It's a fact: Easy Wonderful — the sixth and latest outing from quirk-pop combo Guster — is hands-down the band's most ebullient, altogether enjoyable effort since its definitive Lost and Gone Forever back in 1999. It's rippling with novel twists, like the mariachi horns that suddenly punctuate "What You Call Love," or the chiming carillon that graces its latest single, "Do You Love Me." Not to mention the cynical, tongue-in-cheek wordplay of lyricist/vocalist Ryan Miller on the pseudo-psalms "Jesus and Mary," "Stay With Me Jesus" and "That's No Way to Get to Heaven." But to achieve such quirky brightness, sighs drummer Brian Rosenworcel, "we went to the dark side and back."
And the percussionist — noted for his bare-handed, bongo-frenzied style — isn't afraid to name names. "We had a first batch of songs that we did with David Kahne, and it didn't go well, as far as our relationship with him," says Rosenworcel. "It was not a good match. But he came into pre-production with us and was like 'Hey — why don't you try this beat? And why don't you just play on the upbeats of your guitar?' And we were like 'Wow! This guy can get way inside our music in a way that producers never have, and that's what we want!' And the next thing we knew, we were in this dungeon in New York, where he was like a complete tyrant and everyone was just walking off the project because we couldn't stand to be around him."
Ouch. But Rosenworcel isn't finished when it comes to one of pop's best-known producers. "We should've realized when we couldn't really point to any David Kahne record that we loved that maybe it wasn't the best mix."
When the sessions finally fizzled, Guster kept the mixes, started the songwriting process all over again, then headed to Nashville, where former bandmember Joe Pisapia had built a home studio in his back yard. "So half the songs on Easy Wonderful are new songs, and half are David Kahne-produced songs that we re-produced at Joe's place," he says. "The thing is, we've proven to ourselves time and time again that we do our best work when we just kind of keep it in-house."
Which is not to say the band shuns extracurricular activities: Miller co-wrote a feature-film screenplay, Nobody, and guitarist Adam Gardner and his wife run Reverb, an eco-friendly outfit devoted to the greening of gargantuan rock tours. In fact, Easy bears the official seal of the Forest Stewardship Council, which has certified its packaging as 100 percent recycled. "And there are a million other examples like that, that can make a little difference," says Rosenworcel. "And Reverb is there to point them out in case people don't notice them. Like 'Hey — you can carpool to the Guster show and meet some strangers in your own neighborhood along the way!' Because cars are the single most polluting force at a concert."
Guster has been busy in other areas, as well. Between them, they've had a total of five children over the past couple years, which has curtailed their usual nonstop touring. "We definitely wanted to not fall into the trap of making a 'Dad Rock' album, and we were aggressively pursuing the other direction," says Rosenworcel, who knows Dad Rock when he hears it. "It sounds like Jim Croce meets the Wilco album that first disappointed you!"