By Timothy Dwenger
It’s been more than 12 years since Reid Genauer left Vermont jam rockers Strangefolk to attend business school at Cornell University, but it took only two years away from music for the masterful lyricist to start a new band. Genauer christened that new band Assembly of Dust (AOD) and despite the fact that the project hasn’t garnered quite the same level of attention as Strangefolk, some argue that it has been the outlet for the songwriter’s best and most mature work of his career.
That assertion was all but confirmed when, in 2009, Assembly of Dust released a stunning record that featured contributions from the likes of Richie Havens, David Grisman, Mike Gordon, Grace Potter, Bela Fleck, Martin Sexton, and many more musical luminaries.
Dubbed Some Assembly Required, the aptly titled album would not have been possible without the studio magic that is available in the internet age, as musicians recorded instrumental and vocal parts around the country and sent them to a common location for “assembly.”
Now, more than three years after that release, Genauer and AOD are getting ready to release their fourth studio album, Sun Shot. This time, however, the project won’t rely on contributions from outside musicians, rather it was made possible by another group even more critical to the band’s success: their fans.
In July of 2012 AOD launched a Kickstarter campaign and though they set the significant goal of $25,000, they surpassed it by more than 50%. “It was an unexpectedly awesome experience,” Genauer said during a recent interview with The Marquee. “As a musician, you’re like, ‘Well okay, I know I can go out on the road because I’ve been doing that forever and I know that I can talk to my fans directly because the internet was invented,’ but one of the challenges that was unsolved — and this goes for artists of all shapes and sizes — is how to fund their endeavors and get the cash flow to get going; Kickstarter solved that.”
Genauer went on to talk about the project as more of a spiritual journey than simply a fund-raising exercise, as he revealed some pretty intimate details about the experience. “When I went into it I sort of thought of it as a black and white exchange, but what I discovered in the process was that it was a lot more than that,” he admitted. “The audience demands something beyond a record and that forces you to really embrace your media and the possibilities it brings with it to be creative about how you present yourself, your band, your music, and your thoughts. It’s an artistic challenge, definitely a creative one, and it was fun to sort of dream up all the different things we might do and how we might craft special things for people who genuinely care about us.”
Genauer and his team were definitely creative as they brainstormed rewards, because though they offered the typical download of the album, signed poster, t-shirt kind of rewards, they also rewarded fans with birthday phone calls from Genauer himself, hand written lyric sheets, a whiskey tasting with the band, and the crown jewel of them all, “Your Life As A Song.” Meaning exactly what it sounds like, “Your Life As A Song” offered the backer the opportunity to have Genauer write a song based on their life, or the life of someone close to them, and record it specifically for them.
Little did Genauer know, offering that reward would open the door to a very interesting and rewarding chapter in his life. “The guy who signed up for that one lives in Oklahoma. So as a New Yorker, it was kind of astounding that the music had found its way to the crevices of Oklahoma City,” he said. “He actually bought it for his spouse of twenty-two years and asked me to document her as a person over the course of the relationship that they’ve had. So it’s pretty heady and pretty awesome. I sent him a bunch of questions, we’ve talked on the phone, and he’s been sending swathes of their life together as inspiration. The challenge as a songwriter is taking three-page emails and distilling them into three verses to capture her essence.”
As if that wasn’t enough, this story took another turn when Genauer revealed that the woman he is writing the song about is in the early stages of a terminal illness and, as a result, the project has become an effort “to erect a monument and testament to her life and capture some piece of immortality.” Despite the added significance, Genauer is confident that he is up to the task and interestingly, the song, when finished, will probably make its way into AOD’s live rotation as that’s the wish of the couple. “They would love to see it on a record and hear it performed live,” Genauer said. “That was kind of one of his conditions when we started the whole thing; that it not be automatically disqualified because of the nature of the song’s inception.”
While the song won’t make it onto Sun Shot, and only time will tell whether it is immortalized on a future AOD record, Genauer seems excited about the new album and its collection of mostly brand new songs. “There’s only two or three out of the twelve that aren’t brand new. So it’s kind of like an unveiling,” he said, before going on to describe the sound they were going for with this project.
“I’m like an unrealized troubadour, really. I just happened to have been contextualized in a jamband setting for all these years. I’ve always had a penchant for acoustic music and while this isn’t an acoustic record by any stretch of the imagination, I wanted to try and capture the drums, the acoustic guitar, the vocals and even the electric instruments in their truest and most natural form. We hired Ryan Freeland, who worked on Ray Lamontagne’s last record, to achieve that,” Genauer said. “The stripped down style is his thing, it’s his aesthetic. A lot of engineers and record producers have a sound and that’s his. It plays out differently depending on the band, but he’s a re-creationist, if you will, in terms of analog warmth. He does it in part through his technique, in part through the gear that he seeks out.”
Assembly of Dust now includes Jason Crosby and Dave Diamond. Crosby and Diamond have played together for years and round out the core trio of Genauer, John Leccese and Adam Terrell. “The three of us have been playing together for over a decade and the two of them have been playing forever. So it was like putting two halves together rather than putting five fragments together,” Genauer said.
While the studio work came together brilliantly, it took the quintet a little while to hit their stride on stage, but recently things have really begun to take shape. “Over the course of the last dozen or so shows I could just feel it coming together and it’s awesome. That’s part of the reason why I do it; because that sensation is just incredible,” he said, adding a reference to The Wonder Twins, “Form of… rock band!”
:: Assembly of Dust ::
:: Summit Music Hall :: January 12::
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