Reid Genauer Doesnít Want to Fight You

Written by Ace Cowboy
October 15, 2007

Assembly of Dust returned home from its most recent tour and found itself answering questions virtually no folk-infused rock band has had to answer. The buzz surrounding the eight-show run with JJ Grey & MOFRO wasnít necessarily about the quality of the music or the sad frequency of collaborations, but rather the bizarre backstage skirmish that followed the bandís gig at The Roxy in Boston.

If youíre picturing frontman Reid Genauer standing over the Roxyís manager like Muhammed Alitriumphantly towering over Sonny Liston, repeating Thatís folkiní rock, motherfucker, thatís the taste of singer-songwriter fists of fury over and over, then, well, youíre probably alone. So for the real story, and for much more from the tour and beyond, Genauer and I both took some time from our day jobs to discuss Assembly of Dustís mini-tour with JJ Grey & MOFRO.
The reported Ďfightí was only a small part of the story, and in the course of a half-hour we discussed some more pertinent topics, including but not limited to Radioheadís label-less album, the reunion of the original members of Strangefolk at their tour managerís recent wedding, the experience of an asskicking in business school, the joy of fatherhood, the awesomeness of chick books and much more. Itís unabridged, so make yourself comfortable, but itís a great read ...

AC: First things first, what are your quick impressions of the AoD/MOFRO mini-tour?

RG: The tour went great. Being in a band is like being on a sports team. You wind up being almost competitive, or at least super-analytical about the bands that you play with. And I really enjoyed watching MOFRO and enjoyed their music and was proud to be on the bill with them. Thatís always a nice way to start.

AC: Any favorite shows or venues?

RG: Not surprisingly for us, I think Burlington was really [the best], which was the last show too, which was nice. It was just a super high-energy show. Itís so clichť to talk about the interplay between the audience and the band, but itís impossible to deny that. Itís not so much the size of the crowd as the intensity of the crowd that really gets you off.

AC: And how did it come about that you and MOFRO found each other to go out on tour?

RG: I donít even really know, I think through our agents. We had gone out with Honkytonk Homeslice last fall and had had a really good experience and thought itíd be neat to try something close to that same formula again. Truth be told, we had kind of hoped for and expected a little more collaboration than actually went down, but to each their own. I think they have a little bit more of a set set, and so it leaves a little less room for that. I think itís an ethos really. Most bands, in fact, are kinda like Eh, not really that interested in having somebody else come up and muck up our set. But within the world that we live in, itís sort of status quo.

AC: Yeah, I loved the Victor Wooten sit-in with AoD down at Langerado

RG: Oh yeah, that was so cool. That was SO cool. I was just up there that was definitely in some ways surreal. A, because heís so great, and B, I remember reading an article about Bela Fleck & the Flecktones in high school in Rolling Stone actually there was a big spread. And thatís how I got turned onto them, oddly enough, Rolling Stone of all places. So it was cool.

AC: I have to ask what happened in Boston on this tour

RG: (Laughter) It was so comical. Basically The Roxy is a dance club called Pure, and they really donít care about live music. I think they just do it as a way of adding a few dollars to the nightís bar draw. I think the same thing happened the last time we played there, but not quite as dramatic. We were done for 10 minutes, and I was out front signing autographs and such, and there were a few people that I wanted to bring backstage. I had asked three people [that worked there], the last one being the manager, and in fairness I said it was four people, and it was eight people. But itís not like I had a herd of buffalo I was trying to bring backstage and it was eight people I knew well.
The band was quietly sitting backstage, having a drink, girlfriends, wives, I think one of our crewís parents were even there. So the guy comes running up and says, You said four, and this is not four.And I was like, Well, itís eight. And heís like, You took advantage of me, so everybody out. I just said, Look we just got off the stage, and he said, I donít care. He was just looking for a reason to be pissed at us. Everybody out. I just looked him flat in the face and said No. He said Iím the manager, and I said Iím the lead singer, and then it escalated from there.
I definitely am not embarrassed, because I was in the right. That said, had I been a little more diplomatic about it instead of just flat-out saying No, I probably could have avoided the whole thing. If nothing else, it was just really comical. And what happened today, actually is my sister-in-law sent a message to me and my wife saying Hey, I just read that Reid got kicked out of one of his own shows, and I hadnít mentioned anything to my wife about it. I got busted! She sent me an e-mail saying What the hell did you do?!

AC: Well, weíll put in a bad word for the Roxy on the site. Anyway, we just kind of touched on Bela Fleck and Victor Wooten what kind of bands, new or old bands, are you listening to these days?

RG: For me, thereís three buckets, if you will. Thereís the classic rock, which is the stuff that growing up in the í80s was my bread and butter, and thatís all the obvious stuff I always talk about: Crosby Stills and Nash, Allman Brothers, Neil Young, Grateful Dead, Paul Simon, just all these amazing songwriters and musicians. So thatís Bucket One, and I always go back to that well.
Bucket Two would be the Jerry Douglases, the Bela Flecks, the Bill Frisells, the John Scofields, and lumped in with them I would put, and I donít really know a ton about jazz, but I do listen to Wes Montgomery, Bill Evans just feats of genius on their instruments. And I really like instrumental music, and I respect amazing musicianship.
Bucket Three would be like current bands that are about and out that I dig. I really was blown away by The Slipís last album, so Iíve listened to that quite a bit. They pulled a 180 I guess it wasnít a 180, but they pulled a 90 at least. It was, in my estimation, such a flawlessly recorded and well-written album. I love Gillian Welch for similar reasons. I just find her so credible artistically and emotionally credible is the best way to describe her. I really like Josh Rouseís stuff a lot. Iíve always been a big fan of Drew Emmitt and Leftover Salmon again, great songwriting, great playing.
And the list goes on and on in the indie rock world, I really like the New Pornographers. I actually like AC Newmanís solo stuff better than the New Pornographers for some reason. I really do enjoy MOFROís music. I like Jonah Smith, whoís a Relix favorite; heís a great songwriter and they have a great band.

AC: You forget sometimes how people can just absolutely floor youÖ

RG: Yeah, itís weird. John Leccesse, the bass player in Assembly of Dust, made this comment recently, and it seemed to sum it up, which is, theyíre so many bands that, and even within in the grassroots scene, Iím not saying pop bands, Iím saying bands in indie rock and jambands and singer/songwriter, cross genres, that about so much about style and not about substance. And maybe they just fit they sound like, they look like, they feel like, and thatís really the primary thing that people react to.
And then thereís this whole other class of bands that are just so substantive and really lacking style. If you ever heard Bill Frisell speak on some of his live performances, itís like, Iím not sure if thereís anybody even home. Itís clear he doesnít want to speak, and yet his music is so substantive. I donít know how you rectify that issue, or maybe you never do, but as a musician, and even just as a fan, itís a frustrating conundrum.

AC: I saw your former Strangefolk bandmate Erik Glockler played with Assembly of Dust some time this summer, sparking this kind of small remembrance that there used to be a Strangefolk. Playing with him, or anyone from those days, are there pangs to play again, like would you ever want to play some shows here and there with the old band?

RG: You mean, like, do I want to have The Police reunion? (Laughter)
I love seeing those guys, and itís really cathartic in some ways to have them come out, and be able to spend time with them, and to just be able to re-live all the great times we had without all the intensity of the moment. I saw them all recently at a wedding, and we actually played as the original Strangefolk at the wedding. Andre Gardner was our tour manager for all those years, and he got married, and so we played his first dance and then a small set. That was the first time weíve played together in a long, long time, probably since 2002 or so. That was neat.
We had such a great time together and just really lived the Great American Dream together. Or not the Great American Dream, but I donít know what it was. It was like Jack Kerouac-style. For me, Strangefolk is a coming-of-age story. When I write my autobiography, thatíll be the coming-of-age years.

AC: How does someone go from Strangefolk to business school?

RG: Not easily, Iíll tell you that, not easily. Itís funny because itís always a topic of intrigue. I think a lot of people sort of scratch their heads, like, Whyís this kinda artsy fartsy, Birkenstock-wearing tofu eater going to business school? I think a lot of the stereotypes about business school are accurate, itís a lot of really serious guys who want to go work on Wall Street or whatever. But thereís also a lot of really creative people there that want to start funky businesses or go into the World Bank or whatever, and to Cornellís credit, they are really attentive about making sure that the fiber of the class has a good portion of these sort of outliers, and I certainly was one.
It was by far the hardest thing Iíve ever done, emotionally and intellectually, just a total asskicking. And truthfully I hated it. But it was one of the most enlightening things Iíve ever done. Contrary to the preconceived notion, itís not just about sitting there and learning how to do accounting. I met just raging intellects and intensely creative and motivated people, and it was just really inspiring. So it might be hard for some people to digest exactly why I did it or what went down, it kind of rounded me as a person, and itís something Iíll always I donít know if cherish is the word but Iíll always feel good about doing.

AC: So you go from there to eMusic, and you get Assembly of Dust underway. How did you feel about trying to start this new band and growing it, having so recently coming out of Strangefolk, minus the business school intermezzo?

RG: It was weird in some ways. Certainly I had anxiety about it, whether or not people would dig it, whether or not people would come, and how the guys from Strangefolk would feel. Iím sure they felt there was an element of fuck you in it, and truthfully there was. But not a lot.
It was just I needed to do my own thing, and it turned out I honestly thought when I left Strangefolk that Iím done. I just couldnít take the insanity any more. Itís just a roller coaster being a musician youíre on the line all the time. Thereís all these people criticizing you, or not. Thereís all this anxiety about how many records youíre going to sell and how many people are going to come to the show. It wears on you. I think the line, Sometimes the lights are shining on me, other times I can barely see is so apropos. That describes being a musician in two phrases. So I really thought I was done. And it just turned out that it was just part of the fiber of who I was, and I guess I probably innately or subconsciously knew that, but I figured it out the hard way.
To paraphrase somebody else, I saw Bruce Springsteen interviewed on 60 Minutes last week. Believe it or not, Iím not a huge Springsteen fan I mean, I totally respect the guy, how could you not? But he just doesnít do it for me musically.

AC: Heís actually my uncle.

RG: Really?

AC: Nah, Iím just kidding.

RG: They were talking about it, and the interviewer was like, You gotta be worth over $100 million, why do you continue to do this? And he went through the list: It gives my life meaning, itís part of who I am, the feeling of creating joy in the audience or emotional reaction from the audience, blah blah blah. And it was just like, thank you, he said it. So thatís kind of the way it is for me, itís just part of my genetic makeup I guess, or maybe Iím just a junkie for it.

AC: Well, we all need to be junkies for something. So your last album was released early on eMusic howíd you find that worked out for you, and will you continue to do that for subsequent albums?

RG: I donít really have a strong point of view either way about it. I think what Radiohead is doing is totally cool.

AC: Have you listened to that album yet?

RG: No, not yet. But I did go to the site today just to start getting myself ready, figuring out what my bid is. But I donít have really have a strong perspective on that. I do know more broadly that record sales are not ever gonna be what they were. Iím a proponent of letting people tape our shows, and I love So I have a pretty liberal view on it, but the challenge is, there are a lot of guys out there that are trying to make a living. So somebodyís gotta come up with a way to allow that, because Radiohead, for example, probably wouldnít be around if EMI hadnít given them a five- or six-record deal.
This is kind of a rhetorical question, but how does music get funded, how does it get made? Maybe the answer is that celebrity celebredom doesnít exist, and itís a bunch of smaller acts. But even that is a challenge, because I think a lot of people hone their craft when theyíre fully submersed in it. Iím just using Radiohead as an example, I donít know really know their music that well, but I imagine a lot of the continuity and the genius that came out, came after years of baking themselves in their own stew, if you will. And if youíre only visiting it once in a while, how do you get greats like Radiohead and Bruce Springsteen? I donít know. Itís a shitshow. It is a shitshow.

AC: Let me switch gears again I thought the Gathering of the Vibes solo set you played in 2002, if I may cloak my objectivity here for a minute, was one of the most fucking perfect acoustic sets of music Iíve ever heard. Do you have these yens to do get out and do some more solo shows?

RG: Yeah, I like it. And that is a show that Iím proud of it was a defining moment. Kind of like an Iím here to stay kind of thing. That might be why it was what it was; there was a lot riding on it. Yes, I like it, and Iíd like to do more of it, whether itís incorporating it into the AOD set or solo shows or whatever. In fact, itís something I discussed recently, and I would like to do more of it.
The flip side to that though, is I was talking about the anxiety and the exposure of being an artist, and the solo thing is like 10 times worse. Part of what I love about playing in a band is the camaraderie, first of all, before during and after the show. And then secondly, youíre part of a team thatís going out there, so itís not like youíre laying your soul and self out on the line. You can hide behind each other a little bit and rely on each other. Itís risk and reward, I guess.

AC: Youíd rather be more a Jeter than a Federer. Well, we talked about Vibes and Langerado how do you find the festival circuit, and whatís the best festival youíve played, not even as it relates to your set?

RG: Itís hard to say, and itís hard to separate it out from our set, because your experience as a musician is colored by your set. Again, itís sort of cliche answer, but one of the greatest festival experiences we had was playing Bonnaroo. Before I said itís not the quantity of the crowd, itís the quality, and for whatever reason, that was a very intense crowd. Every hair on my body was standing on end. But itís a really hard question to answer, because Iíve played that festival once, and every year the Gathering of the Vibes has been special for me.I feel like part of something there, whereas I felt like a visitor at Bonnaroo.
And then from an sheerly aesthetic point of view and I donít mean that just visually, I mean like contextually the Strawberry Festival in California is unbelievable. Itís in the foothills of Yosemite; we stayed in a log cabin looking out over Half Dome, or one of the domes. There are people whoíve been coming there for 25 years, whoíve raised their kids there. Itís definitely a different beast than Bonnaroo or Gathering of the Vibes or Wakarusa or 10,000 Lakes. Itís an adult version of those, but itís just a really special thing. People are so respectful of each other, of where they are, of the music, and again I felt like a visitor into this weird little bubble, but it was just intriguing. Weíve played there twice and both times I came away feeling that way.

AC: Alright, one last query: What outside of this music world piques your interest you watch TV, you see movies,you read books, whatís on your agenda?

RG: The first is I have a one-and-a-half year old, so he at this point in my lifetakes up a lot of my spare time. Itís an unexpected pleasure, you know. Itís a total ass-kicking, but itís sublime to watch mini-me run around and discover the world, and I feel like Iím seeing the world through his eyes, so that is just phenomenal. Prior to having a son I did like to read novels a lot, for the same reason I love music: the escapism of it. Itís just so calming to immerse yourself in somebody elseís drama.

AC: Who do you read?

RG: Itís funny, Iíd say and itís not particularly sophisticated the one Iíve the read the most of is Ken Follett. Heís got a formula, itís basically intrigue. His best book is called Pillars of the Earth. Iíve read the run of the mill intrigue novels; I like big epics, so thatís how I got into Ken Follett Pillars of the Earth is like 1,500 pages. But then thereís Lonesome Dove, thereís Mists of Avalon, of course Lord of the Rings, that are all sort of these epic tales. And then, I donít know if itís because I get a lot of my recommendations from my grandmother, but Iíve read a lot of somewhat chick-ish book club books. But most of them are really literature, and the subject matter is not always, like, you know, uh

AC: I got my first period today.

RG: Right right. Like, The Kite Runner was a bustout from that genre. Thatís a very well-known one, but thereís hundreds like that that are less well-known.

AC: Well, letís leave it at talk of first periods. I think youíve exhausted me for now, and Iíll let you get back to work.