Covering Many Topics with Reid Genauer of Assembly of Dust

Assembly of Dust stopped by the Westcott Theater in Syracuse, NY for their second night of their four-date Pre-Thanksgiving Tour. Supportive local bands, Soul Risin’ and Universal Transit warmed up the brisk evening for the energetic audience. We had a fantastic time chatting with Genauer about music, bandmates, songwriting and children’s books.

Kevin Bedford & Reid Genauer
Kevin Bedford & Reid Genauer

Kevin Bedford: Welcome back to Syracuse, it’s been a little while since you’ve been here. What is it that keeps you coming back to our fair city?

Reid Genauer: Ah, well you’ve got to start with the Dinosaur BBQ, as a landmark. We had dinner from there tonight. Not in there but from there, so that’s a good start. It may not be a good end but it’s a good start. (laughs)

KB: What did you have?

RG: You know, sort of a disappointing order. I just had a cheeseburger, but it was still good. But I can assure you there was Fred Flinstonian amounts of flesh consumed. (laughs)

KB: It’s been a couple of years since your last album, Sun Shot. Tell us what’s in the works for you? Do you have a new album or anything that you’ve been working on?

RG: Yeah, you know I wish I could report global dominance, but one thing that we’ve been working on is a show from last winter that we multi-tracked in Portland, Ore. And we’ve done this a couple of times but we’ll probably take a handful of the better tracks from that show and release it as an album. So we’ve been working on that.

KB: Anything new that you’ve been working on that will be on that release?

RG: Yeah, I’ve been writing songs for a new album and you’re never sure how long that process will take but we’re due for a new album.

KB: I saw that you posted a new tune from California that you had posted online (you can hear the song on Reid’s FB page).

RG: Yeah, I’ve been going, you know, fits and starts with writing new tunes and I’ve been doing some new writing. Actually It’s not very rock n roll but I’ve been working on a childrens book as well.
Which you know everybody and their mom has done but I’m really doing it. I had written a book, like a Shel Silverstein book. A book of kids poems and stuff years ago. Probably 15 years ago and tried to get it published and got rejected from a zillion different publishers and during that time I had connected with an illustrator and things have changed since then, you know, you can self publish now. Which was sort of happening back then, but now it’s really a lot easier to do now. So, I looked him back up and he lives in Michigan. He’s doing the illustration right now, it’s pretty cool. I think the next two things, besides sitting in my back yard and trying to come up with number one jams, are the new live album and the kids book. I’ll see if I can find a picture of it just so you can see it while we are talking.

KB: Do you have an estimated publish date for it yet?

RG: No, I don’t. It’s getting close though. It’s all illustrated and it’s written. It’s called Jeffery’s Jungle and it’s about this little kid that basically turns up the heat in his house and it turns into a jungle. (pulls out his phone to show several great illustrations of jungle animals in a living room) So I mean, in fairness the illustrations are the harder part here. But you know, (chuckles) I wrote the lyrics.

KB: That’s awesome. We all know you’re always good at writing the lyrics.

RG: (laughs) Yeah. Thats my magic, my parlor trick.

KB: Yes it is and I have more questions about that but first, AOD started out as your solo project back in 2003 and now here we are 12 years later. Did you ever think at the time AOD would still be playing together all these years later?

RG: I did. Well, not when we first initially started playing together. It all started out very organically. As we started to set out to be a band or whatever that means, we made more of a concrete commitment to each other. I was thinking about what the matrix for success is right, because, sure, playing the Enormo-dome 5 nights a week across the globe, that’s a pretty obvious one. But there are some less obvious ones. The one that is most central to me was just longevity. The ability to do it just sort of indefinitely. Especially after being in a band that sort of came to a glorious end, I didn’t want to have that same sort of tumultuous end point, you know. I think you can look at us as that we are underachievers on a lot of counts including the Enormo-dome, but in terms of longevity, having a good time with it and enjoying other music that we are making. We’re still at it ya know, still in it.

KB: How is it that you all came together with Adam, John, Nate and Andy?

RG: I knew all of those guys. We were all running around New England playing music in the 90’s and that’s when I met the guys from moe. and they had their own thing going on over here in Western NY, which we were all adjacent to. So there was them, the (Ominious) Seapods and Moon Boot Lover who sort of had one foot in each camp. There was Yep and I’m drawing a blank on a couple others but anyhow, it was a scene in New England, Vermont, New Hampshire and I knew those guys just from the scene. After the last Srangefolk album I spent the summer in New Hampshire and that’s where all of those guys were living. I booked some dates just to sort of test the waters and see what would happen. It was sort of experimental and they just slowly kind of coalesced and it casually all went well. It’s a pretty well known tale but I knew John and then I saw Adam at a Percy Hill gig. He was in the audience and I said, “hey, I’ve got a gig at the Stone Church, would you like to sit in?” and he did. I saw John backstage at the same gig and he said: “you know if you ever want me to play some stand up bass and play some acoustic stuff …” and then it went from there. We had three guys, bass and two guitars and we needed drums and we all knew Andy so we said well, what about Andy, and we all knew Nate so we said well what about Nate it was really that simple.

KB: You’ve had some member changes over the years, but Adam and John have been the consistent members, tell me about your relationship with these two guys, musically.

RG: They’re just close friends. It’s familial and so I’ve been looking forward to this first run of shows just to hang out with them. Again, if your aim is longevity, one of the things that you have to build into that is enjoying each other’s company both personally and musically. I think at the core that’s how I would access the relationship. We laugh a lot and tell a lot of, you know, fart jokes. And then I just enjoy the hell out of playing with them. I’ll listen to what’s going on onstage and kind of be enjoying it as a fan, a participant, and an audience member at the same time. And then I’ll listen back to shows from time to time or little snippets that people post online and i’ll be like holy shit. Somebody posted a just a little clip of one of Adams’ solos from last night and I watched it as almost like a third party observer and I was just like holy F*** that guy can play the guitar. And I sort of feel lucky to play music with guys that are that good. I mean, not sort of, I do feel lucky! It’s sort of like having a hot girlfriend. (Laughs)

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KB: So you write all of the music and lyrics, I’m assuming, on an acoustic guitar. At what point does the collaboration begin with these guys?

RG: Yeah, well, over the years I have written songs from the get go in collaboration with people. In Strangefolk I wrote a lot with John the guitarist and Eric the bass player. With AOD I wrote a lot with Nate and to a lesser extent I’ve done some stuff with Jason Crosby. So it depends, is the answer. If it’s a song that I sort of conceptualized from beginning to end, then collaboration just begins with showing the band the changes and talk about what it feels like and peoples first impressions. A lot of the time, songs just based on the lyrical content or the key or the tempo that I’m playing in that moment or the rhythmic pattern, might remind someone of something, or suggest something to someone and then well, they have their own default uh, perspective on music or well, voice really, and then we have our group as a voice. So if you go and take all of those, if you look at all of those data points to inform the song, the first iteration usually happens pretty organically then you start to play it a little bit and you say eh, maybe it feels great and you play it just the way you play it and a lot of the times we do or sometimes you kind of say oh maybe this feels better a click or two slower or a more complex or less complex drum part in this section. Or it kinda feels empty here but uh you just sort of …

KB: Adjust.

RG: Yeah, you adjust. It’s sort of like rearranging furniture, if you’re moving furniture into a house. You put furniture in a room and sort of squint at it and say, “does this look like the right set up or does the chair need to be over by the window?” It’s a little bit like that. It’s a mental rearranging.

KB: So our mutual friend Al and I were talking a couple of years ago about Adam’s guitar work. And we both agreed that neither one of us has ever heard him play a sour note. (Reid laughs) What is it that you love playing with him?

RG: Well, I have heard him play a sour note but rarely, to your point. He is an executioner. What do I love about playing with him? Well first of all he is very ego-less and very humble about his talent which is really refreshing in about anybody, right. He is so multi-faceted, he can more or less play in any style and he’s sort of like a painter. While his solos are Bah-lazing and that’s the sort of the most obvious thing to latch onto, especially with what people post on social media. I think what makes Adam so unique are the parts that he plays during the song. The fills that he’ll do between the lyrical phrase or the little embellishments that he’ll do to the harmonic structure of the song while it’s in motion and he really just, like I said I think of him like a painter. I almost see colors as he plays, and it’s sometimes subtle pastels, sometimes its brilliant oil paint. The fact that he can do both is unusual. Because, usually people kind of do one or the other.

KB: I’ve always considered Adam one of the most under rated guitarists. I think he should be spoken of in the same breath as Trey Anastasio, Carlos Santana, Al and Chuck (moe.) and people of the same caliber.

RG: Yeah, yeah. So in the vein of being underachievers, um, people say that a lot about Adam. The only part that bugs me about that is that I don’t think he’s underrated. Anybody that has ever seen him, rates him very highly. He’s just under-appreciated because not enough people know about him.

KB: So do you think Dead and Co. should have asked Adam to join them instead of John Mayer?

RG: I think Adan would have fucking crushed it, I will say that! I don’t know it’s kind of an apples to oranges kind of thing but, the question I’ve asked myself many times when I think about those situations isn’t how would Adam would do in one of those incarnations. I mean he would blow the doors off! I think one of the things that I like about John Mayer’s approach is that you do still hear John Mayer but he does play homage to Jerry in a tasteful way and Adam does a really good job at it when he attempts to. He can sort of accomplish the intent while still having his own soul and his own layer represented. So, he would crush it. So, hey Bob Weir, hey Phil Lesh, if you guys are reading this? Adam Terrell, Adam Terrell, Adam Terrell…

KB: So let me ask you about Jason Crosby. Jason started playing with you in 2013 with the Sun Shot album.

RG: Yeah, and probably before that.

KB: So speaking of the Dead and in that vein, where did your paths cross for the first time and how did it lead to have him joining the band?

RG: So, Nate let us know that he was sort of done, he was tired and the immediate instinct was to sort of rush out and find a quote unquote replacement right away.

KB: But you didn’t for a while.

RG: I didn’t because it dawned on me that it was the wrong thing to do. You know, it had happened so organically because it was just so pleasant for everyone. There was such a good chemistry and rather than trying to cram something there for the sake of cramming someone in there, we just kind of sat tight and figured fate, with the intent of finding someone, would throw us a bone. And sure enough about a year after Nate left, Jason and I both have a mutual friend, Lucy Chapin who is this great singer-songwriter and she lives in Vermont. But she was a girl who was, well, when I was in Strangefolk she was just this little precocious 16 year old hanging out backstage like she owned the place and so I got to know her that way. Just because she was this petite blond 16 year old who’s, you know, making me feel uncomfortable in my own space. (laughs) Ya know, and we became friends and it turns out that she and Jason are good friends and she kinda did the match making thing. So, she said you guys ought to connect. I was living outside of New York and Jason was living in the city and we’ll tell this story till the day that we die. I went over there to just kind of introduce myself, to see if there might be something there for us to do, and we wound up having dinner. His girlfriend cooked this delicious meal, like these salty steaks and this beautiful meal. I drank a ton of vodka with dinner and I got so hammered I couldn’t even really play (laughing), so after dinner on our first meeting we barely and I mean barely played anything. We just had dinner and kinda got to know each other and just took it from there. It was funny, I went over there to jam and when we were done with dinner I couldn’t really string a song together.

KB: That’s great! You’ve had a long career as a musician and you’ve had the opportunity to play with some pretty cool people over the years. In fact, Some Assembly Required was a virtual who’s who of special guest musicians on the entire album. Besides the folks on that album, who would you say was your biggest thrill to play with either a special guest with you or you with them.

RG: Yeah, wow, I mean it’s hard to pick one but one that stands out to me that, is near and dear to this conversation, was singing and playing Friend of the Devil with Phil Lesh and Friends at Jones beach. That was pretty great for me. You know, that was definitely a moment. Um, we backed Dicky Betts at the Jammys one year at Madison Square Garden Theatre for Blue Sky and Ramblin Man, I mean that was pretty cool. In fact, if you look up in Rolling Stone’s 100 best guitar players, Dicky Betts is in there, he’s number seventy or whatever, and the shot they used of him was from that night and I’m standing behind him, so it’s (laughs) really funny, it’s like Where’s Waldo. That was a pretty special experience and I dunno, those are two that just really jump out for me. You know, there are others. We actually had Butch Trucks sit in on an Allman’s tune that we played in Rochester. And the list goes on. Mike Gordon sat in with us several times up in Vermont and that’s just special because you know, I’m a phan boy. So those are some big ones.

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KB: I once heard you say at a show that you can often hear musicians try to emulate someone that they love and respect in their music. Is there someone in particular that has influenced you in your writing?

RG: Yeah, I mean for sure, 100%. But I try to emulate many so it’s not all just one. You know, here’s me doing Garcia over and over again but, you know, it’s funny in trying to emulate Garcia. I think you realize that you are actually trying to emulate Robert Hunter as much as you are Garcia, so that’s been on the front of the list for me. Neil Young is another big one. Certainly Lennon and McCartney, Paul Simon, CSN, The Band. Those are the ones that come front and center and I think if you listen to the music, you hear that stuff pretty obviously. Hopefully with a fresh garnish on it. (laughs) A little celery…

KB: OK, so this is a personal question. I’ve been going to the Gathering of the Vibes for a very long time as have you and you’ve preformed at all of them except for one which you mention ever year. I’ve often wondered what was the story behind that.

RG: The story was, that was the year that I left Strangefolk and I thought those guys would have found it upsetting if I was there, so I sort of just politely bowed out, you know, to not make anybody uncomfortable.

KB: Oh, OK. I didn’t realize that because you make a joke out of it at the Vibes every year saying that, that was the year that you were in jail.

RG: I was just in the, you know, leaving the band jail. (laughs)

KB: Ok, I always pictured you on some drunken escapade gone wrong or something.

RG: No, I wish I had a better story (laughs)

KB: So what are some of your other favorite festivals to play at?

RG: Bonnaroo was awesome, right, I mean that place is just a crown jewel of a festival and we played it at noon or something. I mean, it was a really early set. It was like the breakfast set and I remember there were thousands of people. I remember the rush was just amazing. That was awesome. Um, I’ve played Summer Camp a few times and moe. had us out one time for one of there band-melding moments where you take over the instruments one at a time and I remember being in front of multiple thousands of people with AOD and Adam is just blazing the solo and people are going apeshit, it was just awesome!

There are really, sort of, different classes of festivals. The ones that I actually resonate with more tend to be the more sort of folksy ones like the Strawberry Music Festival out in California. Then there’s the High Sierra Festival. The vibe there is just, I mean if you haven’t been, it’s worth going to. It’s like, it sounds cliché but it’s the west coast and it’s just mellow. It’s like people are just, chill. Merle Fest is in there and there are others that are more folk than they are jam band festivals. I think that there is something like it’s more livable, like people are there more to experience the music and it’s not like a gauntlet of how f***ed up you can get, right, so it’s a different…

KB: A different appreciation for the music?

RG: Yeah, A different appreciation and a different approach of just experiencing it.

KB: So you have such a unique style of playing. You mix a lot of major and minor chords together, almost like a walk up or walk down to get to from one chord to the next. Whereas other musicians might just use three or four chords to piece together an entire song. You seem to blend a waterfall of colors to get from point A to point B and it never sounds muddy. How do you approach your melodies.

RG: I’ve written so many tunes that I just feel like if I don’t throw, and they’re not exceptionally complex but I feel if I don’t throw nuggets in there of more obscure chords, we call them chords from the chord museum, that we all know that i’ll just write the same song over and over again. And you know, no matter what you do, your songs sound like referencing each other or sort of cannibalizing each other. So for me, it’s a forced attempt to not do that. That’s what drives that and you know whether or not i’m successful at that I’ll leave for somebody else to access, but that’s what it’s driven by.

KB: Which leads me to my next question. Your songs, like Bootleggers Advice, Etta James, Leadbelly, Paul Henry, you have such an interesting subject matter in your songs. Where does that come from?

RG: Same thing, right. It’s like, I mean, there’s only so many times you can write about a sunny day or a broken heart. I think some of the most interesting songs are about obscure subject matter, you know, like Steely Dan. You know, unlike Phish songs which is often times nonsensical, Steely Dan’s are just about stories, like weird little vignettes. Or if you look at like Appalachian music. I mean they do tend to write about the same themes but they will still be like a tangential event in somebody’s life as opposed to the pillar event. Sure, there’s meeting the girl and falling in love but they’ll talk about nine pound hammer, talks about working in a blue collar situation. I’m trying to think of other examples of that.

I think that some of the most interesting novels are that or movies even. It’s not like your typical western. So, I’m like just thinking about the Marigold Hotel, right, I mean what a random subject matter about this guy who runs a hotel in India and these English people come there, and that makes for a great story. It’s born out of the same thing as the chord question and melody question, which is how do you keep writing songs and not just being the same story over and over again. So you have to pick on something that’s more on the edge that’s more obscure and make that the center piece of your lentance. And once you sort of coach yourself to do it, it’s a thing that you can repeat over and over and over again. So it’s repeatable ya know.

KB: You have always struck me as sort of the Mark Twain of…

RG: (laughs) Of Jam-bands.

KB: Well jam-bands, I mean I consider you just a singer songwriter but a fantastic story teller.

RG: Yeah, I’m not quite sure, ya know. They sometimes say, well they always say, necessity is the mother of invention. I wander and for me it’s just what I gravitate to. I think it was sort of like a cheat, a way for me to ratchet my way into the music world and so it’s like I’ve got a guitar and I can strum a few chords. I really didn’t have the attention span or the discipline to become Adam as a guitar player, so you know, how am I gonna fit into this picture right. That was part of how it happened and I’m sure there is some sort of biochemistry as to why my brain gravitates towards words. So it has always been a fascination, even since I was in grade school.

KB: So did you study English in college?

RG: No, That is one of my regrets. I would have loved it. I really would have enjoyed it. I love it and I just didn’t. Mainly because my parents helped out with college and my dad was like there’s no f***ing way you’re going to college and studying English. (laughs)

KB: One final question. I see that AOD, Strangefolk, and God Street Wine are coming together to preform as Assembly of Strange Wine. Now we all know your affiliation with Strangefolk but with God Street Wine, they took a pretty long hiatus and now they’re back in the game. How did they come into play with the other two bands?

RG: That’s a good question. I’ve known the bass player for years, Dan Pifer. But what happened actually, was Jason was playing with God Street a few years back and through that, they invited me to come down and play a tune. I learned one of their songs and fronted the band for a tune at the Grammercy. That sort of sparked a friendship, and I knew them tangentially for the same reasons as we talked about before as being part of the same scene. Then I needed a sub at one point and a few different times I used a few different members of the band. Dan subbed once and Jon and then Aaron, so I got to know them and then we did a gig as Assembly of Wine where we played each others tunes. That was Jon Bevo’s inspiration and then at a recent Strangefolk show, we did a sort of similar thing with Strangefolk and now we’ve all had this sort of incestuous love affair. Bevo said we ought to do a big mash up and contrary to the story around the Gathering of the Vibes thing feelings are mended and so its like one big happy family.

KB: And what a better place to do it than the Capitol Theatre and Boston at The Paradise

RG: Yeah it’ll be great!

KB: Well, on behalf of NYSMusic, thank you for hanging out, talking with us and have a great show tonight!

RG: Yeah, Thanks. I appreciate it, those were really thoughtful questions.

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