Interview: Guster and Reverb’s Adam Gardner

Imagine what it’s like to be a guitarist in a band that’s sold over a million records and has tens of thousands of adoring college-age fans. Oh the riches and potential for debauchery! Well, that never quite appealed to Guster’s Adam Gardner. Instead he married his longtime girlfriend Lauren Sullivan and together they launched a non-profit environmental organization called Reverb. Six years later, Reverb has greened 91 tours and close to 2,000 events, and is widely crediting with transforming the concert touring industry into an environmental trend-setter .

This month, Gardner is out on tour with Guster in support of their newest release, “Easy Wonderful.” He’s also still checking in with Reverb every day, getting ready to have a second baby with Lauren, and personally calling fans who pledge to vote with HeadCount and chatting about the election.

We caught up with Adam to talk about the new album, Reverb, and the upcoming election’s impact on the environmental movement.

HeadCount: So, how is the tour going?

Adam Gardner: It’s going great. You know, it’s really our first time touring, for real, in four years basically. So, yeah, it’s definitely fun to get back out there and also a challenge to remember how to do everything. And then also, Joe (Pisapia) stopped touring with us, and we replaced him with Lucas Reynolds. So, there’s a new person in the fold too, and it’s working out great. But, you know, there’s a lot of songs that he has learned and digested and it obviously takes anybody who’s human a little time.

What kept you guys off the road for so long and what brought you back?

Well, we always took a long time between records. I guess I shouldn’t say four years, it’s been two years, but four years since the last record. So, you know, we toured off the last record for two years, and then we stopped to have babies, so that was the biggest thing. Three out of four of us, the original three members of Guster – myself, Ryan (Miller), and Brian (Rosenworcel) –  we’re all dads now. We each have two/two-and-a-half year old daughters. We all had them in the same four months. So it was one of those, “Okay, let’s start families!” A band decision, sort of. It was actually the band wives who got together and decided. So basically, the moment Brian and his wife got pregnant, he told us, and we were all like “Alright, game on, let’s do it!” So that’s where things got off to for a while, on purpose, which was great, and we basically took a year to do that. And then we took another year to write, and again, that was with a different schedule than we normally do.  We usually get together to make a record and take a long time and we hole ourselves up for three months straight together to write a record. This time it was more like checking in and out, a week here and a week there, back at home with the families, meeting in New York. We wrote most of the record in Red Hook, Brooklyn. So yeah, it was just a longer process by design. And then when it came to recording, we had a little bit of a false start in the beginning with a producer. At the end of it in New York, we just didn’t feel like we had what we needed. We had difficulties with the producer at the end of that session. So we took a break, and then wrote some more songs, and then decided to continue the record without a producer and just do it ourselves like we did on the last one. We first thought we needed a producer this time around because we’re, you know, dads, and we wanted someone to have the eye on the prize all the time while we would all be kind of in and out of the process. But, it turns out, we still know how to produce a record and this isn’t our first rodeo, so it was incredibly empowering to get back together and finish the record on our own at Joe’s studio in Nashville, and making it ours again and not having to accept what the producer did that we didn’t like. So it was great. It was one of those tough records to make as a group, but in the end of it we’re really happy with the results and are really happy with the second half of the process where we basically just took the record back in our own hands.

Now when you’re working on a record and you’re on tour, do you go into full on Guster mode and try to leave Reverb to Lauren and the staff, or do you always have your hand in both things?

Both things. You know, the guys in the band always make fun of me, like in the back lounge of the tour bus whenever I’ll set up shop with my computer and my cell phone, and they’ll be like “Oh, you’re in the Reverb chamber.” But yeah, the reality is, with the exception of the first couple of weeks of this tour, because of promo and all that stuff surrounding the record release, there’s plenty of time on the road to get work done. So, I’m trying more and more to be able to have – as you know, we have a great staff, and there are really capable people in the Reverb office – so I’m trying to be a director as much as I can and not have my hand in the nitty gritty as much as I once did when it was just Lauren and I.

How do the other band members feel about the time you spend on Reverb?

I think they get it. You know, it’s not taking away any time or focus from the band. So it’s only really enhancing what the band is about. I think they like the fact that I am doing all of this stuff and the band is getting exposure in different areas, and that we are actually doing good stuff. I mean, we’re being green on tour and we’re influencing the fans to behave differently, and this is all stuff that isn’t just me leading the way. The whole band is into it.

Does your non-profit work inform your songwriting at all? Does it keep the creative juices flowing?

No. (Laughs). To be honest the answer is no. If anything, that is where the trap is. It’s hard sometimes. Like time when I would normally have to be creating and have a guitar. If I didn’t work for Reverb and Lauren did and she went off to the office and I was just home with a guitar, I think I’d have a lot more material that I would be creating. But, to be honest, right now at least, I feel like it is more important to be spending my time with Reverb. And fortunately for me and for Guster, I’m not the only songwriter in the band, we’re all songwriters and we all write together. So the burden isn’t on me and only me.

So what makes you say that Reverb is the most important thing?

Well, I would say, it’s more important…I’m not saying it’s…

I guess what I’m really asking is more what really drives you, what is it you’re trying to accomplish that gives it that weight?

You know, look, the whole idea of Reverb was to try and change the way the music industry operated as far as it’s impact on the environment, and also, to take advantage of the position musicians have to influence their fans to do good things. So that was the idea and we tried it, and it starting working right away. And seeing it not only with my own band, but with other bands, it’s undeniable, and it’s one of those things that gets me really excited and motivates me to focus on it and spend my days not on tour wearing the Reverb hat and my nights wearing the Guster hat.

Now this was a tough year for the environmental movement on one particular front, that being climate change, and the Senate not voting on a bill. Are you feeling that the political climate as a whole right now presents challenges for the entire movement?

Yeah, I do. It’s hard. You know, at the time when all the climate stuff was getting pushed around in the Senate, it kind of felt like it didn’t get done because there was so much focus on health reform and health care, so that detracted from what we were trying to accomplish environmentally. I’m saddened by the fact that nobody drew the connection between the things we are doing with air and water quality and the quality of our food and health care. There is an honest and obvious connection there. But I think now it’s probably the economy and all these other things. You know, even though we have this major oil spill, I don’t get the sense politically, unfortunately, that there is anything positive coming out of that in any significant way. So it’s hard. And for me, this is where I’m so glad that we are partners with HeadCount. This isn’t my area of expertise – I deal with people and musicians and fans and how to change people’s behaviors, minds, and hearts from the ground level up. So, you know, insert quote here about the people leading the way and not the government leading the way, because that is gonna have to be how it is.

Let’s talk about Green Music Group. I take it that part of what Green Music Group is trying to do is put a more public face on the activities that you guys are doing, even beyond the concerts. Really trying to build community and influence behavior every day, not just at a concert. Is that a fair description of what you’re trying to do with Green Music Group?

Yeah, and also, it’s a coalition. So, to bring together all these people who have been doing great work individually and share ideas, share challenges, and share resources, including one of the bigger resources, our fanbases. So whether or not Dave Matthews Band is on tour next summer, there are still going to be “Calls to Action” to their fans from other artists that they may be excited about, and also there is an outlet for the band to communicate to their fans and other bands’ fans that are part of Green Music Group. So to me it was about pulling together like-minded and like-acting people as far as what they are doing on tour and with their venues and in the music industry. Forming almost what is like a “Green Guild.” So, one half of that is this internal ‘greening of the industry’ guild and setting guidelines, which is what we are doing currently for others to join the Green Music Group. So right now it is just founders. But once we set the guidelines and publish them, we’re going to say, “Look, here are the benchmarks you need to commit to if you want to join Green Music Group and be a part of this and we’ll help you get there and all of that.” So I wanted it to be a resource center, I wanted it to be a support group, and I wanted it to highlight the fact that we can pool all of these bands’ fans and have a singular message go out to millions of music fans with various calls to action. This month’s Call to Action is “Get Out the Vote”, which is important to HeadCount.

That leads to my final question. What kind of impact do you think this election can have on the environment. What is at stake here in November?

You know, I’ll admit that I’m just now fully understanding just how important the midterms are. And that’s a sad statement, because obviously this is something I’m into, and I vote, but I never really understood how different the stats as far as how many people make it out to the polls for a midterm as opposed to a Presidential election. I was surprised by it, and was definitely motivated to try and change those stats because I think a lot does hang in the balance. And that is why it is important. That is why the single Call to Action for Green Music Group is that. That is why we partner with HeadCount on Guster’s tour. This is the big push, this is the big focus right now for the organization and for my band.

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