Interview: Assembly of Dust’s Reid Genauer

[caption id="attachment_1313" align="alignleft" width="199" caption="Reid Genauer rockin' the foreground. Photo by C. Taylor Crothers"]Reid Genauer rockin' the foreground. Photo by C. Taylor Crothers[/caption]

As Assembly of Dust founder-songwriter-frontperson Reid Genauer points out in our email exchange below, the band's new album, Some Assembly Required, is a collection of collaborations that sounds remarkably unforced. Neoclassic rock at its finest, Some Assembly Required finds guest such as Richie Havens, Mike Gordon, Keller Williams, Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, etc., etc., adding distinctive voices to a timeless collection of fine-grained tunes. (Disclosure: I worked with Reid at eMusic, where he toils as the (mostly) indie downloading site's VP of consumer marketing. Where most people feel fortunate to have one career these days, Reid wrangles two.) AOD's a solidly kicking live band too, of course, thanks to Adam Terrell (guitar), John Lecesse (bass), and Andrew Herrick (drums). Catch 'em while you can this summer, perhaps Saturday afternoon at the Gathering of the Vibes.

Richard Gehr: Did you set out to produce an album of collaborations?

Reid Genauer: We set out to do something different. The natural next step is to ask, "How are we going to do something different?" The answer I came up with was to try and look at the project with a new perspective, to explore a new process, and to insert guest musicians of varying musical disciplines and instruments. We started by listening to a bunch of different albums and focusing on drum sounds. I forget exactly which albums we listened to, but they included artists like the Beatles (masters of production), Wilco, Ryan Adams, Gillian Welch, and Ray Lamontagne. This sort of sonic audit started to inform not only the drum sounds we were going for but also the arrangements, instrumentation, and the overall vision. Secondly, I started to scheme about which of my musical friends, acquaintances, and heros I might ask to perform on the record and started mapping out on paper what artists might fit which songs. Having guests on each song added two things: 1) a diversity of instrumentation (banjo, mandolin, female vocals, etc.), and 2) a range of musical "voices." People hear their internal music differently, and each interpretations of their part on our song colored the entire song. The outcome was a lot of musical spice. The fear and question going into it was - how do we maintain a continuity and not lose the band through this process. I think we were successful in doing so, but I will leave that to you and the fans to judge.

Gehr: How did you get some of the awesome guests on this album? Any juicy stories?

Genauer: The simple answer is: I just asked. I sent a lot of emails, mainly, and included the song I was hoping they would play on. My requests were genuine, and I gave a lot of thought to what song I sent for consideration. I guess the point is it wasn’t some abstract request like, "Hey man, will you play on some song of mine you've never heard and that may or may not suck." Rather, it was more like, "Dear X, My name is Reid. I'm the lead singer of Assembly of Dust and a longtime fan. Blah-blab-la." Some people said no, but my hit rate was pretty damn good and people were super-polite. One great story: I was hanging out on my couch one day, phone rings and it's Bruce Hornsby. In the end he called to decline, but he called. We gabbed for a bit, he explained why he was passing, and it made my day. Who would have thought rejection could have been so uplifting!?

Gehr: How about an example of a collaboration that did work out?

Genauer: I wrote "Revelry" with keyboardist Nate Wilson (my second ex-wife). We'd performed it live for a while with Assembly of Dust. In the live setting it’s a pretty rockin' tune, almost like an Allman Brothers song, but for the record we opted to try for a more subtle singer-songwriter approach. The interesting thing is it works both ways. Kind of cool to have a tune that has two totally different feels. I did set out to do an album of guests. Basically, I thought it would be a great way to infuse the album with fresh ideas, a range of instrumentation, and some celebrity cred. In thinking about who might be a good fit for "Revelry," Martin Sexton came to mind. He's a friend with an amazing voice and I thought he would crush it. He did in fact add a lot to the song but in a TOTALLY unexpected way. He wound up doing an "electric vocal" part, where he effected his voice and sang as if he were playing slide guitar. It is so cool. If you didn’t know it was him singing, you would swear it was electric guitar. We left one note at the very end of the song where he comes out of "character" and you can hear that it’s a person. This song also has Tony Rice playing acoustic guitar. I had sent him the song thinking Martin could sing and Tony could play guitar. When Martin came back with what amounted to a guitar part, I was a little concerned it might not work with both of them, but in the end the two parts play well off each other. Throw Adam Terrell into the mix and you have a trifecta of awesomeness.

Gehr: Tell us a little about your day job. How does it enhance (or possibly hinder) your night job?

Genauer: Being a butcher is not an easy job. You have to be comfortable with lots of blood and guts and be good with knives that amount to nothing short of small weapons of mass destruction. It helps me because it puts into perspective how fragile life is and how delicious cheeseburgers are.

Gehr: Would consider yourself a politically engaged musician/human? How does that manifest itself (or not) in your music?

Genauer: Hmm. I am not the most politically engaged person on the planet. There's too much noise out there in the world – from some drunk dude chatting my ear off in a bar to Anderson Cooper blabbering on and on as the CNN newsreel replays itself. I am a distiller of information. I tend to skim the paper, surf the TV and Web, talk to my dogmatic right-wing friends, and make an educated guess as to what the truth of the matter is. That said, I have a strong sense of what is wrong and what is right. I am pretty ragingly liberal. The things that get me most fired up are:

1. Who our president is – ability to form full sentences a plus.

2. Choice. While I would far rather see a child born rather than aborted, I believe strongly in a woman's right to choose and that the proper facilities should be available to those who have to make that difficult decision.

3. Gay Marriage. It strikes me as RIDONKULOUS and nonsensical for the Government to have any opinion and, more to the point, to legislate with regard to how two people consecrate their commitment and love - regardless of sex. Puritan BS.

4. Global Climate Change. I am deeply concerned that we are not doing enough fast enough - I mean we just had a tornado (including hail) in Yonkers, New York, in JULY - WTF?!?!?! There does not seem to be enough of a sense of urgency. It’s like, hey guys, we are SERIOUSLY SCREWED - let’s start making some long term decisions in the name of the entire human race IMMEDIATELY!!!! I think it should be THE number-one issue on the political agenda. Without a hospitable climate for human life, all the rest of these conversations are mute.

It definitely comes out in my songs and in the organizations I choose to partner with. I don’t have songs about abortion or gay marriage (though I have been accused of having a few songs that are light in the loafers), but I definitely do have several tunes about environmentalism. Though subtle, the song "Pedal Down" on Some Assembly Required is about global climate change. The refrain goes, "I can’t help but thinkin' no one's steering this thing."

Gehr: What would you like audiences to take away from the AOD experience that might not be apparent on the surface?

Genauer: I guess I have few points to make:

1. I get a lot of glory in the form of press as the band's songwriter and most conspicuous performer, but I would be in the subway strumming for angry commuters without the support of a whole shit ton of people, most notably the other members of Assembly of Dust. While I'm busy steering the ship, they keep it afloat. I think that comes through, especially in the live performances, but it’s worth pointing out.

2. While hooky in many ways, our music unfolds over time. Not sure why, but I think it requires several listens to fully engage with Assembly of Dust's fiber. If nothing else, the lyrical content takes time to digest, but there are a bunch of subtleties that bloom over time

3. I don’t use hair extensions.