ASSEMBLING MEMORIES WITH REID GENAUER

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By Brian Heisler


Assembly of Dust
Some songwriters tap into a universal vein. Their melodies and turn-of-phrase redeem the notion of mass appeal by sheer force of talent, execution, and general vibe. Smokey Robinson had it. Paul McCartney and Paul Simon, too. A few minutes with Assembly of Dust and one comes away with the same abiding sense of grand design, which, incidentally, is the name of the opening track on AOD’s spankin’ new long-player, Recollection. Instantly likeable, this studio debut by the permanent line-up is also what the Brits call a grower. Put a little time into it, let it water your roots, and it continually returns your efforts with new pleasures and fresh shorthand for putting our lives into words. It’s a skill singer-songwriter Reid Genauer and his primary creative partner in AOD, keyboardist-singer Nate Wilson, excel at. If the quality of one’s work were the true measure of radio success, then Assembly would be a staple from coast-to-coast.

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?


Reid Genauer by Greg Kessler
Reid Genauer: I’m not really sure. There was just a time when it stopped being fun. There are some things in life that are worth doing even if it’s not fun, like, I dunno, push-ups. But, [there are] others that are not, and music is one of them. So, that was really it for me. That was the beginning of the end, when it stopped being fun.

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?


Reid Genauer – AOD by T. Voggesser
The truth is I really didn’t know what I was doing. I had totally lost my bearings without the band and the music had been my life for so long, I was just reeling really. I didn’t have a solid course of action and it all just sort of unfolded.

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?


AOD by Warren Churgin
I try to. I try and basically just scan my emails and look for either fire drills or messages from my boss. Those are pretty much the only ones that get answered. Anything with an exclamation point or my boss’ name, otherwise it waits. I let everybody know when I’m gone and it works great.

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.

 
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 that we’re a little more daring in playing slower songs and making the audience work a little.
-Reid Genauer on AOD
 
Photo by Jaclyn Ranere

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?


Assembly of Dust
Song selection was a big piece of it – kind of haggling about what songs we thought would best serve us. Then it was a fairly long-winded process of just laying down the tracks, doing all the overdubs and mixes. Actually, there were a few tracks that didn’t make it on the album. It wasn’t that they didn’t come out good, it was that we were trying to kind of create an album and not just a random group of songs. There were two or three that felt just like thematically they were a little out of the loop. It seems like it’s this little piece of plastic and it seems like it ought to be a fairly painless process, and in some cases it is a fairly painless process. But, between the recording and the developing artwork for it and working with the label to come up with the release date and the whole marketing plan and all that stuff, it was like a year of intense thought and energy. It’s definitely like giving birth. You know you have this little gem that’s about to be birthed upon the world. This is a funny comparison but it’s true, it’s sort of like pursuing a girl in a bar, where it’s like the hunt is sometimes more exciting than the actual conclusion. So the hunt is fun.

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?


Nate Wilson – AOD by T. Voggesser
Truth be told I think the album’s mellower than our live performances. The tempos are a little more moderate, the song selections maybe a little more moderate. That was intentional because that’s the place for it. How many people put on an album and dance around the house? You put it on and you listen to it, usually in the car. We felt like if there’s a chance to speak with a gentler voice, this is the appropriate place to do it. In the live setting, the tempos creep up because everybody’s excited and adrenaline’s happening. I think we all listened back to records that we’d made where the tempos were too quick and we consciously tried to pull ourselves back a little bit and take a more measured approach to recording. [This] might be kinda weird for diehard fans who have heard these songs dozens of times. I imagine there’s an element of surprise. There’s some different instrumentation, a few different arrangements, but overall, it’s definitely a little more reserved.

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.

 
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.

-Reid Genauer on business school

 

So you felt like you had to try out the music first before you wanted to put it on a disc?


Reid Genauer by Greg Kessler
Absolutely. We’re always anxious when we have a new song, just itching to play it. It’s like buying a wedding a ring and keeping it in your pocket for a year.

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.


AOD at Bonnaroo by Jaclyn Ranere
I like being able to play quietly. It’s a different experience than bashing people and bashing through a song. Then, the rockers are that much more rocking because you have some basis of comparison. One of my criticisms with some bands is they come out and bash the whole night through. They may be the best rock band in the world but you lose perspective because you’ve just been hit over the head five songs in a row. You don’t even know what’s going on anymore. I just think it’s nice that there are peaks and valleys. Our fans give us a chance to do that and I’m thankful for it.

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?


Assembly of Dust
Absolutely. People hear a song on the radio [and think], “I recognize that voice. It sounds like Strangefolk.” Or people who dismissed it at first and were maybe hurt by the fact that I left, now the wound is healed a little and they can kind of approach it a little more neutrally. Every night people say, “I haven’t seen you in four or five years and it’s good to be back.” I like that, especially for the diehard Strangefolk fans. There’ll always be some that it just won’t work for, but when we convert an old diehard, it means a lot to me because they’re people who invested in me emotionally. On some level I felt like I let them down. To have them come back and embrace it means a lot to me.

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.

JamBase | Worldwide
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