Few musicians can turn an already intimate venue into a family gathering. Few can bring people from as far as Boston and Maine to a small cafe in Ithaca and make a room dance with only a guitar and a voice. Reid Genauer seemed to do it all without much effort this past Saturday at the ABC Cafe, when he played a sold out show before an ecstatic and energetic crowd. For nine years, Reid was the frontman for the band Strangefolk, a grassroots success that toured across the country and released three albums. Saying goodbye to that band last September, he left the life on the road and entered a life a bit less strange. This transition brought him here to Ithaca to attend the Johnson School of Management. The night at the ABC was his second solo show since leaving Strangefolk, and he proved a commanding performer in his own right. I sat down with him after to show to talk about his music, his life, and making castles with words.
D: How was the transition from full-time touring musician to student?
Reid: Shitty. It was hard, a really hard transition. Going back to school is hard enough, and I lived such an unstructured lifestyle before… and it was hard to walk away from the band. It was my life, my heart, my blood. It was brutal.
D: How much music are you planning to play here in Ithaca?
Reid: Well, this is my climb back on the horse. I’d like to do a lot, but I needed a little time to unwind.
D: Do you enjoy intimate venues like this [the ABC Cafe] compared to the huge festivals and outdoor shows you played with Strangefolk?
Reid: Oh man, it was awesome; it’s much more of a rush. I mean, when you’re up on stage, there’s a veil of anonymity. There’s a certain callous there. You walk out there, and it’s your domain. And you’re, like, whatever, there may be a hundred thousand people and it’s all the same. It’s like this sea of color. Whereas here, in a room like this you’re with these faces and people. It’s intoxicating, because it’s so much more intimate.
D: So maybe this will motivate you to do more shows like this?
Reid: Oh definitely. It was high. I mean I’m flying right now. I could go on and on about it.
D: And you’re doing a show in Syracuse at the end of the month?
Reid: Yeah, the 31st at the OPL.
D: So what, other than the Johnson School, brought you to Ithaca?
Reid: Familiarity. My sister went here. Strangefolk has played here a dozen times. And it’s just a similar feel to Burlington [VT — where Reid lived since he graduated from UVM and formed Strangefolk]. It’s a place where I can feel at home, and safe. It’s a familiar zone for me. And my fiancee lives in Rochester, so that’s really what it comes down to.
D: What do you think of the music scene here in Ithaca?
Reid: Well, this is my first foray into it as of late. I know there is a thriving scene, with the Grassroots Festival, Donna the Buffalo. I know there’s a real folksy scene here. I’d love to become more involved with it.
D: Did you plan on music as your career after UVM?
D: What led you here?
Reid: I just got tired. I got burnt out from being on the road. I’m getting married, and I just wanted to try to be a civilian for a while. So that’s my motivation: to get up in the morning and have a refrigerator and a closet and all those normal things.
D: Here’s a tough one. If, for whatever reason, you could choose only one, which would it be: to be a songwriter, a singer, or a guitarist?
Reid: Shit, that is a tough question. I’d say songwriter. To me, the thing I appreciate so much is being able to communicate and share, to express the world. To paint a picture. To me, it really is like painting.
D: So that’s the creative process for you.
Reid: Definitely. I mean, I love performing and I get a high from it. One of the most painful things about quitting is knowing that I don’t have the immediate line to an audience. It’s like, knowing that I had this gig was such a part of my creative process because I wrote some songs and I got jocked and I was all ready to roll. So, songwriting.
D: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment as a musician?
Reid: My greatest accomplishment is Strangefolk. The fact that we created what we created from the ground up. You know, from dirt and from dust. We created something real, meaningful and viable and by far that is the biggest thing I have ever done in my life. And obviously it wasn’t just me, but it was the biggest thing I have ever been a part of.
D: And what were your influences with the band and on your own?
Reid: It’s weird. I was reading an interview with the Disco Biscuits recently and they said their greatest influences were their bandmates. Then I thought about it and I have to say that my greatest influences have definitely been my bandmates, especially Jon Trafton, the guitarist. Beyond that, I am a Deadhead, true and true. I love the Grateful Dead, Neil Young, Paul Simon. I like Elliot Smith, Lyle Lovitt, Elvis Costello, all people who build castles with words, and I think all those people do.
D: I can hear country and bluegrass influences as well.
Reid: Yeah, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings.They are all people I really admire.
D: What’s your relationship like now with the guys in Strangefolk?
Reid: It’s been strained the last few months because, I mean, I kind of slapped everyone in the face. But they’re my brothers and I’ve been through hell and back with them. I hope to God that I know them until the day I die.
D: Have you seen the new band [with new lead singer, Luke Montgomery]?
Reid: No. I can’t do it right now. It’s sort of like watching your ex-girlfriend having sex with her new boyfriend, I’m not really into it. But, I hear it sounds great and I wish them the best. I’m totally behind it. It’s tough though. It’s just too painful for me.
D: Was Strangefolk your ideal vision of a band?
Reid: Yes and no. I mean, being in a band, just like being in a relationship, is all about compromise. You have a vision, somebody else has a vision… You know, you bring your own song, for instance, and you have a vision of what it’s going to be, and it never is. So it’s like asking somebody, “is this your ideal woman?” There is no ideal woman, but you find the best fit possible. And as far as I’m concerned it [Strangefolk] was the best fit possible. But the very nature of being in a band is compromise.
D: Did you initially plan on being at the forefront of the Jamband scene? Do you feel that’s where your music fits?
Reid: Yes and no. It’s funny that you say we’re at the forefront of the scene, because I don’t think we are.
D: Well, when you guys hit the scene a lot of people, namely the neo-Deadhead crowd, really connected to bands like moe., Percy Hill, you guys…
Reid: Yeah, I always envisioned, when I thought of having a band, like I said, the Grateful Dead are my religion. Flat out, that’s what I modeled myself after. So the short answer is yes.
D: What musicians have you enjoyed collaborating with the most?
Reid: I love Percy [Percy Hill — a jamband from NH]. I have a lot of respect for them as songwriters and as people.
D: You’ve played a lot with Gordon Stone [banjo player
originally from Burlington]?
Reid: Yeah. Grodon’s great. He’s a staple at this point. But, you know, I have hats off to all of them; to Leftover Salmon, to moe., String Cheese, Galactic, Bela. Percy I know the best, so I have a bias. But I love their music. And I like Leftover’s music a lot. Those are the two that get the most play for me. I know every word to every moe. song though.
D: It’s interesting that you’re such a fan of the bands that emerged around the same time that you guys did?
Reid: Well, we’re brothers in arms, you know. We’re fighting comrades. We’ve been in the trenches together. I mean, god, we’ve played with them all like twenty times.
D: Describe your experience with record companies?
Reid: Record companies are a bitch. I mean, I don’t have any malice feelings toward them. They are what they are and they’re a business. They make decision based on finance — financial benchmarks and operational stuff, and it’s not about feel-good music, it’s about the bottom line, and that’s just the nature of the beast. And unfortunately, we got crunched by it. It sucks. There are ups and downs. The ups are that they have money and they have distribution. The trouble for me is that being on the road is not a glorious thing. I mean, it is for about a week, and it is at moments — there are pearls strung together. But the beautiful thing about making records is that you don’t have to go on the road as much. You still have to go a lot. But that’s where record companies have something to offer. They can offer you peace of mind and little more sanity… maybe. I definitely see the flipside too, which is do it all yourself and call me in the morning.
D: When you were with Strangefolk, you considered yourselves a touring band, right?
Reid: Well, we tried to walk the line between both. But our success was definitely in touring more than records.
D: And you’re records were a lot more polished than most of the stuff being released in the scene?
Reid: They were, and you know, we hoped to have a bigger push behind this last one [A Great Long While] and it just didn’t work out.
D: Do you consider A Great Long While a satisfying final statement with the band?
Reid: I don’t know. I love it, I think it’s our best. But, I mean, there is no perfect last statement. The perfect last statement would have been to keep playing with them until I’m fifty. I mean, we could have done another album right after A Great Long While; we had so many songs. So it feels really unfinished.
D: Is there anything else you want your fans to know?
Reid: If there was something else I’d want to say, it’s that for all those people who just shake their heads and wonder why I left; this is my passion. Everything else is to just make ends meet.
Archived article by Ben Kupstas