Monday, November 13, 2006


Sitting in a well-furnished, leather-upholstered RV eating snow peas, Guster’s guitarist and co-singer Adam Gardner looks me straight in the eye, and says, “Okay, we used the bongos [a lot], but we’ve been weaning ourselves off them. Like all addictions, it’s a slow process.”

Gardner’s songwriting partner, the reddish brown curly-haired singer Ryan Miller is self-deprecating and wry and within moments of our introduction, he also reluctantly identifies both himself and his band as “uncool.” “I don’t get it. All the music I listen to is “cool,” and all my friends are “cool,” but we’ve somehow been included in the same category as John Mayer, Dave Matthews and the Barenaked Ladies and I know they’re sure-as-hell not “cool.”” The current Lower East Side resident (which, he tells me, is considered “a cool neighborhood”) begins our interview discussing the stigma of Guster’s alleged jam band association. Now, I say “alleged” because Guster is not a jam band. Despite its very involved past with the bongo, ultimately, Guster is an unrepentant pop band. Its four-minute songs are not solo-ridden, spliff-friendly exercises in masturbatory showmanship, but rather, terse, razor-sharp tunes with instantly memorable hooks. And like you, I had no idea. In fact, I only realized that I, not owning one pair of Birkenstocks, was capable of enjoying Guster’s music just a few weeks prior when their publicist forced me to listen to their winning and timeless fourth studio record Ganging Up On The Sun. “I’m totally into admitting that we were once good-time college frat band,” Miller adds. “But we’ve changed drastically. We’ve gotten a lot more mature, and yeah, we have to earn the reluctant listener. But wow—we never realized just how reluctant they were.”

And if ever there was a time for this band to win over the stubborn new ears, that time is now. But granted, as the amiable Gardner admitted, the bongo-allergic were once justified. When the trio (now a quartet with newest member and only Gentile Joe Pisapia), Gardner, Miller and Rosenworcel first met at Tufts University as aimless freshman, they were writing dorm-room rock. “Remember those people you first meet in college and then slowly drift apart from because as time progresses you realize you have nothing in common with them?” Miller asks. “Well, we never drifted.” After a series of critically ignored records (Goldfly, Lost And Gone Forever, Keep It Together), the band established a devoted college following. “We’re like the hand-me-downs of music,” says Gardner. “I keep thinking our fans will get older but they never age.” And after I see them live, I understand their youthful appeal. Their songs are naïve, sweet and sugary but, paradoxically, their lyrics encapsulate the brutal alienation of growing up (“You and I could quit this scene/ Build a town and then secede…Everybody, the sky is falling down/friends and lovers, the world is coming down” from “Manifest Destiny” or “Tomorrow I start in a new direction/ I know I've been half-asleep, I'm never doing that again/ I look straight at what's coming ahead and soon its going to change in a new direction” from “Come Downstairs And Say Hello”).

Eventually, Gardner leaves us for dinner with his parents (he rarely has the opportunity to see them) but Miller relaxes backstage and tells me why he looks forward to the live show. “It’s just a great vibe. The fans aren’t inhibited. They dance, sing along, and shout out song requests.”
He continues, “I’ve been to the Bowery Ballroom, and you know what? They don’t do that at the cool shows.”


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