Pop quiz, no cheating: name a band that, fifteen years on, is operating at the absolute peak of its creative powers, making the most inspired, timeless music and playing to the largest audiences of its career? The answers don't come easily, but we have one: Guster.
Few would have predicted the evolution that Guster has undergone, but then, Adam Gardner, Ryan Miller, Brian Rosenworcel and Joe Pisapia have been quietly confounding expectations since Guster began recording 15 years ago. With their new album Easy Wonderful, the quartet has made a piece of art that rewards each listen. With the reflective opener ìArchitects and Engineers,î the pop gem ìDo You Love Me,î the optimistic anthem ìBad Bad World,î the wall of sound production of ìWhat You Call Loveî and the haunting ballad ìStay With Me Jesus,î Guster have created the best album of their lives.
The four-year gap between their last album, 2006ís Ganging Up on the Sun, and Easy Wonderful was a bit longer than the quartet had anticipated. Miller admits, ìI wish that it had taken two months instead of this long, but I feel like we did everything we had to do to make a great album.î Work commenced in 2008 -- which was a big personal year for Miller, Rosenworcel and Gardner, as they all became fathers for the first time. To accommodate their growing families, the band decided upon a different tack in songwriting. Miller says, ìRather than the way it was before where we would live together for four months, this time we would work for like a week or two, break for a couple weeks, work on stuff on our own and then come back. We worked really well that way.î
When Guster started thinking about going into the studio, they decided they wanted to work with an outside producer. Gardner explains, ìWe did the last record ourselves. But this time we thought, ëWe all now have kids, weíre all going to be fragmented, weíre all going to be coming in and out of this process, we need somebody whoís got their eye on the prize the whole time.íî After trying out a few different people, David Kahne (The Strokes, Paul McCartney) became the clear choice. Pisapia says Kahne impressed him with his ability to get inside their new material. ìHis notes on the songs were so astute and so attentive. He knew every part of every song and what was special about it. He spent a fair amount of time with us in rehearsal before we even went into the studio and heíd have very specific suggestions about certain parts ñ even how to play them.î
The recording sessions were quick and efficient, but the group didnít feel fully satisfied with the results. Gardner says they made the decision to take a break from the recording process. ìWe all retreated to our corners. We all had to step away from it to see what we needed to do to improve it.î During this break Miller started writing a couple of new songs by himself, but found he couldnít recapture the spark which had made the bandís first group of songs so compelling. Miller credits a deep and soul-searching conversation with Rosenworcel in breaking his creative logjam. Miller says, ìBrian and I had a conversation and it was like, ëRight, we can do this.í And I just kind of let go of everything. I just decided I was going to write music and I didnít care what it was. And then the floodgates opened, like it never had before for me. It was really amazing.î In an explosion of creativity, Miller penned six songs in a couple of weeks. The band listened to Millerís demos and were thoroughly reinvigorated by the new material.
Guster reconvened in Nashville at Pisapiaís brand new Middletree Studios, which the talented multi-instrumentalist built by hand with his fiancÈe. He says he wanted to make a comfortable place to work where ìyou could take a record from A to Z.î And his three bandmates agree that he succeeded in creating a work environment that brought Easy Wonderful to the next level. Gardner says, ìPhysically and emotionally Joeís studio was so different, weíd been in this basement studio in New York City, cramped in this space with no windows that we jokingly called ëThe Dungeon.í Joeís place is totally the opposite--, this stunning open-concept studio that has a great vibe. We found ourselves hanging out there even if we werenít recording. There was an immense feeling of freedom the moment we left New York and started recording in Nashville.î
The quartet quickly recorded Millerís new compositions as well as tweaking a batch of songs they recorded with Kahne. The end result of the two recording sessions is what Pisapia calls ìthe classic Guster pop record. And thatís what I always thought we should do. We had our period where weíve tried on a lot of different hats and different musical costumes, which is a lot of fun. But this record feels a lot more germane to who the band really is.î
Rosenworcel adds, ìWhen I try to describe our album to people Iíve been saying, we really just honed in on trying to write 12 great pop songs. I think Easy Wonderful is more consistent than anything weíve done.î
Gardner says that the process of creating Easy Wonderful has been a turning point for Guster. ìI feel like we learned a lot and came out of it as stronger players, writers and record makers. We feel more energized about our music and playing together than ever. I think weíve shot past where weíve been and weíve made a better record than weíve ever made before.î
So how does an album end up being called Easy Wonderful? Miller says his family was driving through Brooklyn one day when his wife spotted a sign that said ìEasy Wonderful Corporation.î Miller then told his bandmates about the sign in passing one day. ìWe had been talking about the album title and I told the guys my wife saw that sign. And Brian immediately said, ëI like Easy Wonderful a lot.í And I was like, ëThat wasnít even a suggestion!íî Gardner feels the title is appropriate for the album heís most proud of in Gusterís career. ìItís a really accurate description of what making the record at Joeís was like. It was our best recording process ever. I think weíre in the best spot weíve ever been as a band working together, and it shows on this album.î
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