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Guster's Ryan Miller Talks New Beginnings, Helping Young Bands Ahead of Unique Tour: Interview

by Carolyn Menyes   Nov 4, 2015 16:05 PM EST

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For new bands in high school and college, it's seemingly easier than ever to get your music out in to the open. Loading your discography on to iTunes or Bandcamp or Spotify is just a couple of clicks and minutes away. But, to truly reach an audience, there lies the challenge in 2015. And, for a select group of rising bands, Guster is here to help.

Beginning Thursday (Nov. 5), Guster will be hitting the road for a handful of shows. Instead of enlisting another established band to join them on the touring roster, the band decided to pay it forward and give the opening slot to 13 local college and high school bands.

Music Times recently spoke to Guster frontman Ryan Miller about the inspiration behind the unique supporting acts decision and what it means to go indie and truly make it as a band in an ever-changing landscape.

Music Times: For your upcoming tour, you enlisted high school and college bands to open for you. Can you talk a little bit about why you decided to do that?

Ryan Miller: Yeah. We kind of have this conversation at the beginning of every tour, like, who are we going to get out, who are we going to bring out tour with us and we make a list of our favorite bands and they're too expensive or not available. So my manager and I were sort of commiserating about that experience and he and I had just seen Foo Fighters play at Fenway and in every major market they had these guests. In Chicago they had Cheap Trick and in Boston they had Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Mission of Burma, and I thought that was a really cool idea.

So then, he was like maybe we'll get a local opener. Then I thought, what if we kind of did it as a thing for high school and college kids? Because such a big part of us becoming a band was having that opportunity to play with bands as we came up and there were several bands we played with along the way that really made a huge impact on us in terms of, "Oh wow this is something you can do." It just felt like a homerun on all fronts. We get to pick some bands that we actually, potentially like. It's like the bands feel good about it, we feel good about it -- it's actually coming from a really good place. So it's like one of those rare ideas that checks all the boxes so to speak.

MT: Can you talk more about how being an opening act yourself opened doors for Guster?

RM: Well in a sort of macro way, we started playing the Paradise in Boston which is a pretty big touring room, it's like a 600 person touring room. We kind of became the house openers, so we opened up for John Wesley Harding and up for a bunch of bands that played there. It really helped us gain a foothold in Boston and kind of be seen beyond a college band.

But more specifically there's this one band I knew from Dallas called Jackopierce who I knew when I was in high school and Cary Piece booked the open mic. I called him I think drunk one night when I was a sophomore, and he was like, well if you like our band why don't you organize a show and your band can open for? So we did that we played this little bar in Cambridge called The Black Rose and we brought like 200 kids and they rocked. And, I was like holy shit this is their job, you know? I think I remember them driving away and having this feeling like, "F*ck now I have to go back to school and they just get to do that again today." It became, I think at that moment, if that band can do it we can do it.

So I think we took that idea the heart... If they can do it then this is something we can do. They were sort of this example of how you can actually be in a band and it's not actually like OK. Obviously, the landscape has completely transformed since then. All of the stuff has been completely demolished. I mean, everyone has access to information and knows how it's done. You can sleep on couches, you can get Air BNB, you can book living room shows and you can release your album internationally at the press of the button. But the idea that there's a band that's kind of made their career on getting in a van and touring and on the bus and touring is cool and you know it might prove to be helpful to younger bands, and that's where it kind of all came from.

MT: You had over 400 submissions for openers. What kind of things were you looking for? Were there like specific sounds or just something that you liked?

RM: I actually wasn't on like the selection committee but I can tell you from hearing. I think we are all very critical listeners of music and we were looking for somebody who had a unique point of view potentially. Also, we are very song-based so people that could write songs that felt like it wasn't just a one trick thing and that there were songs underneath it. I mean that's the thing that's been driving our band ever sing the beginning. Our song lyrics have changed relatively, but we still are hanging our hats on this three-and-a-half minute pop song structure. You're looking for something of quality and merit. It's not they have to sound like "this." It's more of who's really good and who's succeeding and what they're trying to do is maybe the best way to put it.

MT: Your new album Ever Motion is your first away from a major label in a while. Did that affect your record, if at all?

RM: Not really. We definitely had a little bit of pressure on keeping it together and maybe getting up on us to write "singles," but [being on major labels was] really wonderful and it really wasn't bad. Any of the pressure was sort of self-inflicted. I don't know I felt really supported.

I mean, we also made the record without any label at all and we were just going to take the record around and shop it, which is what we did. So, I think there's a little bit of a feeling, because we made it with no affiliation whatsoever, that we were definitely betting on ourselves and feeling like, if you make a sh*t record, we're the only ones on the hook for it and it might have been empowering on that level just to kind of finally put our money where our mouth is.

We funded the whole thing we didn't do a Kickstarter or anything for this record, we made the record and finished it and then sold copies of it afterwards. I think maybe that was the only thing is that it felt -- I don't ever use the word liberated because we were never liberating from anything. We never felt undue pressure from record labels, we were mostly in synch even though we didn't always have great success with record labels, it was never antagonistic, considering we were with various record labels for 15 years. But it also just felt like this is where it is. Not being on a major label and putting out a record after you've been on a major label would probably seem like a black mark 10 years ago, but now it's like almost the opposite in some ways. It's strange. The whole landscape has changed fundamentally since we began and we're constantly adjusting and learning the new rules of engagement

MT: Yeah. You constantly see bands either just leaving their labels, buying themselves out, self- releasing, releasing for free, doing Kickstarters. Being on a major doesn't make or break you anymore.

RM: Macklemore's on an indie label, and that's as big as it gets. It's a non-factor. For us, it was nice to finally find a partner network that was like send me your videos and help pay for us to go to Europe and had a really good marketing team and a publicist that were like some were helpful. The part after's been good but certainly not in the making of album, that's the no factor.

Guster's November 2015 tour will begin on Nov. 5 in Providence, Rhode Island. For a full list of tour dates, visit the band's official website.

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