On Friday the 23rd and Saturday the 24th, the original Strangefolk will regroup for performances at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY (the site of a Strangefolk show on 12/27/98 that the group released earlier this year). The lighting director for the occasion will be Jefferson Waful (Umphrey’s McGee). who conducted this interview with the group’s Reid Genauer back in 1999.
Reid Genauer is the lead singer of one of the fastest growing bands in the country, Strangefolk. Their blend of “strange folk” and psychedelic jamming has been attracting huge crowds from coast to coast. I spoke with Reid last month from his hotel room in Buffalo.
JW: Let’s start back at the beginning and talk a little bit about when the band first formed at the University of Vermont. Was there any kind of a vision that this was ever gonna be a full-time thing or was it just sort of a day to day evolution?
RG: Gosh, it’s a hard question to answer. You know, I think it was like anybody who plays guitar…sure there was that thought in the back of your mind, envisioning yourself as a rock and roll star and just kind of the American dream aspect, but it was never really like a reality. I never really thought it would come into fruition. Not that we’re rock and roll stars, but you know what I mean, we didn’t think we’d be doing this as career-type thing. It slowly took shape.
JW: Was there a certain event or a certain time period where all the sudden you guys realized that it could become a full time thing and decided to throw all your eggs in one basket and just go for it?
RG: I think it kind of evolved. We found some success in Burlington among our friends; our fellow UVM students. That definitely boosted our confidence to know that people actually found some validity in what we were doing. There were all sorts of momentous occasions, but another big one was just graduating college and saying with almost blind stupidity, ‘this is what we’re doing.’ You know? It was that simple. It was just a decision.
JW: So when did the whole Strangefolk organization first start out? You work with guys that were just friends of yours. They certainly didn’t have much experience. Did they just sort of learn as they went along?
RG: Yeah, Brett (Fairbrother), Sam (Ankerson) and Andre (Gardner) were just kind of there and we never really knew what the titles were, you know, in a typical rock organization. We just knew, kind of loosely, what we had to get done. People just started doing it and the tasks just slowly got done. People learned what it was that had to happen and we’re still learning, you know?
JW: Yeah, because certainly now you’re playing major league venues, you have the record deal and you’re making a lot of decisions on a business level. Was it ever intimidating? Did the band’s success ever grow too quickly?
RG: No not really. We’ve definitely worked hard every step of the way. We’ve fought for it, you know? So generally, it feels deserved. But, certainly it’s intimidating at times. I mean, it has been and still is. I guess the more you do it, the more you realize this is the same process only in different atmospheres, you know what I mean?
JW: Definitely. I spoke with you last year and I remember you talking about the first time you played Boston, you looked at the Somerville Theatre and said, “wow, I can’t imagine if we’ll ever play there.” Now all the sudden, you’ve moved past that. You did two sell out shows there last year and now you’ve moved on to the Avalon. How does that feel? Do you ever just take a step back and smell the roses?
RG: Yeah, I mean when we do stop to examine it, it is certainly pleasing. I always use this analogy, but it’s a good one: You can’t imagine being in sixth grade when you’re a third-grader. And then you get to sixth grade and you move on to eight grade. You don’t necessarily look back at sixth grade and think, ‘holy cow, I can’t believe I’m in eight grade,’ it just a natural transition. I think a lot of the transitions that we’ve experienced physically, organizationally and musically are comparable to that equation.
JW: Okay, let’s use that analogy. What grade is Strangefolk in now, musically speaking?
RG: Tough to say. I’d say we’re sophomores in high school or something like that. Or maybe, actually…sophomores in college.
JW: You’ve done the whole grass roots thing. You guys are obviously a touring-success. Can you talk about the thought process that went on within the organization, leading up to the record contract? I’m sure you had many more offers before you actually made the decision to sign with Mammoth.
RG: The thought process was that we had always assumed that at some point we would have a record company and I don’t know whether that was our own limitations or if in fact it is a necessary component of success. For one reason or another, we just sort of assumed that we would have a record company behind us. The truth of the matter is, it wasn’t like we had hundreds of offers. Usually what does happen is once you do start seeing offers, a lot of times, bands will use them as leverage to try and go out and hunt down other offers and then sort of play the companies off each other. In this instance, we were pretty self-assured that a deal would come around at some point, whether it was this one or not, that was to our liking. We made it clear to them (Mammoth Records) that we were happy with where we were and that we were succeeding by ourselves. We said, ‘this is what we think we’re worth and these are points that are important to us, both financially, creatively and control-wise, and if you can accommodate those needs then we won’t look any further. Basically, treat us fairly and we’ll treat you fairly’…and they did.
JW: You basically said to them, ‘we don’t really need you at this point, so if you want to come along, it’s gonna be on our terms.’
RG: Pretty much. There were a few concessions that we needed to make, but overall, they were willing. It wasn’t like we were bullying them or they were bullying us. Like I said, they treated us fairly, we made a few concessions and we came to an agreement.
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