By: Court Scott
Though certainly excited at the prospect of a new disc from Assembly of Dust (AoD), I was both dubious and curious upon learning the recording, Some Assembly Required (released July 21 on Rock Ridge Music/Missing Piece Group) (JamBase review here), has at least one guest musician on each of the album's 13 tracks. Other bands, including Galactic and Keller Williams have done similar projects with From the Corner to the Block and Dream, respectively, and were met with mild skepticism by critics and fans alike.
A flurry of thoughts: This is only AoD's second studio album; is it too soon to take on a project like this? The band's last release was 2007's Recollection (JamBase review here), and prior to that, a live recording called The Honest Hour in 2004. Would the new album be focused enough to sound like the band, or will each guest's bold signature sound overwhelm the quartet? Also, if a band's sound and songs are their brand, does hosting a guest per track detract from their image, their message? And if I'm honest, in my cold, dark heart I wondered, "Is this a marketing ploy to sell more units?" To gain insight into the band's writing, recording and thinking processes, AoD's main songwriter and vocalist Reid Genauer and drummer Andy Herrick were each good enough to drop me a line and share their impressions with me.
Initially formed as a quintet in 2002, but now short one keyboardist and down to four members, AoD got together after Genauer departed from Strangefolk. Fans and critics alike have heralded AoD, who are respected for their consonant, tuneful songwriting bolstered by meaningful, smart lyricism. AoD, I agree, are poised to crossover to the mainstream and recorded over two years, the songs on Some Assembly Required stoke and utterly reaffirm that opinion. Seven of the 13 tracks have been made available on the band's website since early June. Released each Tuesday leading up to the release date, the band used this approach to reward fans and give an audio teaser to casual or unfamiliar listeners.
Musically, AoD has drawn comparisons to The Beatles and The Band, which no doubt is due in great part to the songwriting duo of Genauer and former keyboardist and current co-producer Nate Wilson's shared understanding of songcraft and appreciation for the history of American roots music. Many of the songs had been marinating for years, explains Genauer, most having been written by himself, some with the help of Wilson. The bulk of the material was about three years old, but a 16-year-old Genauer wrote the oldest 20 years ago. "It was written when I still dreamed of being in a band. It was THE first song I wrote that moved out of the first position on a guitar neck." As far as the song selections on Some Assembly Required go, each track is a perfect snapshot from lives intertwined, varying from the frustratingly mundane to unabashedly proud to achingly devastating, all clever ruminations paired with well arranged, sparsely orchestrated, home-baked, hooky tunes.
The collection of songs on Some Assembly Required were primarily unreleased, and were more therapeutically written than purposefully so. "It wasn't about writing songs for a specific album," says Genauer. "We just had some songs recorded, some we played in a live setting, and some were just sitting in a bucket in a dark corner. Generally, those songs are the ones we worked with." Herrick tells me the album was recorded over four days in late summer of 2008. Genauer notes with a hint of pride that as he wrote the songs he became more comfortable "trying on" different characters, writing from different point of view. "[The songs] are time capsules that reflect a specific process and times in my life, some are autobiographical some are from other perspectives. There are different characters I interact with."
|Genauer by Susan J. Weiand|
Having an abundance of material allowed for a new freedom in the studio, according to Genauer, because in addition to the songs themselves, they had greater time to create and tinker with arrangements and production. "This time we had time to write as we [went]. Sometimes we would create while the mics [were] running," explains Herrick about his time in the studio with Genauer, guitarist Adam Terrell and bassist John Leccese. Where the material on previous AoD albums had been "road tested," played and recorded in live rotation and allowed to shape-shift over time, this album came into its own in the studio.
Genauer likened the alternate, unhurried approach to grocery shopping. "Sometimes you just buy the same things day in and day out. But some days you crave different flavors, textures, or tastes," he says. "We went into the studio with that in mind." Further, because each song and its parts was able to distill better and in using songs that hadn't been played live, AoD didn't have to "untangle or un-bake" songs that fans had already become familiar with. Instead, the band was able to infuse the tracks they decided would be on the album with other creative input and different genetics in the form of multiple guests.
|Gordon & Leccese (AoD) by Britt Nemeth|
The entire list of guests is comprised of musicians Genauer has long respected and with whom he's hoped to work in some capacity. Even the album's title is a play not only on the band's name but a nod that each track is an assembly of musicians. The resulting roster boasts some of the finest players in their generation. Richie Havens, David Grisman, Béla Fleck, Alison Krauss, Jerry Douglas, Mike Gordon, John Scofield, Martin Sexton and more each add their signature sound in a supporting capacity.
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