In today’s age, it’s trendy to be green and environmentally-conscious. The band Guster, however, pursued a career with the environment in mind long before it was “trendy.” In the beginning, two of the band’s original members studied environmental science at Tuft’s University. Years later, guitarist/vocalist Adam Gardner and his wife began a charity called Reverb to focus on how bands can tour and perform without such an adverse effect on the world around them. Activism aside, the band has also acquired a great deal of industry respect with their optimistic, emotionally-driven music and down-to-earth stage presence.
Lead singer/guitarist Ryan Miller took the time to answer some questions about the band’s songwriting, activism and their upcoming album Easy Wonderful. Check out what he had to say!
OS: Being multi-instrumentalists, how do you guys decide what instruments you each play in a given song?
RM: Well, we always kind of joke that we pick the hardest thing to play and just give it to Joe. It’s not necessarily true, but there is something to that. We all write on different instruments. On records, we all play different things, but it’s not necessarily the same instrument we play live. Some people are better at bass, and sometimes I have to sing and it’s hard for me to play that part at the same time. It’s really a trial and error kind of thing.
OS: When you go to record an album then, what is the studio/writing process like?
RM: Songs have genesis in many different ways. Sometimes it’s on guitar, sometimes on a jam and sometimes on a computer. Usually if it starts on guitar, we’ll start there. Sometimes the guitar won’t even be in the final version. It’s pretty open. We don’t really have any rules, except maybe that the best idea wins. That’s the M.O. in the studio. It’s easy to keep the ego out if we just say “best idea wins”.
OS: Guster has always had an interesting “sales rep” program. What does this entail?
RM: We don’t really do it anymore. It kind of started before the Internet was really around. Now that you can kind of get music instantly, it defeats the purpose a little. I’m not sure if we still have any rep’s officially. When we started, we did it because we didn’t have a record deal. We had friends that wanted to support the band, so we would just empower them to do so. I don’t think it really works the same way—we don’t send kids records anymore. There are still people that “spread the gospel” so to speak, but it’s not an officially sanctioned program.
OS: How do your exclusive EP’s (Pasty Tapes) tie in?
RM: That just came as a way to pay back the fans who had been out there “banging on walls” for us. We’re still sort of doing it, but I don’t think it’s a “reward system” as much. It’s just that if you’re a fan of the band, it’s free. Everything is aimed towards “free”. We would put different versions, or songs we hadn’t released anywhere else on the EP’s. They were sort of fan-only B-side compilations.
OS: Please describe the Reverb charity organization and what Guster’s role is in it.
RM: Adam and his wife Lauren started that a few years. Guster were sort of guinea pigs for a lot of its early ideas before they went to Maroon 5, John Legend, The Roots, Willie Nelson, etc. The idea came from the fact that we were touring all the time, and we were leaving this “wake” of garbage. We felt like it was a pretty wasteful enterprise. Adam’s wife had studied environmental programs in college, and they put their heads together to see how we could tour less impactfully. This was years ago, before the whole “green thing” caught on and was trendy. They established themselves as a pretty solid not-for-profit organization that was out to help musicians shrink their footprint a little bit.
They do a tour every summer—The Campus Consciousness Tour. It has a lot of tabling and environmental things involved. It’s like a travelling road show of bands, sponsors and lectures on how to do things more sustainably on campus. We’ve done that a few times as well.
OS: You guys are being selective with your tour dates for the rest of the summer. Why did you choose to play the Life is Good Festival?
RM: We had a very small window. The record is coming out in October. We were just trying to fit everything in—we have four kids and counting between the three original members. There’s a real balance between family and touring. We’re trying to satisfy everybody’s adult needs. That was just sort of our Boston play before the record and then we’ll do bigger shows as the record rolls out. We’re planning a big winter tour, some college dates in the spring, and then a big summer tour. So we’ll be on the road for a good year.
There’s some overlap too with the environmental stuff and the Life Is Good Festival. I know a lot of the proceeds go to a good cause. We like playing festivals where we can play in front of other audiences, there’s a lot of cool bands and the whole “kid” component seems kind of funny.
OS: Easy Wonderful is set to drop in October, and you’ve released a couple of tracks from the album. Why are you giving “Bad Bad World” away to your fans for free?
RM: Things are kind of moving towards “free” at this point, like I mentioned. The best thing to do to promote a good record is to just let people “have at it”. We’re slowly doing that. We’re going to leak a bunch of tracks as we go, and hopefully people will get into it and get excited for the record. It took us a really long time to make it, so we’re trying to get everybody back into the spirit of it.
OS: How do you guys actually choose the tracks you give away for free?
RM: I don’t know. It’s sort of a democratic process—what was really representative of the album, and what doesn’t feel like a subtle outlier or anything. If it were up to me, we would just give away all of our records. I think people mostly steal our music anyway. But, we have a record company, and I don’t think they’d be too psyched about that. We’re trying to figure out a way to make a living playing music (like all the bands out there). We’re trying to find that sweet spot between giving stuff away and giving people a lot of value for their money when they do actually buy stuff.
We’re basically planning toward the end of 2011. So, there’s nothing but plans for the next year and a half to support the record. We had an option to not sign another major label deal, but we decided to do it because we were really proud of the record that we made. We really wanted a lot of people to hear it. We’re really amped up to go promote it in every way—on the road, through video, Internet stuff and TV. We’re excited to do it. “Do You Love Me” will probably end up being the first video.
Catch Guster on tour now!
9/28 – Troubadour, Hollywood, CA
10/1- War Memorial Auditorium, Nashville, TN
10/2 – The Fillmore Charlotte, Charlotte, NC
10/8- Newport Music Hall, Columbus, OH
10/9 – The Pageant, Saint Louis, MO
10/10- Egyption Room at Murat Center, Indianapolis, IN
10/12 – Slowdown, Omaha, NE
10/13 – Beaumont Club, Kansas City, MO
10/15 – Overture Center for the Arts: Capitol Theatre, Madison, WI
10/16- Royal Oak Music Theatre, Royal Oak, MI