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Guster: The New Guy

 story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: Oct. 26, 2006

w/ Trippin Balls
Tuesday, Oct. 31, 8p.m.
Sokol Auditorium
13th & Martha

Want more Guster?

Check out the Dec. 2, 1999 Lazy-i interview with Ryan Millar, or

Check out the July 2, 2003, Lazy-i interview with Brian Rosenworcel.


Joe Pisapia is the new guy, but, really, he isn't exactly the new guy. Pisapia has been performing with Guster for over three and a half years, all the way back to the band's Keep It Together album, where he contributed the campfire rocker "Jesus on the Radio."

It was the beginning of a relationship that would evolve naturally into Pisapia becoming a card-carrying member of Guster, joining the original trio of guitarist/vocalist Ryan Miller, guitarist/vocalist Adam Gardner and drummer/percussionist/bongo player Brian Rosenworcel.

Pisapia was introduced Guster through another musical compadre, Lincoln Nebraska native Josh Rouse, who remains a close friend of Pisapia, as evidenced by the fact that my phone call for this interview interrupted a visit by Rouse to Pisapia's Nashville home.

"Josh's dropped off his amp. He needs an amp doctor," Pisapia said, as he said goodbye to his pal. "It all goes back to Josh in a weird way. Josh hung his hat in Nashville and we got to be buddies. When he opened for Guster, my band at the time had just finished our record. Josh gave it to Guster, and they said they wanted to play with us. We toured with them in 2000, and we all became friends. It's weird how it all ties in."




A career with Guster never entered his mind at the time. Pisapia had his own band, cleverly titled Joe, Marc's Brother, and a burgeoning solo career, along with plenty of work producing other bands' recordings. But one thing led to another…

"Some friends of mine produced Keep It Together, and we wrote 'Jesus on the Radio' for that and went into the studio with them," Pisapia said. "We recorded it in a day, and that was my only contribution to that record."

Impressed with Pisapia's multi-instrumental abilities, the band asked him come along on tour, playing a little guitar, a little bass, keyboards, banjo, and lap steel. "I always got billed as the multi-instrumental guy, but we all sort of switch off during the set," Pisapia said.

It was a great gig, and a chance to play for a much larger audience. Pisapia said that by this time in Guster's career, the band had just begun to take it to the next level, from playing clubs to larger halls. In addition to just having a good time, Pisapia thought the touring couldn't hurt his other projects. But he certainly didn't count on Guster becoming a permanent gig.

"Originally, when I first joined up, it didn't seem like we were going to be gone forever," he said, "but that became a reality. I turned around and realized, holy shit, I've been home a month and a half a year for the last three years. It became less and less likely that I was going to be able to put my own tours together."

But that didn't stop people from searching out Pisapia's solo work. "I've been selling more and more records simply by association by more and more curious people," he said.

Pisapia said he's actually working on another solo record, but despite that, he's dedicated himself to Guster, have received full writing credits on the band's new album, Ganging Up on the Sun. Whether he recognized it or not, somewhere along the way he became an official member of the band.

"When we first put out Keep It Together, I was at the record release party in Boston. Remember, I was only on one song on that record," Pisapia said. "They had a big record signing after the show, and I said 'I'll see you guys later,' and they said, 'You're signing, too.' And even to this day, people bring up a copies of (the 1995 debut) Parachute for me to sign. I say, 'You know that I didn't even know those guys back then.'

"When we were working on the new record, we were all locked in a rehearsal room for months and months, writing songs," he said. "At that point, just having been in a band that long and having their ideas bounce off me and having my own ideas integrated in the process, the relationship got a lot more intimate."





"I turned around and realized, holy shit, I've been home a month and a half a year for the last three years."



"There are magical moments that happen in the studio, and as was we get older, it's important for us to be part of a record that's part of where we are in lives."


Ganging Up on the Sun continues in the same tradition of strong, tuneful songwriting heard on Guster's earlier classics, like '99's Lost and Gone Forever and '03's Keep It Together. Their formula is simple. It starts with a strong melody built around a catchy riff and goes from there. Guster's music is deceptively simple and relaxed, and more often than not, coaxes listeners to absentmindedly sing along. That subconscious embrace-ability has made their music a staple on adult contemporary radio as well as fodder for movie and television soundtracks.

But there's also a shift in style on Ganging… that comes from a willingness to take chances outside the usual Guster formula. Sure, there's plenty of classic Guster tunage, like the catchy single "One Man Wrecking Machine," the banjo-plucking stomper "The Captain," and piano-driven rambler "Manifest Destiny," but there's also the wandering epic "Ruby Falls," a grand ballad that stretches for over seven minutes -- an unheard of length for a Guster song.

Pisapia said the album was produced essentially in two parts. "Half the tracks we produced ourselves," he said. "We would be playing as a band together and say 'Let's cut the track.' We stretched things out, and there were a lot of songs that were our own indulgences."

As with Keep It Together, the band played the first set of songs for the folks at their label, Reprise, and once again, the label wanted more material. Ron Aniello, who worked on Keep It Together, was brought in and spent five months with the band. "We agreed that it would be good to have some more songs in the kitty," Pisapia said, "and it was nice to have another ear to bounce stuff off of.

"We were going for a real classic sound when we made this record. Everyone is a huge fan of The Beatles and The Kinks and Bob Dylan and Neil Young. There are magical moments that happen in the studio, and as was we get older, it's important for us to be part of a record that's part of where we are in lives. When we did the second half of writing, it was challenging coming up with riffs that really communicated to people in a genuine way without sounding forced. We struck a good balance."

He's also struck a balance as a member of Guster. Pisapia said the transition to becoming "one of the guys" has meant trading one form of enjoyable exhaustion for another. He looks back fondly at a time in his life when he had just finished his solo record, had done a few solo tours mostly overseas, and spent the rest of his time working 12-hour days as a producer. "I loved it," he said. "I got wrapped up in a series of production jobs for a year or two. It was fun and demanding having to be a decision maker or devil's advocate.

"When I went out with Guster, it was a like a vacation. I didn't have to set up my gear, all I had to do was play. Now I have to deal with the reality of touring so many months a year. That has a different kind of exhaustion associated with it. It takes something different out of you."

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Copyright © 2006 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.