Reid Genauer’s band is organic, in a 21st-century way
Written by Jeff Spevak
March 3, 2010
Sometimes that good hippie vibe isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. So you end up cracking up. Thus ended Reid Genauer’s ride with Strangefolk.
Genauer had co-invented the band in the early ’90s, a rocking Vermont hippie acoustic thing we’re going to label bluegass. (Editor’s Note: “Bluegass” is a phrase concocted by the After Dark column for this occasion. Do not go to your local record store and ask where the “Bluegass” section can be found.)
But by 2001, “I spontaneously combusted,” Genauer says. “I was living in Rochester at the time” — his wife was studying nursing at the University of Rochester — “and there were a whole bunch of personal and artistic reasons, but I left the band. And I wasn’t sure how my music career was going to carry on.”
It took a couple of years to get back on his artistic legs, with Genauer’s solo career picking up pieces as it moved along — a bassist here, a drummer there. “It came along organically,” he says. Genauer likes the word “organically.” After a while, Genauer had enough pieces for a new band. Assembly of Dust plays Friday, March 5 at the Club at Water Street.
“Strangefolk was like a first love,” Genauer says by phone from his home in the New York City suburb of Rye. “And in many ways, none of us were really trained musicians. It was freedom and, maybe, I don’t know… it was less derivative. It was what it was. It was more or less a spastic college band that found an audience. I don’t say that in a disparaging way. It was the good fortune of evolution.”
Genauer, however, had an intelligent design in mind. As he sees it, it was time to throw away the short pants and start dressing up his music like an adult. Assembly of Dust is “a rebirth and a re-imagining of what being a musician entailed and could be.
“For a whole variety of reasons, Assembly of Dust is more intentional, a more-articulate collection of musicians,” Genauer says. “Older, more seasoned, with less emphasis on guitar solos, although our live shows do feature that a lot. It wound up being a more intentional, methodical and measured approach to making music.
“The first thing that comes to mind is songwriting. The second is authenticity, the third would be mature musicianship.”
Assembly of Dust has brought structure to Genauer’s musical life. But some musicians go the other direction. After years of structure, they seek out a musical vehicle that has no boundaries.
“Depends on how you interpret the word ‘structured,’ ” Genauer says. “Strangefolk was a one-trick pony. When I had left we had played that trick out. I couldn’t imagine doing the same card trick over and over and over my whole life.
“Our good fortune was, ‘Ignorance is bliss.’ But ignorance is a jail. Ignorance is an artistic jail.”
Genauer readily concedes that he has no musical training. But, “I have certain innate musical abilities, and I shamelessly milked it for all of these years.
“At the risk of sounding self congratulatory, I think of myself as a natural songwriter, and I’m supported by a cast of excellent musicians. The architecture is sound, the designs are well thought out, the construction comes off with a sense of craftsmanship.”
Genauer notes that Strangefolk’s rambling jams continue on, with two of the four original members. “Speaking of shamelessly milking it…,” he says, leaving no shortage of sarcasm lingering in the air. Meanwhile, he is drawn these days to the dark, rootsy songwriting of Gillian Welch and Ray LaMontagne.
Tradition can be followed like a blueprint here. And Assembly of Dust’s latest release, Some Assembly Required , does suggest that Genauer has indeed moved on to a higher level in the eyes of his peers. It includes guest appearances by a handful of musicians who cane be justly described as icons: Richie Havens sings on a track, Bela Fleck plays banjo David Grisman mandolin, John Scofield guitar Jerry Douglas dobro.
Havens, it turns out, was the only one that Genauer was actually in the same room with while they were recording. His relationship with Douglas began with an exchange of e-mails — “Hey, liked the song, sure we can make this happen, give me a ring,” Genauer says was Douglas’ response. Douglas e-mailed Genauer a file with his contribution. “Bela Fleck recorded his part in a hotel room in Des Moines or something,” Genauer says. “Parts of this album were recorded in Colorado, North Carolina, Vermont, New York City by musicians, many of whom have never met each other. Grisman, I didn’t even talk to. But getting tracks back, and hearing musicians of that caliber playing one of your songs, is really exciting.
“If I had a lawyer or manager and tasked them with pulling it together, it wouldn’t have happened. But the way it happened was very organic.” Organic, in a 21st-Century way. “Technology,” Genauer says, “has enabled collaboration across time and space.”