Breaking new ground

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By Gary Graff  

Much has changed since the original members of Guster met in 1992 at Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts. On the band's fifth studio album, Ganging Up on the Sun, Guster is no longer a trio, thanks to the addition of multi-instrumentalist Joe Pisapia, whose home studio was one of the recording locales. Guster has also continued to expand its sound from the acoustic guitars and hand percussion of its early efforts, into lusher and more full-bodied arrangements. That, according to singer-guitarist Adam Gardner, is all part of the plan.

Q: How did Guster approach Ganging Up on the Sun?

Adam Gardner: We stretched out for this record. We wanted to explore new territory and push ourselves and try a bunch of stuff. The last record (2003's Keep it Together) was about not being limited instrumentally. This one is about not being limited musically or in terms of genre. It definitely stretches us in a lot of different directions, yet still holds together as a collection.

Q: Were there particular touchstones or sources for the kind of album you wanted to make?

Gardner: Y'know, usually we have trouble citing influences for what we do, but on this record you can hear some influences, definitely from the Beatles and the Beach Boys, as usual, but also this time there's more Pink Floyd, more Creedence, some early Kinks. Overall, the common thread for this record is it really sounds like classic rock, in all the good ways. But it's still original. I don't think it's a total throwback.

Q: What's been the impact of having a fourth member in the band?

Gardner: This is the first time Joe's been in on the writing process right from the ground floor. On the last record we did one song with him, "Jesus on the Radio," before he was in the band, and then he toured with us. It's amazing how smooth the transition was, and how quickly we felt like we couldn't be a band without him. It was great.

Q: Was it hard incorporating someone new after ten years with just the three of you?

Gardner: It was interesting. We talked to him a lot, "What do you think about our writing process? Is it different?" He said it's so different from anything else he'd ever done. It's so democratic and almost communistic. He's like, "I can't believe this is how you guys write!" So that gave us some perspective on our process. And he kind of represented the whole, "Don't overthink this, let's feel it, and if it feels good, let's leave it." It was interesting having his influence not only musically but even from the actual approach of how we do the songs.

Q: Are there any concerns about how Guster's notoriously loyal fans are reacting to these changes?

Gardner: Honestly, no. At this point, every record's been so different that we anticipate losing some folks. There are still some fans who come to the show who think our first record (1994's Parachute) is our best record, and good for them. We don't agree, but fine. I think we just go ahead and do what we want to do. Ed (Robertson) from Barenaked Ladies told us that "The only thing worse than selling out to The Man is selling out to The Boy." You can't really worry about your fan base. You've got to do what you've got to do and hope they grow with you as you grow musically.

Gary Graff writes extensively about music. His work has appeared widely in such publications as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Detroit Free Press, and Billboard.