Boys From The Bayou: An Interview With Generationals

Generationals

The synth-surfer doo-wop of Louisiana duo Generationals has you wiping tears off the joystick of your local arcade council. Whether they are tears of happiness or sadness, no one asks. For one thing, the songwriting of members Ted Joyner and Grant Widmer often teeter on the precipice of heartache with such an upbeat click of their heels that you’re never quite sure which side they fall on.  More importantly, however, is that your tears have short-circuited Ms. Pacman, and the little girl behind you is about to kick your ass.

Following the spritely-woe of their impressive 2009 debut Con Law, Generationals’ subsequent albums have followed in a similar suit, although maturing into a tighter and crisper sound with 2011’s Actor-Caster and has continued to evolve with their latest EP Lucky Numbers.

Before performing at The High Noon Saloon tomorrow night (Wednesday, October 10), we asked the band about lagoon creatures, song structure and the brief wondrous life of Thomas J. via email. What we didn’t talk about is what the hell exactly is going on in their video for “Ten-Twenty-Ten,” for which the writer apologizes.

True Endeavors: What have the two of you been up to this year as far as touring, new recordings, new life experiences, etc.?

Grant Widmer: Mainly recording. We started on our third LP in January at a studio called Public Hi-Fi in Austin, Texas. We spent several months on [the album] this year and we’re still putting some finishing touches on it. We also recorded this new EP Lucky Numbers this summer.  So we’ve been busy making songs, which is our favorite thing about this job.

Sorry to dip into the past, but I really enjoyed your second LP Actor-Caster and had a few questions about it. Could you tell me the story behind the writing of the song “Yours Forever” and the decision for the lagoon creature music video?

Ted Joyner: It’s a song that we tried a few different ways and ended up liking it as a synth song. It’s just a love song. I am in love with my girlfriend, so it’s about that. We had an idea to do a mini creature feature for the video. We wanted to do a lagoon creature, and I realized I really wanted to be the creature, that it was a longtime dream of mine to be the lagoon creature. It is actually a lagoon creature and not a swamp creature, so good call on correctly noting that. You have an eye for detail.

“Tell Me Now” is another one of my favorite songs on that album. Care to share the inspiration behind that song, or is it maybe too personal?

GW: That’s pretty much almost all just straight from life. I was kind of put on hold by someone and that song was just a way–very literally–that I was trying to express that feeling of frustration, the two-sided thing of trying to be tough about demanding some closure, but also knowing that you’re bluffing and that you can’t walk away. The song “Breakaway” by Irma Thomas has a similar idea. That was a big influence.

Finally, where was the cover photo of the album taken? It kind of looks like the scene where Macaulay Culkin’s character [Thomas J.] was stung by bees and died in My Girl.

Generationals

GW: That scene was the saddest thing. Thomas J., I miss you. I still hate bees for that. Not sure the exact site of that image. It was taken by a photographer that we know named Brice Bischoff, and we just felt a connection to it. Still do–it’s got something in it that lingers. I think it was taken somewhere in Louisiana, which is where we’re from.

In interviews I’ve read recently, there are a lot of bands critiquing younger musicians for not knowing “proper” song structure. You have in your own interviews discussed the subject, so what in your opinion is basic song structure, and how do you engage or deviate from it?

GW: The basic structure is intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-verse-chorus. It’s a pretty well-established thing in pop music. Of course, there are variations; sometimes we leave out the intro, sometimes the third verse. To me, bridge is important, because bridges usually ruin songs for me. If I can’t figure a way to do a third part, a bridge, then that’s usually where I throw a song away. There’re lots of ways to interpret “bridge” though. Sometimes it’s an entirely different piece of music, sometimes it’s just another verse with an instrumental version of the vocal melody. Sometimes the key changes. It’s hard to do well, but the best bridges give you a break from the verse-chorus repetition without killing the momentum.

One other key moment in a song, for me, is moving from the end of the first chorus into the second verse. For me that’s a really important thing that good songs do. As far as kids not knowing structure, some do, some don’t care, and I respect that. There are so many different ways to make good songs. Sometimes structure is lame. I’m sure people shat on Rothko or Jackson Pollock for not using traditional visual formats, but I’m glad they didn’t. Kids don’t need to be finger-wagged for not adhering to song structure. They’re doing fine.

When I was little I wanted to be Michael Jordan, until I realized I couldn’t jump, play basketball and wasn’t…well…black. What did you two want to be as children before you got into music?

GW: You’re not black? This interview is over. I wanted to be G.E. Smith from the Saturday Night Live band.

TJ: Indiana Jones. I haven’t given up on that yet.

Is it easier to write a “God, I love that person” song or “Goddamn, I hate that person” song?

GW: I wouldn’t do either one by itself. I mean, they’re the same thing; all the songs I work on are both. You don’t hate people, even for a minute, that you don’t care about. You just don’t care, especially not enough to write an entire song. Almost all my songs are love songs dressed up as hate songs.

What is the best way to listen to a new record?

GW: My method is I buy [a record] and I listen to it on repeat for hours until I can’t stand it, then for like 2 hours more. I get obsessive about it. Then I use it up and move on. I do the same with movies.

What are the two of you most afraid of?

GW: Bees! RIP Thomas J.

TJ: Nuclear holocaust.

If you were given a chance to be a young Padawan for a musician of your choice, who would you choose and what would you hope to learn from him/her/them?

GW: G.E. Smith. First day would be a makeover where I would get his haircut circa ‘96 and outfitted with his wardrobe. Second part would be just hanging out, learning how to be effortless like him. We would just go around Manhattan and go to diners and stuff. Then finally we’d do a ten-minute guitar lesson that focused on how to stand/posture. Then some guitar notes.

TJ: Paul Simon. I would get him to teach me how to write better harmonies. Then we would talk about Carrie Fischer for a minute and then back to writing a fucking amazing song.

 — interview by Austin Duerst

Want more?  Ryan Thomas over at the fabulous Jonk Music recently spoke to the band in an interview as well.  Check it out here.

Tickets to their show tomorrow night (Wednesday, October 10) at the High Noon Saloon are available here and at the door. 
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Related  Content:  New Video From Bahamas: “Caught Me Thinking”

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