Genauer, the former shining star of proto-jam band Strangefolk, took time out to talk with us about where he’s been, where he’s going, and how an Assembly of Dust can be a lot more than just loose particles in the air.
JamBase: Beginning with the past, it must have been difficult to leave your old band, Strangefolk, especially as popular as the band was. What was the turning point where you decided to leave the band?
JamBase: What made you decide that the next point of order was to go to business school as opposed to another project?
Reid Genauer: Truthfully I was just totally lost and didn’t know what to do. I didn’t really have a resume. I’d never had a job and I was just looking for a “get out of jail free card.” I honestly thought I was done with music just because I was so disgruntled. First of all, business school was just a trip. I was intellectually and culturally getting my ass kicked every day, a rough two years. Six months into it I was starting to write songs again and my second year there I made a record, I spent more time in the studio than I did in the classroom [laughs]. I was like the mascot. I was like the mule. As far as backgrounds were concerned, I was so out of the norm. I went from the van and bouncers and bong hits to a pretty intense course of study [at Cornell University].
Did you plan to leave the world of music for the business world when you jumped into Cornell?
Almost a shotgun approach?
Yeah, it was. To that point, the funny thing is I only applied to one school. And it was literally a shotgun. I was like, “If I don’t get in, I’m obviously not going.” I got in and I was like, “Oh, I guess I gotta do it.”
After graduating and playing with AOD, you landed the high profile job of Director of Creative Marketing with the up-and-coming, and now huge, emusic.com. How do you convince the company that while still traveling as a rock star you could be the man for the job?
I didn’t even have to convince them, they’re just totally into it. Most of the folks there, my boss included, are fans of music and they just get it. It’s a music company that promotes independent music and it’s great. It’s not like some guys who are working selling insurance and then at night strapping on their guitar. It’s not like that at all. My life is just one seamless pursuit of music. I live a life of passion, both in the day and in the night.
Do you work with emusic while you are on the road?
In creating AOD, what was the process of pulling together a new band?
Again it wasn’t all that intentional. I had booked solo gigs that I intended to play by myself. There were five of them, from DC up to Burlington or something. During that time a few things happened. The primary one was that I went and sat in with Percy Hill, Nate and [AOD bassist] John [Leccese]‘s old band. Backstage, I was talking to John and he said, “When you do your solo things, I can play standup bass.” And I was like, “Alright, cool.” Then I was in the audience and I looked to my left and I saw [AOD guitarist] Adam Terrell, who I knew from other bands. I [told him about the] solo gigs and we actually wound up doing the first [one with] just he and I. So then we had bass, guitar, and guitar in me, and we said, “Well, we really oughta find a drummer.” We went through the list of guys we knew who played drums and everybody was really good friends with Andy [Herrick], especially those guys knew him really well. So, we just gave him a shout. Everybody knew Nate. He’s such a great player. So, it wasn’t like we were starting a band, we were just going to do five days. It evolved from there.
After four or five years of touring with AOD, you had the 2005 live disc [The Honest Hour] and the 2003 solo disc [Assembly of Dust]. Now you’re releasing the first full studio album, Recollection. What went into this album and what does it mean to you and the band?
The only track that made it from the previous album is “The Honest Hour.” How did you choose that one?
If you’ll allow me to pat myself on the back – or Nate and I – we just feel like that’s a gem of a song and it’s one that really captures what we’re going for. The live album was a live album. We wanted a chance to recreate it in a studio setting and just make it shine in a pristine way. The fact that we released a live album first really is kind of bizarre because usually what people do is release a series of studio albums and then recap those songs live. In some ways, we felt cheated because we introduced a lot of new songs that never had been recorded on an album. We would’ve liked to have done others actually, but this was the one that we felt like if we were gonna play anything, this one deserves a chance to be polished.
How does Recollection compare to your earlier music?
Despite the fact that you started the band and you write most of the music, how does the rest of the band influence the music that you guys create?
First and foremost, Nate and I write a lot of the songs together. There’s two songs on the [new] album that he wrote himself and I sing. I think the songs that really define us are the ones that Nate and I write together and sort of become the AOD sound. So, that’s number one. It is definitely a collaborative process. It’s not like either one of us is sitting there and saying, “Play this, play that.” We present the song, and usually the song suggests a feel. Sometimes, we’ll give a reference that’s sort of like a Dire Straits tune, or sort of like a Steely Dan feel, or kind of going for a Paul Simon thing. The cool thing is that John, Andy, and Adam are such great musicians coming from a similar place philosophically about music and aesthetically. Nine out of ten times we [present the tune] and five minutes later we’re playing it as a band.
It’ll get tweaked and refined over time. Sometimes songs don’t find their groove until you’ve played them live a lot. It’s weird. I don’t know why it is but you can practice a song a zillion times and it still doesn’t really gel until you present it [live] because people play with a different intensity and different inspiration. The song doesn’t really come alive until it’s got an audience. It must be weird for a band to record an album of material that’s never been played live and then start playing the songs, which seems sort of backwards. I’ve never done this but I’d like to sometime. It’s like a comedian wouldn’t just put a bunch of jokes on an album. You wanna go test and refine it, see where the audience laughs and where they don’t. To me, it seems like it would be like releasing art or music in a vacuum if you didn’t try it out on people first.
So you felt like you had to try out the music first before you wanted to put it on a disc?
Have you done this?
I have. I’m married but I did hide [the ring] in a ski boot for a while. I had intended to keep it for like a month and a week into it I broke down. I was going up into my closet and checking my ski boot and making sure it was still there.
How do the AOD crowds compare to or differ from the experience you had with Strangefolk?
It’s been an interesting process. At first it was like people were just kinda coming to gawk. It was more just like coming to see the circus. I think some people were disappointed because they were coming to see Strangefolk and they weren’t getting it. Also, we were sort of finding our thing, and, in some ways, trying to be Strangefolk. Over time we gained confidence in ourselves, created a sound that was our own and wrote a bunch of material. We transitioned into a place where the fans were coming to see us and we were being us but it took a while. I think our fans are more patient with us than Strangefolk fans were. Strangefolk fans wanted to come and get beat in the head every single song. I think – and you’d have to take a poll – but my sense is that we’re a little more daring in playing slower songs and making the audience work a little bit.
Do you see a lot of the same faces in the crowd that you saw back in the ’90s?
Yeah. There are definitely some people who have moved on, and would’ve moved on anyhow because their lives have changed and they have jobs and babies and such. There are some who the glitter was gone for them. Those have been replaced with new faces.
Do you find yourself surprising fans that don’t realize the connection between Strangefolk and AOD?
With all the success that you’ve had with emusic and AOD, do you have any regrets about leaving Strangefolk?
I have no regrets for being in Strangefolk. It was some of the greatest years of my life and defined who I am. You have a period of time where you define yourself as an adult and that was my coming of age. No regrets, nothing but very, very positive memories, BUT it was the right choice for me and it worked out. The only regret I have with leaving Strangefolk was that people were hurt and disappointed. I set out to do the opposite, to inspire people and provide an element of joy. The fact that I caused, at the risk of sounding melodramatic, some element of pain I regret that.
What are your plans for 2007?
Just bringing it, bringing the heat. We’re having a blast. We’re having a great tour, the album’s getting a great reception, and I’m just genuinely excited to rock. It’s good to be back.
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