The Essential Tabs of Reid Genauer
RR: Sun Shot has a consistency of sound and depth of emotions that carries through it very well, too. You spoke of the ambience of a room, which is important to me, too, as a listener. How many takes did each track need before you moved on?
RG: Two or three takes each. Most of the performances, if not all, but most of the performances are whole performances. The things that were layered back in were the acoustic guitar because it is hard to do that live—the nature of the instrument means you can’t have all the drums bleeding through the microphone. Interestingly, I went back and started singing a lot of tracks over again and they didn’t have the same in-the-moment feel. It seemed like over-emoting, where you try and be like Aretha Franklin or something (laughter). We went back and listened to a lot of the scratch vocals, and I think every single one of those is a scratch vocal. It was something that we never intended to keep. I was just singing to give the band signposts—a format signpost: where are we at in the song, and an emotional signpost: it’s hard to get into a tune unless you’re really playing it. And we kept them—I’m pretty sure 100%—very single vocal is the scratch. Which is cool. (laughs) I think they were just more natural performances—more nuanced, more relaxed because it was like the spotlight wasn’t on.
RR: In terms of those individual tracks, how did you choose the songs for Sun Shot, and how do you find the time to sit down and write? What is your current writing process like?
RG: Yeah. I think there are three classes of songs on the record. The first are songs that, you know, have been written and in the repertoire and kicking around for a few years: “Lost & Amazed” and “Avenue of the Giants”—those are the two primary examples of that. The second class, and the mainstay, which are songs that were written for the record where I intentionally sat down to write a bunch of tunes like “Vaulted Sky,” “Cluttered,” and “Unvarnished.” The third class was songs that had been written and never gotten played; there are two or three—“Gray Believer” was one that I had written for Some Assembly Required. We didn’t record it, and we’ve never played it live. “Mrs. What You Are” was written a bunch of years ago. It’s a little on the pop-y end of things, I think, for what we do. It just never felt like a top priority. We did it on a whim. John Leccese [bassist] pushed for it, he liked it as a ditty, and it came out well. It’s got a great sort of Clapton-y 70s groove. Those were the buckets—brand spanking new, closet songs that came out (laughs), and then a couple that had seen the light of day.
In terms of process, I don’t know, I just have to be…when I was a kid, and I had nothing else going on, I just wrote whenever I felt like it, whenever I felt inspired. These days, I just have to be more structured about it and carve out time. There’s something that is kind of cool that I was initially frustrated with, but now I’ve come to be comfortable with and understand it is that when you have two or three hours set aside and you sit down because you have to, and a lot of times you don’t feel like you are getting anything done. It is not flowing and it feels like a disappointment.
What’s interesting, though, is that for me, anyhow, and I’ll bet it is like this for most people, is that songwriting is this long stretched-out, lanky process, it’s a lanky process (laughter). A lot of times what is happening in those initial sessions is that you don’t even realize that you sort of planted a seed. Even if it’s just one or two ideas, they stick with you. If you’ve got a melody, or a theme for a song, or an idea, and you’ve captured it, and it’s sort of etched in your head, then you could be out for a jog, or walkin’ the dog, or driving a car, or flying on a plane, or wherever, and it’s there percolating. I find that if you just take the time to quote/unquote “plant the seed,” even if you were disappointed in the moment, it typically bears fruit. And that was something I had to learn how to do because I was more accustomed to sitting down and doing.
RR: And if you only have a structured period of time to work, then you don’t want to have to go back and re-do what you need to do three or four times.
RG: Right, although, I think that is exactly another interesting lesson to learn. Sometimes when it’s not working, either lyrically or some section, you just have to be a man about it, and bail. Instead of being so precious about every utterance that comes out of you, I think it’s helpful to say, “You know, this one isn’t happening right now.” It’s disappointing and it’s frustrating, but it’s more productive, sometimes, to put it aside and let it die. Or re-visit it, and it can come back in some other incarnation.
One of the songs that is particularly popular for us is called “Harrower,” and that was a re-write. It was a song that felt like it had potential, and I don’t even remember what the lyrics were, but they were not particularly strong. I said, “Screw it,” let it sit, and then re-wrote all of the lyrics, and it became something else that is now a mainstay, but I guarantee that had we done it the way that it initially was written, it wouldn’t have had the same power it does.
RR: Three tiers of time for the songs to be included onto one framework of time, which became Sun Shot. That’s obviously a nod to the strength in the songwriting process, but what I noticed was a confidence and conciseness on each song, while also including a few places where the listener can hear the band stretch out for a bit, for example on “Arkansas Down” and “Weehawken Ferry.” Did you insert passages in the song for some space before returning to the main thesis or riff, if at all?
RG: Yeah. “Arkansas Down” was kind of like the scratch-vocal thing. I don’t think we had any intention of having four minutes at the end of the song, or whatever it was, but there was no official ending. We were just kind of noodling. And, if you listen to it, it just captures this great spontaneous interplay, primarily (I guess between the whole band, but really) Jason [Crosby, keyboards] and Adam are having a conversation, and that was just fortuitous. That was really nice.
And, then (laughs), this is kind of crass, but it’s funny. I was talking about both Jason and Adam—we were talking about them this weekend—and, of course, in the live setting, we do have long, extended sections, but, if anything…well, we were talking about them both as dogs who piss on trees. It’s a miracle. You take a dog for a half hour walk, and, somehow, he has enough piss for every tree he wants to mark, as opposed to somebody who has had 19 beers, comes out, and sprays the wall. Jason and Adam are very contained in these creative bursts throughout the record. In the live setting, it’s there, they could do it all night long if they want to, but they don’t. They wait for the moment to mark the border (laughs), so it’s a funny parallel. We were hunched over laughing about that particular reference, but it’s kind of a good one.
RR: That sense of containment, and knowing when, or even if, one needs to stretch out reminds me of “Myth of Mine,” which has a sublime melody, while the entire band is playing quite well together as a unit, much like it does throughout Sun Shot. After all this time, the band has a fresh and tight sound that is remarkable.
RG: We’re mystified by that ourselves. I think in that same conversation at a diner somewhere in Portland, Oregon, we were saying the same thing. It has been over a decade and we’ve found, I don’t know (laughs), we’ve found a stride that feels great, and I think a lot of it has to do with having Jason and Dave [Diamond, drums] settle into being a part of the band, and not these appendages. It just comes with time and they are great and they get it. They are cut from the same mold. But, it’s awesome and it’s really cool. The shows have been going that way, as well. There is just a lot of nuance, a lot of confidence, and you can see it in the crowd. The reaction is strong without having to be a sledgehammer, and that, that’s really where we’ve found something that I am not sure that we’ve ever really fully refined in the past. We’ve always done ballads with conviction and some more nuanced pieces, but this record has, I don’t know, it’s back to the tennis guy with the angle of his wrist—we tweaked our approach in our serve. Maybe, it isn’t fast, but it’s more targeted.
RR: The sledgehammer comment is also telling. There is a subtle power to the album, so I don’t have to turn the volume up to 11 to let it hit me in an obvious way.
RG: Right. Although, I will say this album sounds good loud. (laughter)
RR: Yeah. Unfortunately, everything needs to be turned up loud for me these days.
RG: I like listening to music loud, in general, because you just hear everything, as opposed to a normal volume, where you only hear the snare drum, the vocal, and the guitar riff, right? Loud, you really hear all the dimensions.