VERBEL PHOTOGRAPHER



Written by Shane Handler
August 10, 2003

The latest generation of singer-songwriters will always invoke comparison to prior icons. "Heís the next Dylan" and "Sheís taking over for Joni Mitchell" or "heís Neil Young meets Cat Stevens," and so on. Though Reid Genauer has established himself as what he refers to as a "verbal photographer," eliminating comparisons altogether, setting himself apart in the jam scene, a genre over-saturated with music priding itself on instrumental exploration, rather than lyrical expressiveness.
Back in 1991, Genauer helped form the seminal jam/folk band Strangefolk, and gradually built a renowned catalog of endeared songs that bounce amongst themes of social concerns, mythology, relationships, and self-discovery. Genauer boldy decided to leave Strangefolk back in 2000 to rediscover a side of himself that was shielded from years on tour. However he later discovered in an unexpected case of "you donít know what you go till itís gone," that music is in fact his -passion and love. Shortly thereafter, Genauer regrouped with a new band and new album, equally titled The Assembly of Dust.
The Assembly of Dust, made up of Nate Wilson and John Leccese of Percy Hill on keys and bass, Andy Herrick on drums and Adam Terrell on guitar, delivers the trademark elements of Genauer's Strangefolk sound within a new setting that has resparked his creative fire. Texturing his songs within Wilsonís soulful organ, Terrrellís tasty leads, Lecceseís bouncy bass, and Herrickís on the money beats, Genauerís sound is pushing new boundaries, while always capable of falling back into a comfortable, classic harmony. Not to mention, while being the sole lead singer, there is more room than ever for Genauer to belt out more of his patented lead shrills, that sometimes take a toll on his weathered lungs, as he explains.

How did you go from almost all together ending your music career, to come forth with what may be your most accomplished record to date?
Some of the songs I had written at the end of my tenure with Strangefolk, and some were written afterwards, and then you do what you do naturally. Itís like having a conversation with somebody. You have your thoughts and you have a natural way of expressing yourself when you speak. And I think for musicians, there is a lot of that too. You develop sort of pathways in your brain the way the music comes out. What was real gratifying about this project was that I had some goals in mind as to how this record would be built and how it would sound like and what it would feel like. The exercise I went through that I had never done prior was, I wrote down what I hoped it would be and tried to use descriptive words, color, and feel and actually relate it to other records that had the qualities I was looking for. When it came time to create the record, we listened to some of those other records, and at the end of the day I am very gratified, and very fulfilled with this record, because the artistic vision was by far and large met.
It certainly feels like you really went out to fully utilize the strengths of your band members?

Definitely. I donít want to belittle their part in this at all, because, like I was saying, with your natural voice as a person, you have a natural voice as a musician and all those guys have just such great voices and feel on their instruments, itís pretty cool.
It sounds like it was a team effort all around...

It is, and what I was going to say was that, I really brought everybody out, and to an extent, I agree, but I look forward to the next record because as a group, weíd played maybe five gigs when we made that record, which I think is outstanding. And when we go around the next time, I feel weíve gelled more as a group and people really found their place within the musical landscape, and I think youíll hear more of their talents.
The moniker "Assembly of Dust," belongs to a philosophy of seeking escape in song and concert that borders on revivalism. While being in the middle of a war, a lousy economy, and our national government overlooking issues like the arts and the environment, do you feel as if the Assembly of Dust is fulfilling that escape of down times through music?

Absolutely. And I think there are so many things to do: music, sports and even dining or entertainment in general are important.

"The nice thing is I have the luxury of waiting," he adds. "I don't have a tour where I'm going out for two months and the album has to be out for it. So, I'm just going to sit back and make sure that the music sounds good, and then think of a smart way to get it out there to the world and take it from there. The nice thing is that all of these guys have been out on the road and know it for what it is, and they have a very realistic perspective on how a band needs to come together."
Well even some songs on the album, like the anti-war "Shame" seem to reflect those issues. How do you feel when you play that considering our situation today?

Well that song is a real emotional song. Itís not just a political theme, but itís an emotional response to an outrageous occurrence, and it winds up having certain political connotations, but itís really just a personal reaction rather than a political statement. I think a lot of art fills that function you were talking about, but in particular, I try to craft my music into this little counter world to magnify that effect and foster it.
You seem to be a man of passion doing anything, your heart has to be in it one-hundred percent. What does the word passion means to you?

Thatís an interesting question, because when I was in Strangefolk people would say to me, Ďitís so great that you have so much passion for what you do.í And I remember thinking at the time, ĎI donít get it, I donít really feel like I do have passion, I just do this,í and I felt like they were misguided in their statement. And then I left Strangefolk, and kind of entered the normal world a little bit, and kind of felt like I peeled back a layer of rock ín roll and reconnected with some of my friends and peers in ways that I hadnít in a while, as I was in this sort of traveling-fantasy land orb. And I saw so many people working so hard at things that they really didnít have passion for. So what I am trying to say is, the absence of passion was so much more identifiable to me than actual passion. And then I looked back at the music and I realize I really did have passion, but it was just that I had nothing to compare it against at the time. So the long and short-what is passion? Itís like not having a choice of something and blindly being drawn to it and having immense drive to do whatever the activity is regardless of financial compensation and hardship. I would say passion is just like love, itís not definable but powerful as hell.

A lot of people go to your shows, and they get that epiphany feeling when you sing those climatic vocal points in songs like "Poland" and "Westerly." What is going through your mind while singing those parts? Are you really trying to communicate the energy your voice portrays, or are you just belting out another lyric, so to speak?
Thereís no one answer to that, but what it comes down to is the nights where the music is flowing and what I call, the bubble, is there, youíre not thinking about much, youíre just living in the moment in music. And there are times where I am thinking of a variety of things like Ďholy shit, I think I coughed up a piece of my lung.í Or a lot of times I actually wind up trying to hold myself back a little bit because I find that I almost damage my lungs sometimes when I go over the top, and when I listen back to tapes, I feel sometimes within that real intense emotional moment, the emotion comes through, but the tonal quality of my voice suffers from the belt pouring. So thereís finding that balance between capturing that sense and emotion and still having it sound perfectly valid.

Right, have you found that more difficult of late, being the main vocal point in the Assembly of Dust?
Well, thereís less bench time and less rest.

How do you prepare for that? By just drinking a lot of water? A lot of water, and just trying to pace yourself basically.
In many of your lyrics, you use the words "my" and "I," and build upon themes of adventure and spontaneity. Songs like "Etta James" speak of "my mouth and eyes are wide open, my vision near but straight, the silence curves, it bends my nerves and it funnels me through my fate." Where do these images and thoughts come from? It doesnít seem like words generated from a hotel room or tour bus?

I typically donít write when I am on the road because I feel I need to be well-rested and kind of stable in a relatively quiet, comfortable place. I am definitely awe inspired by nature, but my passion is more of the human condition and everybodyís struggles to make it to the gate. That drives a lot of my creative process. I love the mythology and mystery, as I love "The Hobbit" trilogy, "Lonesome Dove," "Colors of the Earth," they are all these epic stories that really take you to a place and time. So I try and create that sense of wonder and that sense of place in my song, and mythology because itís totally there. As far as you were commenting on my, I, and all that, there are a few different tactics I use. One, is to write actually about my life, ĎI did this,í ĎI felt thisĎ... I find that to be artistically valid because itís almost like self-indulgence. I donít like folk singers that are all whiny about how depressed they are or whatever. I think itís more challenging and more classy to take on "me" or "I" and actually take on a character, so that itís not so close to the bone and then leave more elements of truth in there about your own life, but more in the topic of character. Or telling about someone else in the third person.

Songs on your new album like "Etta James" and "Forty Five Degrees" contain undeniable choruses that are hooking, yet jubilating...
The chorus to me is the theme to the song in a lot of ways. Itís at the end of the day, what the listener walks away with. You want it to be as strong a chorus as possible, because thatís how it drives the song. It acts a lot of different ways. I think itís like how different colors look different next to white as they look next to black or purple. The way that the song is interrupted has a lot to do with how the chorus interacts with the verse, both musically and subject wise. I think of the chorus as sort of really the primary piece of a song that defines how the colors of the songs are interpreted.
Well the chorus sections in both "Forty Five Degrees" and the Strangefolk tune, "Speculator" certainly have this comforting/uplifting early 70ís rock/country feel, that sounds a bit like the Eagles.

You know whatís funny, is that those are two songs that I co-wrote with Eric Glockler and they ended up having a similar feel.
The Great American Music Hall in San Francisco is one of your favorite places to play. Is there any desire to get out west with the Assembly of Dust?

I hope to play the Great American Music Hall again someday, but Iím not sure where in the timeline that will fall together. Iíd like to visit some further outposts in the country and see how the music is received. Part of what Iíve been doing is this virtual tour called Digital Dust and the notion there is for some of those people to have access to our tour in a pre-rich way, so thatís the short term.
Do you approach your performances differently knowing that they will be broadcast on your site?

We do know when the shows will be taped, but to be honest with you, we get up there and you forget about it, and the nice thing is that Jaclyn [Ranere] and the folks at Moonshoot have become such an integral part of our live experience, that we feel real comfortable around it and it works to our advantage. And it doesnít feel like there is some alien probe, and by far and large, people arenít even aware of it.
Last summer, when you were playing the Gathering of the Vibes, Phil Lesh was particularly moved by your set and invited you to play with his band the following week at Jones Beach. Was that the most flattering moment of your life?

It really was. I was pulled into music largely based on, I mean, I had it in me to begin with, I was always musical, but I became fascinated with rock Ďn roll through my fascination with the Grateful Dead, and it spoke to me then, and it continues to...all of their music moved me. A lot of music entertained me, but their music moved me. To sort of have validation from Phil Lesh made life just make sense all of a sudden, and was a huge endorsement in the way that I approach music.
Has your outlook changed at all since that experience?

It gave me confidence in myself to have one of my musical idols give me a nod. Part of playing music is there is a lot of exposure and thereís always people who donít like what you do and the hope is that a bulk of the people that see you do [like what you do]. There are always people that donít and it can eat away at you, and Iím sure it does for many performers. You learn to be a little callous about it, but again, my whole take on it is to try and move people the way that music moved me, and the fact that I got that accolade was kind of the most concrete evidence that in fact it was working.
You recently performed in part of a Songwriters on Broadway show-which is quite a different scene for you. Are you trying to move more into the singer-songwriter scene outside the jam scene?

That was kind of my roots and that was how I started...I was a singer/songwriter guy with hopes and dreams of starting a rock Ďn roll band. But Iíve always enjoyed singer-songwriters in general, and I enjoy doing it, itís a different buzz, skill set and criteria. I think if somebody pointed a gun to my head and said, Ďpick one or the other,í Iíd probably choose performing with a band, but playing solo is such a different rush, not a more intense rush, but there is a lot more responsibility, because itís totally up to you in terms of the impression you make and the enjoyment people take from the performance. And I think thatís why Iíd choose performing with a band actually, itís less responsibility and less eerie.
Would you rather be a Tom Marhall, Robert Hunter type writer, behind the scenes writing songs that are performed by other people?

Thatís a tough question. I think in a lot of ways guys like Robert Hunter had a great position. They got to be part of the Grateful Dead without sort of the carnage of being on the road and all the performing that brings with it. But the flip side is, I canít really honestly answer this question, because Iíve never been in that situation, but I imagine they take great joy in having other people lip their songs. But for me, what really drives my creative process is the notion that I will have an audience receive what I am creating. Robert Hunter certainly had that audience, but I definitely get a rush out of delivering the goods.
Any thoughts on todayís acoustic guitar singers like Ben Harper, Jack Johnson, and Pete Yorn?

I love that stuff, all of it, and itís really a lot of what I listen to. One of the things thatís cool about them is that there is less of the entertainment business in the air out of them, and Jack Johnson especially, thatís part of his whole deal, is that heís this homegrown grass-rootsy kind of guy. I have a personal connection with Pete which is kind of cool, we have mutual friends, and I met Pete back in college when Strangefolk was first starting. I havenít seen him in ten or so years, I donít know him well and I donít know if heíd remember me, but he came to a Strangefolk gig once and I remember him critiquing my songs and then ten or fifteen year later, there he was on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Have you ever wanted to open up for one of those performers, as I see your music accessible to a more mainstream audience?

I would love to play with all of those guys.So you wouldnít fall victim to thinking of yourself as a "sell-out" playing to bigger crowds?

No, thatís what Iím trying to say, is that I think Jack Johnson is the perfect example of somebody who has been amazingly successful without being a sellout at all.
But it does go with the territory of having sixteen-year old girls buying your albums and going to your shows... whether thatís good or bad.

Yeah, thereís a different ballgame involved with that, but Iíd love to have a little broader exposure, and thereís a variety of ways it can come and I feel confident it will happen in one way, shape or form.
Is there anything else you are listening to that might be surprising?

I really enjoy Spearhead, and I think [Michael Franti] has got a really unique sound and really upbeat music, incredible stage presence and an incredibly tight band, thatís really creative.
Do you have any thoughts about Strangefolk going on hiatus? It must be overwhelmingly bittersweet for you.

Itís definitely bittersweet. No matter what you want to say, Iím one of the parents of Strangefolk, and Strangefolk was my baby in a lot of ways. You never want to see your creation come to an end. I donít mean it was my sole creation, but it was something I played a large part in creating life into. To see it come to a resting point is bittersweet... definitely.
If you could go back and play one more song with the original members of Strangefolk, what would it be and why?

Iíd say "So Well," in that itís kind of like...you know what, I remember that was one of the first songs being with the band where I remember feeling like Ďholy shit, weíre a band.í It all wound up being one of our trademark songs, and I think that would be a great one to play. I also want to add that Iím proud of the way that those guys carried on without me, and I think they did Strangefolk justice. My hat goes off to Luke, Eric, John, and Luke and Don for carrying the torch in a real classy and passionate way.
Youíve been described as a singer-songwriter, storyteller, and performer. If your music career officially ended, how would you most want to be remembered?

I would say that the most worthwhile thing for me is that I moved people, and that I kind of helped people to make sense of all the insanity twirling around. This is a little heavy, but itís true. There was one fan who was actually a Tavern Walker and was in the AOD circle of fans on our street team. We try to make it more than that and make sure itís kind of, whatever, people who get it. And he died an untimely death and his family put one of my lyrics on his gravestone. To me, I always repeat in my mind that one fact, when I am trying to make sense. So, when I go through an inventory of self-worth of how I want to be remembered or why I do this, that makes the process seem so meaningful, and my hope is to have that kind of impact on people.

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