Calling from his home in the Bay area, just south of San Francisco, Reid Genauer is describing a certain headspace:
“I’d just gotten caught up in a lot of the same stuff that everybody else is caught up in, feeling disoriented at best, sort of semi-paralyzed…And so I was asking myself, “What can I do to help alleviate this shit storm?” And I was really puzzled by it. But then I was like ‘Oh, I should just do what I do,’ which is make music and encourage people to lean on it and on each other to just break the circle and find even just a minute of relief.”
This is how Conspire to Smile, Genauer’s new collaborative solo project came to be. Featuring the original lineup of Strangefolk, the current lineup of Assembly of Dust and a gaggle of musicians from the jamband community (like Jennifer Hartswick, Scott Metzger, Ryan Montbleau, Elliott Peck, Marc Friedman and more) Genauer made a record that is anchored in positivity, love and compassion. Covers include “Let Love Rule” and “All You Need Is Love,” as well as two new never-before-heard originals.
With the help of Assembly of Dust drummer Dave Diamond on the production side (“I’m sort of the man behind the curtain and Dave is getting it done,” Genauer jokes), Conspire to Smile has launched as a Kickstarter project
In a wide-spanning conversation, Genauer opened up about the goals of his new project, how the Grateful Dead inspire him and how a new Strangefolk/Assembly of Dust record is closer than you think. (You can also stay up to date on the Conspire to Smile project on Genauer’s website.)
I have the list of Conspire to Smile tracks in front of me. And I know they have a running theme, but how did you specifically choose each one of these? And are there any of them that you kind of see as a centerpiece of the record?
Part of it was certainly the message, I wanted them all to have positive messages. And then part of it is the feel. I wanted to have songs that lent themselves to having an upbeat, buoyant feel. And so we changed some of the feels and stuff, but those were the two requirements.
I’d like to say it was a totally scientific process—it wasn’t.
Are you excited to use Kickstarter as a way to fund this project?
Yeah. I’ve done it once before and there’s an element of it that feels like you’re kind of wandering the internet with a tip jar. But in the context of this project it really made sense because it’s not about Kickstarting an album and it’s not just about the money, that’s sort of a necessary evil. It’s more about Kickstarting an ideal. And it just seemed to me, metaphorically and literally, you’re investing in the ideal. And Kickstarter, one of the things I like about it is when you participate in a project you feel a part of it. It’s not a purchase, it’s like an emotional investment. And it strikes me as a very apropos platform for this project.
I’m curious about the title-track of the record, which is one of the two originals of Conspire to Smile .
It’s kind of a play on words intended to be mildly humorous: yeah, let’s fully embrace a conspiracy to smile. I think of it, it’s nerdy but it’s a great metaphor, as Star Wars. The force, consciousness, the life force. Energy and matter, basically. And it’s easy to give in to the dark side. It’s so profound when you think about it. It’s easier to focus on the car wreck and not the sunny day. And the struggle that Luke Skywalker has is, how do I conspire to smile? How do I embrace the light? Which is harder to do because that’s not how we naturally think. It takes more willpower and more strength.
There’s the playfulness which is, “Hey, remember to smile and smell the flowers,” and then there’s a deeper message there.
The refrain is, “Keep me safe and I’ll keep you wild,” and it’s this notion that rock n’ roll has this sort of reckless abandon to it, this freedom, and anti-authoritarian air. It can provide that sense of wonder and lawlessness and at the same time provide a sense of belonging and security if you believe in it.
Where and when did you kind of put all these ideas to paper?
Well, I wrote the song just recently but it was prior to actually having all this framework that I’m describing. It was just kind of, again, almost like an instinctual reaction. And then I took one of my kids to the Summer of Love exhibit at the de Young Museum and they had the Grateful Dead at the center of it. What struck me about it is when you strip away the unicorns and rainbows and the commercial way that history retells that. And when you strip away some of the negative, the darkness that came out of it, the substance abuse and all that kind of stuff, their intent was really righteous and really pertinent given where we are today, which was to change the way we perceive the world, the way we address it and the way we understand it.
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