By Kristin Livingston
If the members of Guster ever had any pretensions about the band, they were all lost in the basement of Lewis Hall freshman year. “One of our strangest stalkers, he came to like 200 shows,” lead singer Ryan Miller, A95, says with a laid-back laugh. “He was this weird teenager who turned into this weird old guy, and he’s like a really good friend of ours now.”
Very strange stranger turned fond friend. The transformation pretty much sums up the inclusive power of Guster, a band that hopped a tour van and hit the road from College Ave. 17 years ago. Members Adam Gardner, A95, Miller, and Brian Rosenworcel, A95, have since cut six records, said hi and bye to integral band members, and made a more than respectable name for the group.
And on April 26, Guster came home for Spring Fling.
“Glad you made it, welcome to the farm”
The flannel and baggy jeans of ’95 had morphed into matching neon T-shirts and skin-tight pants, but the vibe on the President’s Lawn for this undergrad tradition was still merry, to say the least—even if Guster wasn’t the student body’s “first or even fifth choice” to headline Spring Fling, Miller read mid-set from a Daily article to the fist-pumping crowd.
Controversy held court over this year’s concert when first choice LMFAO couldn’t make the bill and there was even less success in booking the runners-up. It was Guster to the rescue, who gave the students what the Concert Board had promised: a “high energy” show, including a cover of LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It.” However, their own classics like “Happier” and “Barrel of a Gun” were sing-a-long hits with the crowd.
“It felt like, ‘Oh wow, so many of these are songs that people have grown up with,’” says Miller of the college show, a rarity on the schedule these days. “Our first record was coming out when some of those dudes were two.”
Nostalgia wasn’t all that kept the undergrads dancing in the grass, and it isn’t what keeps the ticket and record sales up. Guster’s music has evolved, as plainly seen on the once bandaged and bloodied hands of percussionist Rosenworcel, who now regularly vacillates between his beloved bongos and a drum set.
“I think in the last five to 10 years the thing that’s surprised me is that people care,” says Miller. “And the most gratifying thing at this point is just that we’ve managed to keep making better records and our legacy is sort of being rewritten every year. People certainly think that Lost and Gone Forever is the best thing that we’ve done,” he adds of the ’99 record, “but I don’t really believe that, and I think a lot of our friends don’t. We’ve managed to change and grow.”
“I hope tomorrow is like today”
Talking to Miller, singer, guitarist, composer, comedian, sporadic wearer of white sunglasses and gleaming disco capes (I’m talking Boston House of Blues circa 2011, and that’s most likely only one instance out of many), is like catching up with an old pal whose music just happens to have been the soundtrack to a few of this Jumbo’s defining life moments.
And yet despite this knowledge (like so many before me, I hastily expressed my love for all things “Demons” when the opportunity presented itself); despite sold-out shows at Radio City Music Hall; despite Paste Magazine naming Lost and Gone Forever the 79th greatest album of the ’90s; despite meeting Dylan, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, and other rock heroes; and despite almost two decades' worth of a reliable cult fandom of ping pong balls, bubbles, and tireless blazes of affection, he still doesn’t feel like they’ve hit “the” big time.
A steady simmer of low-key fame might more aptly describe their lot—and that’s just fine with him. “We always joke, ‘If you want to get a number one record and win a Grammy, tour with us,” he says of former opening acts John Mayer, Train, Maroon 5, and Fun, whose song “We Are Young” reached the number one spot on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart and was recently covered by the Beelzebubs during their spring show.
“Ecstatic with the view”
Of Guster’s fortune, ever the realist Miller says, “It’s cool, but it’s still sort of silly being in a rock band your whole life.” While Gardner and his wife have started Reverb, a nonprofit environmental organization that promotes green touring for music acts, Miller freely admits that it’s only now, as he turns 40, that’s he’s started “a real job” as a composer.
“I always talk about college as being sort of the training wheels for kind of getting the band up and running,” he says of recording their first album Parachute (1995) during junior year and luckily escaping the biggest financial crisis of bands on the run: quit the day job to tour, or quit the tour to make money. “By the time we graduated we were actually able to make enough money to support ourselves being musicians. We were ready.”
With another Guster baby on the way this summer (“we’re always making babies”), it’s inevitable that the touring has slowed—but never the music. New Guster records are always percolating. At the moment Miller’s gig is composing scores for independent films, including award-winning Safety Not Guaranteed which premiered at Sundance.
“This could all be yours someday”
“We’ve been in a tour bus for almost 20 years, so it feels like we’ve definitely lived a weird life,” says Miller. “Slept in a lot of weird frat houses and met a lot of weird people, been on a lot of weird adventures and worked with some really talented and interesting people, and some less talented and interesting people,” he laughs.
The best way to Keep It Together (2006), in his opinion? Stay scared. “I always want to feel like I’m a little bit over my head,” he says, “because once you start to get comfortable you get lazy and cocky and I just don't think that’s where creativity thrives.” As he put it plainly to the Spring Fling throngs, including this year's Battle of the Bands winner, The Rare Occasions, “If you follow what you love, 17 years from now you, too, can come back to find that your dreams have come true.”
Kristin Livingston, A05, can be reached at email@example.com.
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