March 3, 2014

Dancing and Saying the Alphabet

There are three songs left to mix here in Seattle.  We’re working with Phil Ek, who is doing a great job sorting through the flurry of a recording process we dumped on him.  This is where we dot our i’s and cross our t’s, and while mixing is often a celebration where your song comes to life and reaches its full potential, it’s also a difficult process — in the sense that you must commit, and say goodbye.  

Last night we finished “Doin’ It By Myself” and it felt a little like a teary send-off from a parent to their college student.  Go off, be in the world.  We took you as far as we could, and now we must let go.  Now it is time for you to go and do what you were meant to do, Doin’ It By Myself.  Affect people.  Bring people joy.  know-what-i-mean.

Except it’s different.  That 18 year old will go off and change, react, learn things and grow into a fuller realized self.  The 18 year old will drink from a keg while being held upside down by the ankles.  While the mix of the beloved song will remain frozen, committed, and unchangeable.  Perhaps a perfect snapshot of a moment in time, the achievement of a band who put in their 10,000 hours, got in the studio with a volatile genius in Cottage Grove Oregon and banged out a classic song in 3 hours.  Or perhaps it’ll exist in its mixed condition, only to agonize the drummer of Guster, as only the drummer of Guster can be agonized, like so many committed moments in the past.  The tiny guitar tone on Lightning Rod.  The lethargic tempo of Fa Fa.  The almost-inaudible floor tom hits on the first verse Do You Love Me.  The entire “Goldfly” record.

At the end, in the waning moments before committing, you tinker like a frenzied overtired child, putting off the inevitable bedtime with distraction after distraction.  I need another glass of water.  Let’s revisit the snare tone and add some reverb to the guitar.  Tell me another story.  Let’s try a new EQ on the vocal.

And so this is my last studio journal.  Time to say goodnight.  Lie down.  Here is our bear.  We have had such a wonderful day, playing and counting to 20… please watch the whole thing, this is priceless:

January 29, 2014

Goodbye, Daisy…

Two point five days left in the studio.  Three songs left to sing.  One set of lyrics left to write.  Mixing is different with Richard Swift.  You’ve been mixing and tweaking as you go so your mix is pretty much where you end up once everything’s tracked.  You don’t sweat the little things.  Christ, I think we really made a record in 3 weeks. 

It’s a little daunting to think about all the remixing, mastering, video-making, Just-for-Men’ing before the press photo shoot, etc… but the plan is to just digest what we did for a few weeks.

On the domestic front, I told Tonya we were leaving The Commune in a couple of days and she seemed genuinely sad for a split second and then perked up and offered me a glass of gross fermented liquid from a giant mason jar.  She said it was “kefir” and some guy from The Healing Matrix gave it to her for free.  She said it was supposed to be good for you.  It smelled like salad dressing.  What would you do?

I poured a big glass and drank it down, only letting myself taste it after I’d swallowed it all.  It was okay.  With courage from watching me survive it, Tonya followed suit, drank a big gulp, and then flailed her arms and crinkled her face in an animated gagging motion.  That was Tonya’s first and last sip of kefir.  Then she told me that she had to put her dog Daisy to sleep tomorrow.  I said goodbye.  Kind of sad, huh?  Here’s Tonya with Daisy:

And here’s Rosa who recently said goodbye to her uterus:

January 23, 2014


Today we take a couple of days away from the music, to come back fresh for one last week.  We’ve worked like 18 days in a row.  Ryan looks like this:


There are a few songs that have real vocals on them and are close to finished.  I am beyond happy with them.  When my kids are older and they say “hey dad, tell me about when you were in a band”…I will kick back, loosen up my tie and fire up a pipe for the first time in my life.  I will be able to call up “Expectation” and “Doin’ It By Myself” and “Gangway” — all weird new titles to you, but songs that have been in our band’s vernacular for a year or two — I will play them these songs to show what I accomplished being in a band for 22 years.

You might be thinking, “but play them Demons, or the Two Points for Honesty Song, or this song or that song” — and those are good songs too.  But for me it’s the difference between 8 Days a Week and Abbey Road.  I am lucky to be in a band that grew, and is growing.  I don’t know of a lot of bands that have had this experience.  This album will challenge you.

Also, you might be thinking, “isn’t Brian’s daughter about to turn six?  Shouldn’t she already know a few Guster songs?  My 2 year old can sing ‘Fa Fa’ from start to finish!”  And you’re right.  Your 2 year old can sing “Fa Fa” from start to finish and I have seen the video of it.  It is adorable.  But my daughter only recognizes “This Could All Be Yours” from the handful of live shows she caught this summer, and she botches the title every time she mentions it.  You know, play We Should All Go Someway.

January 21, 2014

Rather than describe the recording process with mundane words that can’t possibly convey the essence of the studio experience, today we’ll take you into the heart of control room, where the magic happens.  In this 30 second snippet of our creative process, Richard Swift’s words are in subtitles so you can fully appreciate his stewardship. 

January 16, 2014

It Is Just What It Is

At age 36, after making quite a name for himself as a drummer, singer, songwriter, and new keyboard player for The Shins, Richard Swift got his first “new drum set” on Tuesday.  I was 36 when C&C Drums gave me my first new kit too.


There’s a reason everyone plays C&C kits, they sound fantastic — we tore open the boxes and set up the drums and were recording it on our song (working title CAVEMAN) within minutes.  The photo and comments are from Swift’s Instagram where I’m laying it down, one-hand one-stick style.  Caveman is sure to make the record and will be the first ever Guster song you could describe as “sexy” — with X-Ray Eyes coming in at a distant second.

Yesterday we recorded a song (working title COME TOGETHER) that was supposed to be ‘one of the big ones’ and then scrapped it entirely.  There’s a precedent for this.  “Emily Ivory” was supposed to be the biggest tune on Ganging Up on the Sun, and “Okay Alright” was going to bring the house down on Easy Wonderful.  Not so.  More than ever we are going where the energy is flowing, rather than banging our heads against the wall to bring something to life.  May or may not be the last we hear from that song, but it’s disappointing to say the least. 

The night before we had a moment of inspiration and recorded a tune as a full band performance, live in a room, with Swift on drums and me on tin bucket and shaker.  Ryan put a Harry Nilsson-like piano part on a song called “Never Coming Down” that we were planning to record in several styles, and the feel came together in the moment, which we captured.  Almost sounds like old Toots and the Maytals.  Guster’s all grows up.


Also, new twist on the Rosa spaying situation this morning.  After disappearing for several days, the jar was back at breakfast today, with an addendum about the veterinary schedule.  The jar was empty, and since there are only like 6 of us living here, clearly this jar is for the band of b-level east coast rock n roll stars who ought to pull their weight and pony up to get the dog’s uterus taken out.  I need to hit an ATM unfortunately.  The jar is still empty.  It’s not that I don’t care about getting Rosa spayed.  I do.

January 13, 2014

Working Swiftly

It’s Day #5 in the studio and we’re actually working on Song #5 (out of 15), much to everyone’s surprise.  Usually we’d still be on Song 1 at this point, after spending a day on drum tones, a day comping together a scratch vocal, a day creating a tempo map and editing between 12 drum takes before everyone re-plays their parts from scratch. 

Don’t get me wrong, we’re very proud of how those records turned out, but we’re better players now and we’re working with a producer who’s an artist first, helping us make the big decisions we need to make without sweating the details.  He’s Andy Warhol and we’re all Nico.

I am not sure how much to detail the process.  It’s hard to convey and I know the music will speak for itself.  Today we are reinventing a song called “It Is Just What It Is” — it’s a great tune but the feel was a little close to some others on the record and it needed a new direction.  All Guster songs, left to their own devices, will gravitate to a tempo of 118 beats per minute, for the record.

There were a couple hours of hemming and hawing before we settled on a Phil Spector-y direction, still mid tempo, but away from another quite precious song (working title Phoenix) that we will record next week.  There’s marimbas and hand claps and piano and I dunno here are a bunch of studio photos.  People only comment when there are photos.




That’s Swift (from the back side)… and here is Luke outside the tiny cottage he shares with Ryan (they didn’t get spots at The Commune)…

January 9, 2014

Lazy Love

The sun doesn’t come up until like 8am for some reason here in Oregon.  If it shows up at all, that is.  But I’ve been awake since I heard the woman in the room next to me take her two poodles for a walk a couple of hours ago anyway.  I think her name is Tonya.

I go downstairs to eat a bowl of Little Bite Mini Wheats with Vanilla Soy Milk.  Trust me, I would never go “Little Bite” if there was a “Big Bite” option, but no such luck at the Safeway here in Cottage Grove.  I think they may be phasing out the Big Bite Mini Wheats.

I am alone in the fluorescent kitchen of the commune-style rooming house where me and Adam are staying for dirt cheap this month.  There’s doily curtains by the sink and a grandma-era ceiling fan above me.  Someone’s walker is parked at the table.  There’s a jar and a note in front of me:

I am feeling guilty because I’ve slept here two nights and haven’t put any money in the jar.  You know, I want to assimilate into the household culture — even though I’m an east coast guy that just crashes here for 8 hours, eats cereal, and leaves, I still play for the team.  But I need some basic information first.  Who is Rosa?  How much does it cost to spay something in Oregon?  Was the spayer recommended?  But then of course the mind goes elsewhere — is Rosa even a dog?  What if Rosa is a person and I’m staying in some weird Soylent Green House and oh god, what if Rosa is just short for Rosenworcel?  What if it’s just a big ploy to spay-the-Jew?

I wash my cereal bowl, gather myself, and walk out into the amazing Oregon mountain air.  Today is Day 2 in the studio.  Day 1 went like this:

We had a 12 noon start time.  

Noon — Luke is the only one at the studio

12:10 — Richard Swift, professional music producer, comes in wearing only underwear, stressed because he can’t find his phone.

1:00 — We are all still looking for Swift’s phone.

3:00 — We found the phone and are set up to record “Lazy Love” first.  We decide to double the length of the guitar-verse at the end of the song.

6:00 — We only played the song 3 times, but the drum track on take 3 is already sounding KILLER.  It’s an entire take, untouched.  That’s never happened.  We break for dinner after a few passes at the vocal.  It sounds promising but it isn’t quite there.

7:30 — We return from dinner and Swift has been tinkering.  He asks us to listen with an open mind.  The track is completely transformed.  Everything speaks with space, the intro is now completely a cappella, and the track is free and liberated.  What sort of crazy magic did you do while we were at dinner, Swift?  He muted Ryan’s guitar.  That’s it, really.  It is clear what to do now.  Luke adds little piano stabs in the 2nd verse, and we bring up the conga track which can speak with the guitar out of the way.

8:00 — Jesus this track sounds amazing.  I think it’s done.  

Time spent recording:  4 hours
Microphones used on drum kit:  2
Vocal takes:  A few

Things are different this time around.  We’re panning out.  Finding phones.  Spaying Rosa’s.  We can do in 4 hours what might have taken us 4 days or 4 weeks on one of our last few albums.

Of course, “Lazy Love” was an easy one to start with.  To be continued… 

January 7, 2014

Record #7

Everything starts today.  Or, a couple days ago when United Airlines (oh my god fuck you United Airlines) canceled our trip to Portland.  We scrambled and ended up routing to Oregon through Texas on another airline where Ryan Miller’s gold status got us exit row seats and free bag checks for our guitars and bubble-wrapped analog keyboards.  I got pig flu again and shivered under an airline blanket for two 4 hour legs, but was happy to eventually arrive at our (Hotwire 3.5 star, let’s splurge) Embassy Suites hotel where they have futuristic glass elevators, raging lobby waterfalls, and flowing rainforest rivers to guide you to the breakfast buffet where a man in a white hat will make you a custom omelette.

They also have bedbugs.

I got the knock on the door around two in the morning.  It was Luke, and he had his “my hotel room has bedbugs” face on.  In addition to seeing the little guy crawling around on the box spring, there was the blood of many a hotel guest staining the surface beneath him.  If you want to read the TOURING version of this story, check out this fairly epic road journal from a couple years ago:

Because I don’t want to focus on the bedbug right now.  Or the fact that I slept in that hotel anyway because I wanted a free omelette (they moved me to the 6th floor, it was fine).  I want to focus on the fact that we’re about to drive down to Cottage Grove OR to make an album with Richard Swift, who we are excited to meet and work wtih.  There is the feeling that we’re about to make something special.  Not just the hope.  It’s like a manifest destiny this time around.  More to come.

August 29, 2011

Nothing Will Stop Us From Rocking Tonight In Indiana. Nothing.

This story begins with the usual whoa-is-me-the-hurricane-cancelled-my-flight drivel that you’ve already read about in everyone else’s road journals.  But on Saturday when Delta announced they’d cancelled my Monday morning flight out of New York, there wasn’t much time to react.  A hurricane was bearing down on us, and we had to be in Indiana by Monday night.  We needed action.   While I was safely tucked away in a cabin in upstate NY, Young Naive Luke was stuck in Brooklyn with no car, no flight options, and no bottled water or cans of chick peas left on the shelves at the plywooded-up Trader Joe’s.  All the staples I needed for a week on tour were stuck in Brooklyn too (mostly finger tape, socks, underwear, and t-shirts)… they would have to be spared.

We spoke on the phone briefly.  “The George Washington Bridge is closing in 45 minutes” said Luke, who was also going on and on about how he had some avocado and wheat bread in his kitchen, but it’s the weird big Florida-style avocados that don’t taste very good, and always get a little runny.  “Get in a cab and make them drive you to New Jersey” I told him.  “Now!” I added, like a dick.

He swears he was the last car allowed over the GW Bridge.  He swears the cab driver had to swim across the Hudson to get home to his family.  The cab was a hundred bucks.  I drove two hours through heavy rain to rescue him at an A&P in Fort Lee NJ, where thank god they had Haas avocados.  I brought him to the cabin upstate, where we ate chicken pot pie and drank wine.  Life was good.  Our friends had rented us a mid size Chevy Malibu one-way to Indianapolis, just before the last local car rental place closed.  It was a 14 hour drive, but we could leave after the hurricane and still get to the show.  We went to sleep.  It was Saturday night.  Then the hurricane hit.

We’d left NYC to escape the drama but ended up right in the belly of the beast.  I felt the winds gusting through the windows at 5am, and heard trees falling in the distance.  We woke up and surveyed the damage.  Trees were down and the little bubbling creek had turned into a raging river.  There was no electricity and there was water leaking from the ceiling.  But the big blow was that Adam’s Monday flight outta Portland ME was cancelled too.  We made him rent a car and drive through the hurricane to Albany, where we could pick him up. 

Or so we thought.  The creek broke its levee and there was a flash flood.  The long dirt road to the property was like the Mississippi River. 

That’s me standing in the “driveway” — why am I smiling?  Fuck if I know.  We were punchy.  We were about to spend a calendar day in a Chevy Malibu.  The river raged on furiously and washed out the road entirely.  Luke and I had to drive the Malibu across peoples’ lawns to get out (sorry) (people of Indiana need us).  Goodbye wife and child who have no electricity or path to civilization.

Getting to Adam was a massive problem.  Just getting to Route 87 was almost impossible.  Roads we needed to not-be-flooded were flooded.  I knew side routes, but there were trees down across all of them.  There was one tree leaning against a power line that I thought we could squeak under.  I also thought it was okay to drive a car over a live downed power line.  Young Naive Luke disagreed and made me turn around.  It took about 9 different tries through back roads to get out to Woodstock.  By the time we got to Woodstock….

87 was closed.  We had to take half-flooded back roads all the way to Albany.  It took us about 5 hours to get to Albany instead of the usual hour and a half, and Albany wasn’t even on the way to Indiana.  We picked up Adam and briefly thought about testing our luck with a Monday flight to Indianapolis, but carried on with the road trip instead.  14 more hours in a Chevy Malibu didn’t seem nearly as bad as getting fucked over by an airline at the last minute and missing our show.  We’d come this far.

6 more hours in the car.  At some point I got pulled over, for the second time in two days:

I always get pulled over in upstate NY.  The rental car was not registered to anyone who was actually in the car.  The cop didn’t know who “Guster” was, but liked the sob story about Hurricane Irene and let us continue on.  With a ticket. 

At 9pm we were tired and hungry and decided to get Indian food and crash at a Quality Inn in Erie PA.  We loaded the bags into the hotel, and just as I was about to have my first bite of chicken saag (mild) I decided to check the mattress, because the hotel was a little dodgy. 


Back in the car, to the Quality Inn (yes, same chain, it makes no sense) on the other side of town.  It’s actually a decent hotel and the guy behind the desk told us that this Quality Inn is completely separate from the other one, which makes you wonder about franchises, and principles, and what bedbugs feel like when they bite you in your sleep.  They should call their hotel chain Varying Quality Inn. 

Monday morning.  Continental breakfast.  How is it possible for eggs to taste this bad.  I made us stop at a Walmart in Ohio so I could have clothes to wear this week.  Immediately I’m attracted to the five dollar pile of solid color Faded Glory t-shirts, but they are all in sizes 3XL and 4XL.  That’s who shops for clothes at the Walmart in Cleveland.  And at the Walmart everywhere else.  I was forced to buy the one medium sized t-shirt I could find, and it says Chillaxin’ on it.

Right now we’re still in the car but it looks like we’ll make it to the show with two hours to spare.  So when you see me out there tonight in my crisp blue Chillaxin’ shirt, while my wife and child wither away on an Irene-induced island, know that it’s because we really really wanted to make this show happen, Indiana.

January 10, 2010

I wrote a studio journal!

Dalton’s been asking me to write a studio journal while we’re down here in Nashville working on our album — at this point, having only posted a few entries about our new material and the sessions we did with David Kahne last winter, I think it’s better to let Ryan handle the day-to-day stuff like Joe’s inner “Situation" on his Twitter account.  Maybe I’ll pan out and go big picture with this update. 

Every album is a different experience for us, with high points and low points, good ideas, bad ideas etc… sometimes it goes quickly and sometimes it takes forever.  There are so many dynamics at play, it’s tough to say why this album has been over a year in the making, but over the course of our careers we’ve always had these forces to contend with in the studio:   Guster vs. Nature, Guster vs. Label, Guster vs. Technology, Guster vs. Lyrics, Guster vs. Producer, Guster vs. Guster.  It’s that last one that can be a real dagger.

Parachute (1994) isn’t something I recall too well.  We were mostly just psyched to be making an album and to have a producer willing to help us figure out how to do it (Mike Denneen).  Surely if people liked our 11 songs we could convince Adam to quit the Beelzebubs (Tufts a capella group) and join Gus full-time. We ran into the harsh limitations of our own playing abilities (Guster vs. Nature) on that record, and brought in some pros to play drums and bass.  Also, since these were pre-digital days, we would be “punching” hand drums for hours and cutting tape with razor blades to make things correct (Guster vs. Technology).

Goldfly (1997) was an absolute disaster of an experience.  We had a vision for the album and butted heads with Steve Lindsey (Guster vs. Producer) for an entire month in Los Angeles.  Why the hell did we fly out west to record when we were funding the record ourselves anyway?  It went quickly and painfully, and while many people like this album, lots of things slipped through the cracks (did we really dub out that “jackyl” lyric on Bury Me?) while we kept the process from drowning in tension.  This album got picked up by a major label, somehow, but gave us the anger we needed to take the next step.

Lost & Gone Forever (1999) was a joy to make.  We brought in Steve Lillywhite to execute a vision he shared with us.  It took two months.  Done.

Keep It Together (2003) took forever, and was recorded with two producers in various stages, with plenty of tension all around.  Roger Moutenot hung in there with us while we learned new instruments (Guster vs. Nature) and arranged songs like “Come Downstairs & Say Hello” on our shiny new Macintosh computers (Guster vs. Technology).    Ron Aniello came in for a second batch of songs (Guster vs. Label) after our A&R guy didn’t think we were finished writing, and Careful, Keep It Together, Homecoming King, and Amsterdam were all added to the record, with Rosenworcel on lyrics for three of those (Guster vs. Lyrics, Guster vs. Guster).  Ron was an inspiration.  Only producer we’ve ever worked with twice.  At one point during the exhaustive process of recording Keep It Together, Steve Lillywhite told Ryan (read this with a thick British accent, please) — “Every time U2 reinvents themselves it takes them four years, so the way I see it, you’ve still got a year to go.”

Ganging Up on the Sun (2006) added Joe to the mix and was documented for a while by Dave Yonkman, if you want to see us in action.  The high points were incredibly high during that recording, and we all felt we were making something very special.  We ran into our label and our lack of lyrics in a big way towards the end though, and brought in Ron Aniello to play the role of “The Wolf” again — this time yielding half of the album, including “Hang On,” my favorite song from the album.  I can’t stress enough the fact that our albums have actually benefitted from our label telling us to keep writing.  It’d be more fun to say “fuck you” than “you’re right” — but in our experience so far, major labels have only pushed us to greater heights. 

Still Untitled (2010) has seen us confront all our familiar foes (Nature, Label, Technology, Lyrics, Producer, Guster), with a special asterisk on Producer this time around, and a new force to throw into the mix:  Guster vs Their Own Expanding Families.  We have a lot of pride as a band, especially regarding our last few albums, and we’re not about to release an album until we all feel (heart of hearts etc) that it’s the best thing we’ve ever done.  In the year since my last studio journal, I’ve been awfully quiet on the blogging front, which is an indication that our recordings weren’t quite doing justice to the songs we’d written.  So I’m happy to say that in the last month since we’ve taken matters back into our own hands and returned to Joe’s Place in Nashville, we’re honing in on an album that will be our proudest yet.  It’s amazing how, after 19 years in a band, you have so much musicality, perspective, and collective creativity under your belt that you can just start painting a canvas together and it’ll start to look good.

I don’t know that I’ll get into the songs via studio journal this time.  There are lots of them, and tough choices to make, and I don’t want to jinx anything.  But we’re honing in on something very exciting.  And here is “Solid Potato Salad” for your viewing pleasure: