For most Tufts students, Guster needs no introduction. The indie rock band –consisting of Ryan Miller, Adam Gardner, Brian Rosenworcel and Luke Reynolds — came of age here on the Hill in 1991 and is now in the midst of celebrating its 25th anniversary. In honor of the occasion, Rosenworcel, the group’s drummer, sat down with the Daily to reflect on the group’s long history, beginning with its very own Tufts experience.
“We met during [Tufts Wilderness Orientation], and I think we said we would jam some time. That actually took a while, but we formed a friendship,” Rosenworcel said. “[Miller] and [Gardner] lived in Houston [Hall] and Carmichael [Hall], and I lived downhill in South Hall [now Harleston Hall during its inaugural year. So, I made a concerted effort to go uphill and insert myself and my bongos into the dorm jams when they started. They were both more musical, they had singing ability, they could play chords … But I was, like, the guy from downhill that kept insisting on showing up with his bongos, and that’s how we formed, in a dorm room. We didn’t need rehearsal space … to write songs together on our acoustic instrumentation.”
It was out of these initial hangouts that the group really came together at Tufts. They played their first show at Lewis Hall right before winter break. The open mic night saw the group perform a mix of covers, which kicked off their transition to playing at campus parties, Hotung Café and the dining halls.
“From our perspective, we started with a real umbilical cord to Tufts. All of our following, our friends, were fellow Tufts students,” Rosenworcel said. “I remember the first time we headlined the Paradise Rock Club in April of 1995 … Tufts came out in droves.”
Though Tufts brought Guster together, starting a band in college had its difficulties. Sacrifices had to be made in order to get Guster off the ground, and Gardner, a vocalist and guitarist, ended up severing his ties with the Beelzebubs in order to fully devote his time to Guster. Without a major label, the group had to buy its own van in order to drive around the country and play shows, which was the beginning of the Guster brand.
“We built it up very organically,” Rosenworcel said. “You have four years to invest in building up our following … and on a grassroots level – that’s a great way to start a career. There was no real internet in the 90s … When we started, we were sending postcards to our fans, posting flyers on the telephone poles of Tufts. People were so sick of seeing [Guster] flyers on campus, because every time we had an off-campus show, we would promote the hell out of it at Tufts.”
This special relationship with Tufts has remained untouched at its core, even as the group has grown in prominence. Indicative of this is the fact that the group has played Spring Fling twice, in 2006 and 2012, and each time it has felt like a sort of homecoming. That is not to say, however, that Guster itself hasn’t changed over the years, mainly due to the ever-changing nature of the music industry.
“When you’re able to witness an industry for 25 years, you [have to] adapt to it, but you’re able to have some perspective on it,” Rosenworcel said. “For us, we’ve been fortunate that we haven’t really been at the mercy of the sinking industry because we never made any money from record sales. We always made our money touring … But, we’re a bit of a relic these days, because we’re a band that just goes on the bus and plays for our fans and our fans keep coming. Not a lot of bands do that anymore.”
Guster’s commitment to its fans despite changes in the industry has enabled the group to grow stylistically without losing that bond with its supporters. The warm reception to the group’s last album, “Evermotion” (2015), symbolizes this trust, as the group embraced new-wave ambience and soft keyboard lines that are currently in vogue in the indie scene but still managed to sound like themselves. This experiment is just one chapter in Guster’s whirlwind of a music career and show its constant willingness to push itself musically.
“We abandoned the dorm room instrumentation around 2002,” Rosenworcel said. “I started playing a drum kit instead of just hand drums and added a lot of keyboards and bass – things that didn’t used to be in our instrumentation. Suddenly, there was this feeling of being unshackled … As far as longevity goes, reinventing yourself is critical.”
This drive has continually pushed Guster to grow, instead of remaining a nostalgia band as so many other groups out of the 90s have done. Rosenworcel said that aging has brought the group “groovy maturity,” ensuring one album never sounds like the other and the music never loses its spark.
Rosenworcel elaborated upon this passion, stating, “Every time it comes time to make an album, we still feel like we have something to prove. We never really had a degree of mainstream success, and that’s not what we’re really striving for. But we sense that there is a classic song or a classic album still in us. And it doesn’t [matter] how many years we’ve been at it, we could still hit it.”
With the group making the decision to incorporate hand percussion back into their music once more — something of a full circle moment — Guster’s relationship with its fans remains strong, a testament to its ability to carve its own success. Continuing in this vein, Guster is returning to the Paradise Rock Club for four shows this January, as the venue was the site of its big break after it won a Battle of the Bands there. With the club being the site of many personal memories for the band, it is also representative of the group’s own Tufts experience — still shaping their lives all these years later.
In the end, Rosenworcel summed it up: “I found this thing where I was making music with my friends, and people were responding to it. That created within me and my bandmates a drive — we wanted that. You work for that once you discover it. For us, we were lucky to find that at 18 or 19 years old and dedicated ourselves to it. For a lot of people, whatever that is doesn’t come around till a lot later. But if you do what you love, you won’t work a day in your life. There’s a truth to the fact that you’ll be more driven and work hard … to achieve something you’re passionate about.”
Even though not all Tufts students may become rock stars, these sentiments hold true, asking all students to never settle and find their own niche – whatever that may be.