Tuesday, July 9, 2019

An interview with Guster; SoCal tour dates start this week

photo courtesy: Nettwerk Records
Ryan Miller decided to get dramatic and ended up with one of the quirkiest, yet successful songs in Guster’s career.

While making eighth studio album “Look Alive,” the vocalist/guitarist adopted a faux British accent for the whimsical Britpop of “Overexcited,” which went top 10 on Billboard’s Triple A Songs chart earlier this year.

“It wasn’t this methodical thing. To be totally honest, I kind of got bored of singing in my own voice,” admitted Miller, 46, during a phone interview from his home in Vermont. Sometimes everyone - guitarist/vocalist Adam Gardner, percussionist Brian Rosenworcel and multi-instrumentalist Luke Reynolds - will do “wacky stuff” in their rehearsal room “just to get out of our zone.”

On a whim, Miller thought, “I’ll play this English character.” Then, as the tune was evolving, he got the other guys’ go ahead. “It almost ended up being like a novelty, but we listen to the Madness song ‘Our House’ a ton and that’s like one of the greatest pop songs ever.”

With the legendary U.K. group’s 1982 smash as a guide, Guster figured, “why not do everything Madness would’ve done and put horns and strings on the end?” The result “comes across as free spirited and inspired. It was fun to do.”

Unsatisfied with two previous attempts at a music video, Guster finally saw a director’s reel from Schall & Schnabel and knew the German multi-visual production team was right for the job.

So Miller headed to Europe to “do whatever they told me to do. If I tried to get into their headspace, it’d probably end up being watered down. I said ‘yes’ to everything and hoped for the best. It was a huge pain in the [butt] to go to Berlin in the middle of a tour, but they were wonderful to work with.”

The amusing clip revolves around a series of first date disasters and a fake dating app called Gusto (fans can watch it and create a pseudo photo profile screen at

Guster formed during the early 1990s in Boston when Miller, Gardner and Rosenworcel attended Tufts University. The folk/pop band independently released debut album “Parachute” in 1994 and had a minor alternative hit four years later with “Airport Song.” Since then, Guster has garnered nine top 20 hits at AAA radio.

Upon a recommendation from eclectic pop artist Regina Spektor, Guster enlisted Leo Abrahams (known for work on Ed Sheeran, Florence and the Machine, Paul Simon, Brian Eno and David Byrne albums), to steer a majority of the “Look Alive” recording sessions.

That smart advice resulted in Guster’s most sonically arresting effort to date, where the musicians utilized a wide array of instruments like mellotron, harpsichord and euphonium. The haunting title track features percolating sounds, “Terrified” has a samba bit, “Hello Mr. Sun” is quite Beatlesque, “Summertime” would probably get Brian Wilson’s approval, the dense and reverb-drenched “Hard Times” recalls Peter Gabriel and the shimmering “Don’t Go” is a clear standout.

“A lot of the cool flourishes and textures came from Leo’s bag of tricks,” affirmed Miller.

Working in a vintage keyboard museum in Canada, where the producer leaned toward using austere-sounding synthesizers, played a major role in the experimentation.

“We definitely felt empowered to get as weird as we wanted. We weren’t not going to do something based on fear.”

One reason for the four-year gap between Guster albums is because band members live in four different states and are always busy with other projects. Miller has scored films for the past decade and hosts “Bardo,” a music excursion series for PBS Vermont (now in its second season); Gardner does a radio show in Maine and is co-executive director of environmental non-profit Reverb (he recently went to Peru as part of a campaign against illegal logging in rainforests); Reynolds is an in-demand session player and has appeared on Neko Case and Miranda Lambert releases.

All those outside work influences have helped the guys develop their skill sets. “We’re not tied to any particular set of sonics. It’s all about what feels inspirational to us,” said Miller.

The front man is excited to perform at Pappy and Harriet’s in Pioneertown for the first time while on tour this summer. His 40th birthday party was held there.

“I absconded with a crew from L.A. We went and spent a few days out in at Joshua Tree and a few nights at Pappy’s. I tell people it’s like a bar out of a David Lynch movie.

“I can’t wait to go back. I went with my family for lunch. I follow them on social media. It was such a kick” when they posted we were coming.

A version of my interview originally ran in SCNG newspapers.

Southern California tour dates:

July 11, Humphreys, 2241 Shelter Island Drive, San Diego, 7:30 p.m. $36, 
July 12, Ford Theatres, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood, 8 p.m. $35-$49.50, 
July 13, Pappy and Harriet’s, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown, 8:30 p.m. $31, 

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