INTERVIEWS WITH REID GENAUER AND AARON KATZ
by Kevin Avanzato & Shaun Keegan - Edited by Colin Ovitsky

 
   
   
 

Q: It's obvious that people who succeed are passionate about what they do. When and how did you first become passionate about music?

Reid: I'm not really sure when it happened. I remember I had a musical awakening around 7th grade. That was the first time I heard the Beatles and the first time I picked up a guitar. The following year I got turned onto the Grateful Dead by a friend's older sister and I have been hooked ever since. I was fortunate enough to have some musical ability and have been able to live out my rock and roll fantasies in a real life way.

Aaron: I grew up in a very musical household; my mother is a singer and actress, and my father played drums. I started playing instruments around the house around the age of 2. My mother was doing a lot of shows and sometimes she'd perform in nursing homes; sometimes she'd take me with her and I'd perform for the old people... bang the drums or jump around. I just got started real young. I started getting real serious about it in high schoolŠ songwriting, playing drums and piano. In my sophomore year of high school I got really infatuated with songwriting.

Q (to Aaron): Did you take any music lessons as a child, study music theory in college, or just develop naturally on your own?

Aaron: I took a year of drum lessons. I was always playing around with my father because he was a drummer, and I took some piano lessons when I was in high school just to learn the basic things like what a chord is and what scales are and all that. And then I went to collegeŠ I actually got in for jazz drumming, which was what I was doing in high school. But my main focus all through college was pretty much sitting alone in the practice room writing music. That was always my main passion.

Q: What are you doing musically now?

Reid: I am just trying to create music that moves me and that hopefully moves other people. I like songs that bring you to another place, let you walk in someone else's shoes for a spell, let you walk in another world for a while or just make you bob your head. Nothing too deep or too far out thereŠ feel good music.

Aaron: My current project is called the Aaron Katz Band. Last year I spent a good amount of time making a solo record, called Simplest Warrior, which is on our website or you can get it through Home Grown or on the Internet, and we're out touring to support it right now. It's all songs that I've written; with Percy Hill I played drums and sang, and with this I'm playing acoustic guitar and singing songs. We have keyboards, saxophone, electric guitar, John from Percy Hill is on bass and the drummer that used to play with Moon Boot Lover, Andy Herrick, is playing drums with us.

Q (to Reid): Having played with other musicians in the past, and of course with Strangefolk, what it is like playing solo, with no one to push or pull you in any direction?

Reid: Well in terms of playing solo, it's interesting. It is harder in a lot of ways. As you suggest there is really no one else to help carry the song. I feel a lot of pressure to make the song powerful and make it a memorable experience for the listener. Hard to do when there are no drums and no guitar tearing your head off. While it is definitely a bigger responsibility and more pressure, it is also a freer experience. I don't have to stick to a set list or a song structure or a melody if I don¹t want to. As you mentioned, I am also playing with some other musicians. That is also a really cool experience. I played with Strangefolk for so long. I can't ever hope to replace the dynamics I was a part of with Strangefolk and I wouldn't want to. That said it is like having sex for the first time playing music with different musical personalities. You are constantly feeling each other out and discovering each other's talents and musical vocabulary. So while you lose the stability and certainty of a band you have played with for years you gain a certain energy and freshness.

Q (to Aaron): Is this music, your current project, different from what you're used to?

Aaron: For me it's actually rather liberating because as a songwriter it's very important to get the lyrics across and the melody across. Sometimes when you're playing drums and singing at the same time, it's harder to express that because you've got more responsibility; your whole body is moving and it's not always as easy to put the song across. It feels great now doing this.

Q: What is your favorite city and venue to play? Do you prefer larger or more intimate settings?

Reid: I loved playing at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. Magical city, magical venue... that one place stands out. Other than that it depends. Musical performances are like conversations with the audience. You can have a great conversation with an individual at a certain restaurant one week, go back to that restaurant, sit at the same table, with the same person the following week and have a terrible time. Gigs are the same. In general I like small theater shows. Any intimacy you lose is made up for by good sound and good sight lines. It is a concert in a theater rather than a gig.

Aaron: I really like Boston, New York City, and with Percy Hill we traveled out to the West Coast, and one of my favorite places out there was the Crystal Ballroom in Portland, Oregon; it's a really nice hall. They have it set up with these hydraulic lifts underneath the dance floor so when someone's dancing on one side of it the person on the other side feels it. The whole floor is kind of moving up and down, there are chandeliers everywhere and it's just a really nice place and it's got really great sound. As far as large versus small, I like both... I mean I like a place where you can relate to the people that are there, whatever that takes.

Q (to Reid): How often, when you're on the road, are you able to create something new in your music? Does it happen on stage?

Reid: I try and do something new every time I play. You wind up writing songs that are similar and you inevitably sing and play them in a similar manner. I also don't have an amazing vocabulary when it comes to guitar playing. However, I try and play with melodies, tempos, dynamics, lyrical improv and new songs as a way of keeping it fresh for myself and the audience. I have noticed that the heat of the moment and the enthusiasm of a crowd will push you to do things musically that you would never do in your bedroom. You enter the trance and let the song take you where it will. I also try and build newness into my songwriting. I take inventory of my songs and say, "I need a shuffle or a reggae type song or whatever." I try and mix up the subject matter as well. There is a range of musical styles and aesthetics that I gravitate towards but every once in a while I do something that I have never done before and it feels like a victory.

Q: Who and what are your musical inspirations?

Reid: They are vast: Neil Young, The Dead, The Beatles, The Allmans, Marley, Stevie Wonder, Al Green, Ray Charles, Etta James, BB King, all Motown, Lyle Lovette, Paul Simon, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash. For more recent musicians: Elliot Smith, Pure Play, David Gray, Beck, Macy Gray, Sonia Dada, Ted Hawkins, Tracy Chapman. I like a lot of the bluegrass guys: Sam Bush, Tony Rice, Béla, Jerry Douglass. Other jamband types: Leftover Salmon, moe., Percy Hill, String Cheese. I really like this band from the seacoast called Say ZuZu. My wife likes a lot of pop music; I draw from that. Books, TV shows, advertisements, road signs and on and on and on. I even like Dolly Parton's new bluegrass album.

Aaron: My mother has been in a lot of musicals and plays, so I grew up with some of that influence from theater, but then I was also hearing a lot of jazz because I was doing that in high school, so that influenced me. Then I really got into all the songwriters like Paul Simon, Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, Sting, James Taylor, and I was really into James Messina in high school. In college I started getting into bands like Jamiroquai, and some more funky stuff and started listening to some classical music. Right now I really don't listen to much music; I spend a lot of time in silence or writing.