed up six of the David Kahne tracks, and recorded eight of the Ryan ones, re-recorded “Bad Bad World” from scratch, and then, we had a record.
RR: Easy Wonderful is amazingly bereft of any filler whatsoever, even within the tracks themselves. All the songs seem to end right at the sweet spot, too.
BR: Well, that means a lot coming from Jambands.com. (laughter) I’m only saying that because you guys are the ones who are most willing to air it out over the song length.
RR: I’m notorious for wanting it to get as weird as possible, but, you know, there’s a flip side to that. I also love a well-crafted song that sounds like it could either be the Beach Boys, or the Flaming Lips, or, in this case, Guster and whatever it is you guys do to sound just like yourselves. There is a unique vibe to your music.
BR: Well, thanks. I’m happy that you appreciate that. On our previous record, we kind of hit the seven-minute mark [ Ganging Up on the Sun ] on a song, which was great for us. We tried to sound like Pink Floyd, and we got this Miles Davis muted-trumpet to go for a couple of minutes in the outro. It was really fun to experiment. On [ Easy Wonderful ], we were just honing in on the songs, honing in on keeping them as tight as possible, which is kind of what we do best.