A more mellow, matured Guster emerges on ‘Evermotion’
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The bongos are back. The venerable acoustic guitars, not so much. Did someone say xylophones? You bet. How ’bout a splash of vintage synth? Keyboards? Yup.
While that’s oversimplifying things, it pretty much cuts to the chase when discussing the latest offering from ’90s alt-rockers Guster. That album, “Evermotion,” their seventh studio outing and the first on their own label Ocho Mule, found the band (now a quartet) at a career crossroads: Choose the familiar path of tried-and-true or take a detour down that side road up ahead.
With: Kishi Bashi
When: 7:30 p.m. April 10
Where: Riviera Theater, 4746 N. Racine
Tickets: $35 (18+over)
For Guster (Adam Gardner, Ryan Miller, Brian Rosenworcel and newest member Luke Reynolds), the latter prevailed, as “Evermotion,” a collection of mid-tempo pop, lives up to their desire to be new and fresh, or as drummer Rosenworcel summed it up in a recent chat, “evolution.”
Did they fear their diehard fans feel betrayed? Alienated?
“I feel like anybody left at this point has already been alienated,” Rosenworcel said with a hearty laugh. “When we create a song like ‘Simple Machine’ that sounds more like Kraftwerk, we’re aware people’s heads are gonna spin around. And we start thinking, maybe we shouldn’t do this, or not even a fleck of that. But that’s kind of how we’ve operated since we started playing bass and drums and keyboards and abandoned our folky shtick around the turn of the millennium. We’ve done what we’ve needed to do to keep our music going in the direction we wanted.”
Creating “Evermotion” was liberating on so many levels, Rosenworcel said, thanks in great measure to the band’s desire to move in a new direction creatively, and producer Richard Swift (keyboardist for the Black Keys, touring bassist for the Shins), who made them believe that perfection is not necessarily the end game. Famous for never spending more than a few weeks on an album, Swift delivered “Evermotion” in three. It’s perhaps the band’s most organic outing to date.
It’s the first project since the band came into being at Tufts University in 1991 for which a producer so completely took the reins, reinventing the Guster music process.
“We chose our dream producer, Richard Smith,” Rosenworcel said. “He was making a lot of records we were really into. Instead of doing the usual Guster thing where we get into the minutiae of doing things our way with a producer, we completely turned ourselves over to Richard Smith ways. [Laughing] His method was entirely different than ours. He has never spent more than a week or two on a record; we’ve spent a year or more on a record. There were definitely fewer takes this time out and that’s because he sees the big picture. He leaves the mistakes in because they’re real. He’s gonna take care of miking the drums in a way that ‘s minimalist and cool. He’s making that keyboard sounds just. We didn’t have to worry about any of that. It helped us focus on what was really important: writing the songs. We love the sound on this album. It’s a big step for us artistically.”
Perhaps not only artistically, but emotionally as well. This is not the Guster of “Parachute,” “Simple Machine” or even their last release “Easy Wonderful” (2010). Rosenworcel attributes some of that evolution to Father Time: They’ve grown up. (Rosenworcel was tending to the potty-training needs of his young twins on the day we chatted.)
“It think the [new] sound is mature because we’re more mature, I hope,” he said laughing. “We’ve got families, kids. Even our songwriting process matured. We’ve definitely been on pretty long cycles when it came to releasing music, pretty much in line with national elections and World Cups. We had kids and moved to other cities.
“We feel our songs on this album are stronger than ever. For us it’s always been about doing even better the next time out. If you look at the Strokes, they started with ‘This Is It,’ which is a masterpiece. Where do you go from there? We started with ‘Parachute,’ which we did in college, and a lot of people still like it. But it left us lots of room to grow and discover.”
As for the much talked-about video for “Long Night,” one of the first cuts off the new album, Rosenworcel said the band again turned itself over completely to the creative hands of another, this time veteran video director-producer Drew Lightfoot (the Cure, the Raconteurs). And no, those reflective tape-wearing figures in the darkness are not Guster.
“He’s the only director who’s delivered us a video in which we had absolutely no say [Laughs] and we’re like, this is awesome; put it up!”
The Chicago gig at the Riv, Rosenworcel said, is one of the band’s most-anticipated gigs on the new tour.
“We’ve been to Chicago so many times, it’s hilarious. We played an acoustic show last time we were there and it also happened to be opening day at Wrigley Field. It was a bit of a mistake. [Laughs] Playing this string section and more mellow songs and everyone in the crowd was Wrigley Field-wasted! We’ve been looking forward to avenging that show! We’ve made sure our booking agent looks at the Cubs schedule from now on.”