Generationals on what it means to have a New Orleans style and why they’d like to record in Asheville
who: Generationals (Hundred Waters and Maus Haus open)
where: The Grey Eagle
when: Tuesday, Oct. 23 (9 p.m., $10. http://www.thegreyeagle.com)
Ted Joyner, half of New Orleans-based indie-rock duo Generationals (with Grant Widmer) is really into Asheville. He loves the landscape (“crisp mountain air, so alien, so awesome”) and he loves 12 Bones (“I like Carolina-style barbecue”; Widmer, however, is a pescetarian). And Joyner loves Floating Action (a former tourmate and labelmate on Park The Van). He really loves multi-instrumentalist Seth Kauffman (“He’s like my guru for music”).
But, WNC lovefest aside, Generationals’ new EP, Lucky Numbers, is a New Orleans record through and through. “This is the first time we’ve recorded in New Orleans, which is weird,” says Joyner. Weird, because he and Widmer grew up in the Louisiana city. It’s where they formed Generationals (out of their defunct college quintet The Eames Era). Since becoming Generationals in ’08, Joyner and Widmer have released two LPs and, with Lucky, two EPs.
Lucky was recorded all around the city — some in the French Quarter where Joyner lives, a guitar part at a lake house, harmonies in a shotgun house in the Bywater. On one level, the locations were dictated by necessity. On another level, it was about fun and experimentation. “It wasn’t so premeditated, like, ‘Let’s go find some crazy sounds out there,’” says Joyner. “It was more like, ‘we have access to that, let’s go see what we can get.’ Throughout, that was the process.”
Previous albums were crafted in the controlled environment of the studio. This one, not so much. “If I had a geo-map to show where all the different parts came from, it would be all over the city,” says Joyner. “The place, on some level, must have filtered in there.”
To listen to Lucky’s three tracks might not immediately reveal New Orleans as its source. Instead of second-line swagger, funk horns and jazz riffs, there’s Generationals’ signature alt-pop hooks. Vocals are more blasé than emotionally wrought. Instrumentation is twitchy-tight. The title track is breezy even as it crackles with electric charge. And for all the overlaying sway and airiness, there's a dark current roiling just below the surface.
“This is a conversation we’re always having, about how the city where our band is based has such a clear musical identity and what we make doesn’t seem to fit in with that,” says Joyner. “But I feel like that’s just the product of people having a very fixed definition of what New Orleans sounds like. We could be just as much the sound of New Orleans.”
He knows they’re not. But he also knows that they’re synthesizing the musical palette with which they grew up. A steady diet of The Meters among other icons. “Our band has never been a rebellion against that,” says Joyner. “We’ve just tended toward the stuff that we’re better at writing.”
Generationals songs (like 2010’s “Trust,” with the line, “My friend Olivia said to me / What's the use in trusting more than we have to?” sung all upbeat and jaunty) are at once surprising and familiar. A particular brand of quirk that reads as cool. The band writes songs that would feel at home on movies staring Michael Cera or a Fanning sister. And the duo exercises a proclivity toward underscoring dark-leaning themes with bouncy-bright melodies. “It’s like a Trojan Horse,” Joyner jokes.
“As far as making songs, it’s been me and Grant for a long time. It feels like that is the project,” says the musician. The duo write and record everything themselves (they call in help on drums). “It’s always fun and exciting to figure out how to bring the song into the live format using other people.” For touring, the band taps musical friends to fill out the stage show. Kauffman has joined in before, as has Michael Libramento. Currently they’ve enlisted a bass player and a drummer (“Two of the best guys we’ve ever had a chance to play with”) for their run of shows, which includes a stop at The Grey Eagle.
And there’s this: Generationals has the dream of being able to record on the road. Perhaps a tour van outfitted with equipment. So, if the duo was to choose a next location, a next city to infuse a future album, where would they go?
“Asheville,” says Joyner. “It’s so the opposite of New Orleans. It helps when you’re working on something new to be somewhere you’re not used to.”
Alli Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.