When Peter Griffin announced on "Family Guy" that Guster is the sweetest band of all time, those weren't empty words. Guster — Ryan Miller, vocals and guitar; Adam Gardner, vocals and guitar; Brian Rosenworcel, drums and percussion; and multi-instrumentalist Luke Reynolds — makes music that appeals to the masses. And the band itself is one of the most socially responsible acts in the industry; its affiliated non-profit organization, Reverb, is rooted in environmental causes.
The band broke out in 1999, with its third studio album, "Lost and Gone Forever." The album was a hit, overflowing with inspired songwriting and innovative percussion that can only be described as a rock 'n' roll spectacle. Guster followed it up with "Keep It Together" (2003), "Ganging Up on the Sun" (2006), and "Easy Wonderful" (2010). The albums were not only well-received, they also earned Guster a place on the musical landscape.
Guster's latest album, "Evermotion," is a chip off the old block wrapped up in a dreamy texture. This time, Guster reached out to its fans — known as Gusterrhoids — and a resulting album pre-sale campaign offered ridiculously cool prizes. The band has grown a large organic audience since its start at Tufts University. Guster and Gusterrhoids have maintained a long, sweet relationship for more than 20 years.
Guster is performing at Water Street Music Hall on Saturday, April 18, so City Newspaper spoke via phone with Ryan Miller a few hours before the band's show in Portland, Oregon. An edited version of that interview follows.
City: How awesome was it to be immortalized on Family Guy?
Ryan Miller: It was mega-awesome. It was a total surprise. I was in New Orleans, and at two in the morning, I started getting all these random texts. It was a funny joke and to be the punch line of a national show like that was super great.
Is Guster the sweetest band of all time?
I kind of have to remind everybody we are the punch line of a joke. I don't think they actually think we're the sweetest band of all time. But who doesn't want to be. I'm happy to get made fun of. It's stupendous.
Reverb is rooted in environmental causes. How important is a sense of social responsibility for you guys?
Reverb is an outgrowth of Adam (Gardner) and his wife Lauren. They saw what was happening on the road and she came from an environmental background. It's kind of his thing; we're really happy to support it and we totally believe in it 100 percent. It's super important. What Reverb has always stressed, and he stressed with us, is we don't have to be perfect. We want to do the little bit that we can internally and also use this platform, if people are interested, to help educate them on ways that they can do a little bit. It feels good to have a sense that we're not just laying waste to this country that we're crisscrossing every year.
Guster is back from a European tour. Any stories you'd like to share?
Europe was amazing. We were playing the smallest stages that we've probably ever played, including when we started 20 plus years ago. It was rewarding to be in new countries and new cities and playing in front of people that may or may not speak English. Every day we would wake up in another city and spread out and try to find Wi-Fi and find some weird place to eat. It was fantastic to have a tour that rewarding at this point in our career.
I met you guys at an after-show years ago. What has made Guster decide to maintain a close relationship with its fans?
The close thing is interesting — when we started we were sleeping on our fans' floors. We had a grassroots proto-street team. We were sending out CDs to people who liked our band, and then saying, "Set up a show, bring your friends, and can we sleep on your couch?" It's an extension of who we are and there's not a lot of pretense in our performances and we're not super pretentious guys. We realized early on that there is a lot of power in being who you are all the time.
You have always had a strong following in Rochester. Is there anything you would attribute that to?
It's been really hard to parse why we get more fans in some places. Sometimes it's radio but we don't get radio very consistently. We've played Rochester a few times. The more frequently we play a place then we'll do better. Performing at Water Street helps, too; it's a great room.
Guster offered some fantasy camp experiences coinciding with the release of your new album, "Evermotion." Did anyone purchase the skydiving experience or the Tesla?
No. No one purchased any of our stupid ideas. They were really funny, I thought. None of those got picked up. Which is fine.
It was you and Adam that were going to go skydiving with a fan. Have you guys been skydiving before?
Adam's been. I've never been. That was the other thing — we wanted to pick things that we wanted to do legitimately. If somebody bought it we wouldn't feel like, "Oh this sucks." I kind of wanted to DJ a Bar Mitzvah in a Wookiee outfit.
Can you tell us about the new album?
It's our seventh full-length album and our first with Luke Reynolds as a writer. It's the fastest we've ever made a record. We did it with this guy, Richard Swift, who we had known. He works really quickly and also he's a little bit off axis; he is a very unconventional record producer. You'll hear me talk about this a lot, about staying out of our comfort zone and trying to challenge ourselves; it was a really good match. We wrote very slowly over a 2-year period and at the end felt like we had songs that we're really proud of and felt like it was a step forward in a way that we require of ourselves at this point. We went in to Cottage Grove, Oregon, and made this crazy record with this crazy guy. We're super proud of it.
I like it. I can't wait to hear it live.
It's coming together now. We never consider how to play these songs live when we write the record. There's always a month or so where we try to figure out how to present these songs in the best possible light. The live versions are going great.
What advice would you give to a band that's interested in growing a fan base?
I was in Seattle last night and I was talking to Phil Ek who mixed our record but also made records with Fleet Foxes, Modest Mouse, and Band of Horses. We were late night bullshitting about the music industry and about bands. At the end of it, he's like, "It's just about songs. And you know that." That's the thing. Eventually what you figure out is that you can always luck into something with some cool bells and whistles, but the bands that really last are bands that write songs. The songs are the most important part of the whole process.
Would you say you're happy with all that you've accomplished in 20 years?
Yeah. It's a rare feat for there to be a band that's been around for as long as we have who I feel, and I don't know if people agree with this, is making the best music of our career. That's something that I am really proud of. There is this idea, and it's the title of the record, "Evermotion." We never feel like we've done it. It's all sealed from a sense that we can always make better records and put on better shows and this real interest in pushing ourselves forward as much as possible. That has a lot to do with why we're still a band for as long as we've been. We've always been interested in writing better songs and making better records.