Guster Talks 20 Years Of Music — And Performs Live The band has come a long way since the bongos and acoustic guitars of its early days. NPR's Rachel Martin gets a percussion lesson from Guster and the group performs songs from its new album.
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Guster Talks 20 Years Of Music — And Performs Live

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Guster Talks 20 Years Of Music — And Performs Live

Guster Talks 20 Years Of Music — And Performs Live

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  • Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE PRIZE")

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

What you're listening to now is some of the music from the early days of Guster. On their first album, "Parachute" from 1995, it was a paired-down sound that featured a couple of acoustic guitars and infectious grooves from a set of bongo drums.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE PRIZE")

GUSTER: (Singing) My, my how things have changed since I've been away.

MARTIN: Today, they have a decidedly bigger sound, and the group has joined us in NPR's Studio One to prove it.

(SOUNDBITE OF "WEEKEND EDITION THEME")

MARTIN: (Laughter) That was awesome. So for those out there who didn't recognize it, that was the WEEKEND EDITION theme song by Guster.

RYAN MILLER: Is this going to be like a Roots thing where we just become the house band?

MARTIN: Maybe. That would be awesome. We just had you, and you just, like, played and, like, we could riff. It was awesome. Thank you for doing that. It's great to have you guys here. I want to introduce you. We've got Ryan Miller.

MILLER: Hello.

MARTIN: Adam Gardner.

ADAM GARDNER: Hi.

MARTIN: Luke Reynolds.

LUKE REYNOLDS: Hello.

MARTIN: Brian Rosenworcel.

BRIAN ROSENWORCEL: Hi.

MARTIN: So you have a new album, which we want to talk about, "Evermotion." And we're going to launch right into the music first. Ryan, what do you want to start it off with?

MILLER: We're going to play a song called "Simple Machine."

MARTIN: Let's hear it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SIMPLE MACHINE")

GUSTER: One, two, three, four. (Singing) Steady, steady, plastic, motion. Lights flash, beating, almost, breathing. I'll never find my way back. I'll never find my way back home.

Empty, hollow, spit and swallowed. Preachers preaching, courage, ceded. I'll never find my way back. I'll never find my way back home.

So just forget about me, I will get by on myself. I'm not a simple machine .I have become something else. I'll never find my way back. I'll never find my way back home.

Wise up, scarecrow this is treason. Coal eyes see it, straw heart beating. I'll never find my way back. I'll never find my way back home.

So just forget about me, I will get by on myself. I'm not a simple machine. I have become something else. I'll never find my way back. I'll never find my way back home.

Ever after, it gets further. Who will still be waiting? Ever after, I get further. I can feel you fading.

MARTIN: That was Guster playing "Simple Machine" here in NPR's Studio One. That was Ryan Miller on piano, Adam Gardner on guitar, Luke Reynolds on bass, Brian Rosenworcel on the drums. So let's talk about how this all began. You guys have known each other for a long time, right, at least three of you. Ryan, you and Adam and Brian began as a trio at Tufts University way back in 1992.

MILLER: Yeah. We made a four-song cassette tape (Laughter)...

MARTIN: I remember those.

MILLER: ...To enter into the Tufts battle of the bands. We didn't get in.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Oh, and you didn't even get in?

MILLER: We didn't even get to compete I don't think.

(LAUGHTER)

ROSENWORCEL: That really lit a fire underneath us.

MILLER: Yeah, it was like, we're going to get into the battle of the bands next year. And we all met, and we've all been in bands. But none of us had sort of - we didn't share any of the same musical background. I think us writing songs was sort of a way of us just being able to play music together.

MARTIN: What were those initial conversations like? I mean, I'm just imagining the three of you seeing each other on that first day - oh, you play guitar? Cool, yeah. I play guitar.

MILLER: Yeah. But you're missing the best...

MARTIN: And you're thinking to yourself, but do you really play?

MILLER: Yeah. But then you miss the best part where the guy's like I got a pair of bongos.

(LAUGHTER)

MILLER: That's that the best part about this story is that there's a dude who brought his bongo drums to his dorm room.

ROSENWORCEL: I mean, I was shocked then and I'm shocked now that you guys let me in the band. I just had bongos.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: I do want to talk a little bit about the bongos, mostly because I have a personal obsession with them. And they were a big part of your early sound. Is that just because, Brian, you were really into the bongos and you said, if you take me, you take my drums, you take my bongos?

ROSENWORCEL: I mean, I wasn't even into the bongos. I literally brought them and put them on the shelf of my dorm room. And I became friends with these guys, and I was like, yeah, I play. And then they let me in their band. And I kind of grew the percussion kit as we wrote songs together. Do you want a bongo lesson?

MARTIN: Kind of. It's so odd that you would ask.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: It's so weird. It's like you could read my mind (laughter).

ROSENWORCEL: I've never given or received a bongo lesson.

(LAUGHTER)

ROSENWORCEL: But this will be my first one.

MARTIN: You and me both my friend.

ROSENWORCEL: OK, it's pretty simple. There's a little one and the big one. You don't want to, like, hit with a flat hand. You don't want to pancake the bongo. You want to hit it with the fingertips and let the tone project. So repeat after me. We'll do like a Simon says, OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF BONGO DRUMS)

ROSENWORCEL: Oh, you totally know how to play the bongos.

MARTIN: OK, give me something hard.

ROSENWORCEL: OK. I'll do a little Flintstones.

(SOUNDBITE OF BONGO DRUMS)

ROSENWORCEL: Want me to do that slower?

MARTIN: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF BONGO DRUMS)

MARTIN: One, two, three, four, five.

(SOUNDBITE OF BONGO DRUMS)

ROSENWORCEL: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF BONGO DRUMS)

MARTIN: Yay. I actually took real drum lessons in high school.

ROSENWORCEL: Oh, you did?

MARTIN: Yeah. I really do like to drum. Anyways, so that was just, like, a personal indulgence so thank you. It's been two decades. How have you guys seen your music change? I imagine it just inevitably does over that period of time?

MILLER: I mean, honestly for me, it paralleled my musical education. We were sort of listening to Toad the Wet Sprocket when we started, you know, really, honestly. And so now it's like our influences are so much deeper. And obviously there was bootstrapping that happened with certain producers that we worked with. I think our first producer, Mike Deneen, actually helped us a lot at just what it was like to be a band. I think Steve Lillywhite, who we made our third record with, worked. So we've been really proactive about trying to be better songwriters and tunesmiths and players and arrangers and singers.

MARTIN: Let's play a track actually off the album, and then we can talk a little bit more about it. We're going to play something off the first track called "Long Night."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LONG NIGHT")

GUSTER: (Singing) Was it always this magnificent 'cause it feels so different in the morning light.

Like the first word from your first born landscape transformed by the virgin light.

How many times I've wished for change. Gave up, gave in, and called it fate repeating all of the same mistakes wasn't ready for what I'd find.

MARTIN: This album was produced by the Shins' keyboard Richard Swift. How did he shape what this ended up being?

MILLER: Well, swift sort of came on our radar a few years ago. And there was pretty much, like, two names on our list. And he was the top one. He seemed like he was a little bit of a madman.

MARTIN: How did he push you into some uncomfortable places?

ROSENWORCEL: Well, I mean, one of the first conversations we had with him we explained, well, our last couple records we got stuck and they took like a year each from front to end to record. And he's like, I've never taken more than nine days to make a record.

MARTIN: Wow.

ROSENWORCEL: So there was a little bit of, like, well, what's going to happen.

MARTIN: Did you end up doing it faster? Did you record - was the process shorter?

MILLER: The whole thing was three weeks. We kind of just, like, let go, and he sort of steered the ship. And it was totally against everything I'd ever learned about how to make a record. And we never want to make a record another way again.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUSTER SONG)

MARTIN: Can I end by asking kind of a big picture, though, serious, philosophical question?

MILLER: I'm clearly willing to go there.

MARTIN: Clearly you can go there. It's hard to make music for five years. It's really hard to make music for 20 years. How do you fight monotony? How do you keep creativity going? And are there lulls, and when they come, do you just accept them?

MILLER: We're brothers. We all met when we were 18. We spent - I'm 42 - we spent 24 years, you know, more than half my life in a band, in a business. I'd never - none of us planned to go to Tufts University and be in a band. You know, this was - like, the fact that we graduated from college and bought a van and went - you know, started traveling as soon as we graduated and were able to support ourselves right away was just a farce.

And so I think it was sort of like, well, let's pour gas on this as much as possible. But yeah, it's been, like, pretty amazing journey and feeling like now we're still so excited to, like, go play music again is nuts. OK, it's nuts. Let's do it. Say yes.

MARTIN: Well, it was great to talk with you guys.

ROSENWORCEL: You too.

MARTIN: Thank you so much for coming in. Before I let you go, your choice. Play us out on something from the new album.

MILLER: I got a song. I know a song we can play. It's called "Lazy Love." It's from our forthcoming album "Evermotion."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LAZY LOVE")

GUSTER: (Singing) Come on up. Let's not get lazy love. We're always so lazy love. Wasting our time. We came up. We were amazing love. We were amazing love. We were divine.

MARTIN: That's Guster playing "Lazy Love" in NPR's Studio One. You can hear the full song plus a few extras on our website, npr.org.

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