Assembly of Dust comes off the road

Written by Matt Kanner
Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Assembly of Dust has evolved along an uncustomary path. The band has been together for about four years and has toured the nation extensively. But only in March, after releasing a live album two years earlier, did the group’s first studio recording become available.

“Most of the time bands go in the studio and make a few records and then they make a live record sort of as a culmination of that,” keyboardist Nate Wilson said in a recent interview. “We decided to sort of flip the script.”

Assembly’s patience paid off. The band’s new CD, “Recollection,” on Hybrid Recordings, does not sound like a debut. The carefully crafted songs reflect the work of experienced musicians whose artistry has matured over years of recording and performing.

Led by former Strangefolk front man Reid Genauer, Assembly of Dust brings together a collection of New England talent. The five members emerged in college bands around the same time and have known each other for well over a decade. That familiarity helped them connect with one another and with audiences, and “Recollection” has enjoyed early success.

The band recently spent two weeks playing sold-out shows on the West Coast, then returned to play New York and Philadelphia in March. Shows this month throughout New England include a stop at The Music Hall in Portsmouth on Friday, April 13, and this summer will mark a return to the festival circuit.

Wilson, guitarist Adam Terrell and bassist John Leccese all hail from Percy Hill, which blossomed from a once-thriving musical community at the University of New Hampshire. Also immersed in that scene was Moon Boot Lover, which featured Assembly’s drummer, Andy Herrick. As Percy and Moon Boot were developing a following at UNH, Strangefolk was picking up steam at the University of Vermont in Burlington.

“Percy Hill and Strangefolk sort of came out of UNH and UVM at the same time, and we would play gigs a lot together,” Wilson said. “They were doing really well in Burlington and we were doing well down here in the Seacoast and we would trade gigs a lot.” Wilson and Genauer talked for years about embarking on a musical project together. The opportunity arose when Genauer left Strangefolk and things began to slow down for Percy Hill. The musical connection was almost immediate, but Assembly’s biggest early challenge was escaping the shadows of Percy and Strangefolk.

“There were a lot of expectations when we first came out, especially for Reid. Strangefolk had such a huge following and such a devoted following, almost cult-ish. A lot of people came out just checking it out expecting to see Strangefolk. There was a high curiosity factor,” Wilson said. “Assembly of Dust is definitely different than Strangefolk, and I think a lot of the people who came out stuck with it and it sort of weeded out a lot of people. At this point I think most of our fans are really actually Assembly of Dust fans and they know what to expect.”

But Assembly still caters to the jam fans that followed Strangefolk and Percy Hill. Both former bands became known for the energy of their live performances, mesmerizing hippies in the post-Grateful Dead era, and while most of the songs on “Recollection” are fairly concise and structured, Assembly is known to stretch things out in live performances.

Heavy touring schedules can wear on a traveling band, but Wilson feels Assembly has managed to maintain the music’s spirit in each show.

“You (tour) for years and it really grinds on your soul, so we decided with this band that we would try to prove that model wrong, and for all intents and purposes, we really have,” he said. The keyboardist also feels good about “Recollection,” which the band recorded at Thundering Sky studios in Maine over a yearlong period. Wilson and Genauer split primary songwriting duties to create 10 songs that have drawn comparisons to work by The Band, Steely Dan and Paul Simon. Much like The String Cheese Incident’s 2005 release, “One Step Closer,” the album tones down the group’s jam-heavy reputation with stark, folky melodies polished by jazz and rock influences.

“I still put it on and it sounds fresh to me, which is a great sign,” Wilson said. “Usually you make something and then two weeks later you can’t fucking stand it anymore.”

The first track, “Grand Design,” is perhaps the strongest on the album. Written by Wilson, the peppy and lyrically majestic tune sets the stage for more than 45 minutes of mellow but engaging music. The second track, “Telling Sue,” calls to mind the Grateful Dead’s masterpiece “Workingman’s Dead.” It includes an appropriate line for the sound: “If I stayed here, I’d die in a workingman’s grave.”

Wilson implemented his jazz piano training on the record, but wrote songs with the band’s overall vibe and Genauer’s folk-country voice in mind. “There’s lots of bands out there with great musicians and playing, but we think what sets us apart is just the sound craft,” Wilson said. “When we rehearse and we talk about music and try to figure out what we’re going for, it’s usually about trying to figure out how to make the songs come out as strong as they possibly can.”

As Assembly of Dust continues to promote “Recollection,” Wilson is staying busy with a number of side projects. He is studying music at the New England Conservatory in Boston and will perform with his jazz group, the Nate Wilson Trio, at his graduation recital later this spring. The Nate Wilson Trio also has a month-long residency at the Barley Pub in Dover, performing every Tuesday night through April. On top of that, Wilson is in the process of recording a demo with the Nate Wilson Group, which performs a mix of old Percy Hill tunes and new material.

“With all those things happening I’ve actually spread myself pretty thin,” the busy musician said. “I think within the next year or so, once I’m done with school, I’ll try to consolidate a little bit. In addition to AOD hitting the national scene, I’d like to get my own projects off the ground, my own songwriting projects.”

But Wilson looks forward to pushing ahead with Assembly of Dust. The band will play a number of festivals this summer, and Wilson expects to eventually return to the studio for a follow-up disc. Wilson, Herrick and Terrell all live in New Hampshire, while Genauer and Leccese reside in Manhattan.

“It’s so much fun to play with these guys, they’re just really great friends,” Wilson said. “There’s no real reason to slow that down. I only see it getting busier.”