Last summer, Strangefolk fans and supporters grew disheartened with the announcement that Reid Genauer had decided to leave the band. After nearly a decade with the group, he elected to enter to graduate school (a prestigious business school program at an Ivy League institution). Genauer’s final performance with Strangefolk took place at the band’s Garden of Eden festival over Labor Day weekend. This capped off a tumultuous year for the group, in which its label (Mammoth) changed ownership and then decided to drop most of its upcoming releases, including A Great Long While, the album that Strangefolk had recorded with noted producer Nile Rogers (Rogers eventually released the disc through his own imprint). The band itself has rebounded, recently completing an east coast tour with the addition of Scott Shdeed on keyboards and Luke Montgomery on guitar/vocals. Meanwhile, many individuals remained eager to learn whether Genauer had abandoned live performance altogether.
Reid answered these questions in late February, surfacing for solo gigs in Ithaca, New York. In the months to come he will continue an attenuated tour itinerary (dictated in part by the rigors of b-school), with upcoming dates in Syracuse on March 31, a two set show at Wetlands on May 17 and a few more in the works. The proceeding interview took place via email, as Genauer balances an intensive school workload with some tentative steps towards resuming a live performance schedule.
DB- First off what would you like your fans and the musical community in general to know about your departure from Strangefolk?
RG- I guess what I would like people who are interested to know is how sorry I am. I know I let a lot of people down. I know there are some folks who are still angry at me for bailing. I wish I could call each one and explain myself and ask them for their understanding. I know Strangefolk means a lot to a group of people and some are mad at me for hurting the band and disturbing the magic. Although it may not have seemed that way, Strangefolk still means a lot to me. It is everything I have been for the last decade. I had been writing songs and praying for a band like Strangefolk since I was fourteen. I love the music we made but the rigors of touring and the constant emotional roller coaster were killing me. I wish I could have had my cake and eaten it too but I couldn’t figure out how to make that happen. Unfortunately at the end of the day you have to blow with your own wind, even if it is taking you away from people you care about. For me it wasn’t a lack of commitment to the music. It was a lack of commitment to the lifestyle. I wrote a song called “Utterly Addled” and in it I say, I’ve come unhinged, I think I’m falling apart . I needed to wake up in my own bed and drive my car to the corner store, do all those normal things for a time just to feel like both my feet were back on the ground. I feel that way these days. I think the threat of always having to get up and go was just as much a part of what wore me down as the actual getting up and going.
DB- In terms of your ultimate decision to leave the band, how long had you been thinking about it? Was there any one precipitating factor?
RG- I had been thinking about it on and off for years. It was one of those thoughts that was often there gnawing at me but I sort of beat it down and stored it in the closet with the gimp. It was by far the hardest decision I have ever made. I still am sort of reeling from it. Strangefolk was and is such a huge part of me. In fact for all of us there was a blurred line as far as where the individual ended and the band began. I gave all of myself to the band for a long time. That was part of the problem I guess. I just needed to be an individual for a spell and not part of a whole. My soul was tired. In the end though it felt like ripping my own skin off. I guess for me the breaking point was the whole Mammoth fiasco. Not that they are to blame. It was just the straw that broke the camels back. I got freaked out by it all.
DB- What was the experience like at Eden? Were you caught up in the enormity and emotion of it being your “farewell show?”
RG- Like you would not believe. It was by far the most emotional experience I have had to date. Powerful just powerful. I was up there on stage bawling my eyes out. It was very bittersweet. To look out over the crowd and know that I was leaving was a sad, sad feeling. It rocked me.
DB- Jumping back to Mammoth and A Great Long While? What are your overall feelings about the disc? Favorite songs? Less-than-favorite songs?
RG- I think it is by far our best album. Its the one I can listen to and cringe the least, anyway. There are one or two parts where I feel like its a little too glossy but overall I feel like its a powerful album. There are little moments that speak to me. I like the drum fill in “Chasing Away,” right before the bridge. I like Jon’s solo in “I Tell Myself” a lot. I like the build up at the end of “What Say You.” Believe it or not the horn solo in “Mama” moves me. The songs make me smile. Man those damn songs are like long lost friends. I miss them.
DB- Have you heard or seen the new band?
RG- No. I want to but I cant quite make the leap. It hurts too bad.
DB- What do you think about Luke (Patchen) singing some of the songs that you wrote?
RG- I’m not sure. I’m glad the songs are being kept alive. I’m glad the band still wants to play them. In fact I’m honored. I hear Luke does a great job with them and I hope he continues to and that he can make them his own in some way. Its strange though. I said earlier that I felt like I ripped of my own skin. I sort of feel like he’s wearing it.
DB- How did your relationship with Jon evolve over time? How would you describe it now?
RG- Jon and I were like brothers in a lot of ways. We all were. We had moments of tension and we took each other for granted but there was and is real affection for one another. Right now things are a little weird. I was a bit of a shit. I just wasn’t sure how to handle the situation. It pretty much was going to suck anyway you cut it but I made it harder than it had to be. I just sort of pulled my own plug.
DB- Now it appears you will performing again- what led to this decision? Was it your intention all along?
RG- I didn’t really know what my intention was. I was just sort of fumbling for the last few months. There was no decision to be made. I need to play and perform. I itch for it. I suppose I always will.
DB- Why is music so important to you? Has its significance changed over the years? If so, how?
RG- I don’t really know why. I have told this story often but it is worth telling again. I once road up the chairlift with a priest. He was a young guy with sort of long hair and I asked him why he choose to be a priest. It struck me as an unusual choice for a young, athletic guy. He replied, it choose me. That’s how I feel about music. My feelings have not significantly changed. I guess for a while there I lost sight of why I love it so much. In part because I was just tuckered out. I don’t really know what else to say. Its a wonderful release. These past few weeks I have been really enjoying music for the sake of music and not some larger professional goal.
DB- You performed some new material at your show in Ithaca? Are those songs you had written since you left Strangefolk? How soon after you left did you start writing again?
RG- I think three I wrote after I left the band and a few were from before and had never seen the light of day.
DB- So you wrote some songs over the years that you never felt were appropriate for Strangefolk?
RG- Yeah there are some songs that weren’t great for the band. Sometimes I knew that was the case right when I wrote them, sometimes we learned they didn’t work after trying them on stage and sometimes I would play them for the rest of the band and sort of get a blank stare and know that maybe this song should be left in the closet for a while . You Lay the Dust is a really mellow ballad that we never really played. I used to sneak the words into one of our other songs from time to time but we never played it as a complete song. “Heartblood” is another one that we all sort of dreaded for one reason or another.
DB- Has your b-school experience altered your take on your musical career?
RG- I realize what I did right and what I did wrong with new clarity. I think if I ever did return to a life of music and sin I could do it in a more effective and logical way. I guess its like learning to play the guitar and then taking lessons. Your eyes are opened as to why certain things work and others don’t.
DB- Do you anticipate you will continue down your prior path and resume a musical career of sorts?
RG- I am really not sure. I love to play music and I said I feel compelled to do so in one way, shape or form. For now I am happy to do it in little bits and pieces and in a way that feels good.
DB- Final question, I know there are many people out there who would like to know if you hope to perform with Jon, Erik and Luke again?
RG- I would love to. Right now they are focused on rebuilding the band with the new guys and establishing a reputation without me. Once everything is smoothed over and up and running I hope to visit. Time will tell if it is meant to be or not. I miss the band, the songs, the fans and the total experience.