Some bands get together in college as a hobby, a way to pass the time between Ultimate Frisbee matches and stealing silverware from the dining hall. Then there are the young players who form an unbreakable kinship with their fellow musicians, a mounting tide of ambition coupled with performances that only get more fun, until the group finds that the momentum behind their efforts has developed into its own affable monster, rendering those hard-earned psychology degrees as useful as the empty toilet paper roll in a dingy club’s bathroom.
When the three original members of Guster met at freshman orientation at Tufts University in 1991, armed with only two acoustic guitars, a set of bongo drums, and three wildly subversive senses of humor, little did they know that they would eventually find themselves travelling across the world, covering everyone from The Band to Randy Newman on tribute CDs, and sharing stages with acts as diverse as Barenaked Ladies, Dave Matthews Band, Kansas, and … Kid Rock?
“In the late ’90s, we went to Florida to play this alt-rock festival, back when ‘Airport Song’ [from 1997’s Goldfly] got popular on the radio, that was full of those, like, muppet rockers who were all there to see Kid Rock,” says hearty-handed drummer Brian Rosenworcel. “So we flew in from Boston, got up on stage to play with rented gear, and the entire crowd was giving us the middle finger, so we played ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’ and it was just acoustic guitar and conga … it was the worst show. I’ll never forgive someone for that. Incongruent is the word I would use.”
Of course, if you were already a fan of Guster, you’d have read all about this on their road journal at www.guster.com, where Rosenworcel (a.k.a. The Thundergod) — not content to simply mash his hands into a literal bloody pulp in his thrashing on the hand drums — has condensed the band’s road adventures into succulent morsels of hilarity for going on 10 years now.
Joining Rosenworcel on the road and on stage are his two fellow Tufties, guitarists/singers Ryan Miller and Adam Gardner, plus “secret weapon,” Nashville-based multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and all-around good guy Joe Pisapia, who became the Communion to Guster’s challah after he presented them with a copy of his band’s phenomenal, underappreciated full-length, Around the Year with Joe, Marc’s Brother in 2000.
Last year, the group released their fifth studio LP, Ganging Up on the Sun (Reprise), which contains flourishes of keyboards, horns, harmonica, and even an honest-to-God drum kit, which, when Rosenworcel first started using one in 2003, was anathema to some of the band’s longtime fans.
“We made Lost and Gone Forever [released in 1999], which was a full record of acoustic guitars and conga drums … and we’d finally pulled it off without any studio musicians or any sort of compromise of our signature sound which we’d been building up and after we did that, we sat down to make another record and we were like, ‘Let’s do something different,'” Rosenworcel says, “so I learned how to play drum kit and Ryan learned how to play bass and we’ve slowly been learning how to be a band that has no rules as far as instrumentation. I know it’s difficult for people from the Goldfly era to get their minds around it sometimes. We’ve just gotta make music we’re excited to make.”