There is a special kind of alchemy that is required in order for a band to make it as a self-sustaining entity. They need to be talented, this much is most usually true. But they also have to be smart enough to be able to tackle the business side of things, and driven enough to keep grinding out the long days on the road and the even longer days off. And, yes, there is a certain element of luck, always lurking in the background. These things always come in unequal measure; sometimes a band that is short on talent will be long on luck, and the results will be the same. One thing is universal, however: there is never time to rest on ones laurels.
“It's a very dynamic thing,” said Guster frontman Ryan Miller. “We all have entropy against us, universally. I don't know for sure if there's this perception of 'oh you've established yourself, and now you can just cruse,' but if there is, that's not true. You constantly have to fight to keep things alive.”
“Creatively, work ethic, all that stuff,” he continued. “In the realms of music and film and art, there's this constant focus on what's new. We sort of fight that in a lot of ways, and the foil to that is that we've been a part of people's lives for so long that we've become this sort of ritual for some people. Young people will say 'I've been listening to your band since I was 5.' That has a weight and means something very special to us.”
Year in, year out, Guster continues to fight the good fight against entropy. The band routinely tours over 200 days a year, and continues to maintain a close relationship with its fans. As Miller said, the fan/band relationship is about more than just the music on an album, it is an intertwined dynamic, about interacting at shows and posing for pictures. It is about signing autographs and buying merch and road tripping to see your favorite band and spending the night on some fan's couch. Guster has been doing all of that for 25 years now, with no intention of stopping.
“Going to places that we haven't been in a while really excites us,” Miller said of beginning each new Guster tour. “We've been doing this long enough that we're really appreciate of our time on the road. I had a really cool moment the other night in Washington DC when I was walking back to the bus after a show. It was dark and cold and nobody was around, and it was like 'man, I've got a pretty cool life'.”
All the touring does make it hard to create the next steps, creatively. Miller says that the band has tried writing on the road, but with minimal success, meaning that most of the writing waits for the small breaks between tours.
“We're not hyper-prolific as a band,” he admitted. “Hence 25 years and 7 albums. On a creative front, every time we set out to make a record, we have that 'fuck' moment of 'what are we going to do now?' How do we create something new that builds upon what we've already done, but keeps things fresh for our fans?”
“One of the interesting things about our band is that our albums have changed a lot (over the years),” he added. “We have no intention of going back to that first sound. People like that we're constantly exploring. Sometimes we're more successful than others, but you've got to follow your own lead, creatively. If you can do that, that's half the battle.”
Originally appeared in Cityview January 27, 2016