Reid Genauer is a songwriter and storyteller best known for his work in Assembly of Dust and Strangefolk. Recently, Genauer has joined forces with a cooperative of musicians—including Jen Hartswick, Elliot Peck, Ryan Montbleau, Jason Crosby, Scott Metzger, and more—for a new studio album, Conspire To Smile. The title track of Conspire To Smile, which has already been released, will be one of at least fourteen songs on the new album, which will feature a handful of new originals plus a number of reimagined covers.
In addition to this album from Reid Genauer & Folk, the artist is also starting a social media experiment and has launched a Kickstarter campaign under the Conspire To Smile moniker, with the idea that he can inspire a positive community-building movement that will help take break up the negativity that floods social media. The Kickstarter campaign started on February 1st, with proceeds going toward funding this new project. You can listen to the first tune, the title track of Conspire To Smile, below, plus check out Live For Live Music’s interview with Reid Genauer on Conspire To Smile below.
Live For Live Music: Will you tell us how you came up with the concept of Conspire To Smile?
Reid Genauer: I found myself like many of us: stuck, starting with a sense of awe and dismay. It’s not only politics that plays into it. There’s also the #MeToo movement and all the exceptional weather events related to climate change. There are just a lot of big moving parts happening at once. Social media is a cultural revolution that has no point of view. In the sixties, there was the intent to expand consciousness and lead with love and compassion. The mantra for today’s social revolution—which isn’t even described as such—is the democratization of everything, and it has a neutral point of view.
Some of the big companies are coming under scrutiny for that—this idea that the power they yield has to have a point of view. My point of view is that if people are just sharing negative or inane stuff, what is any organization supposed to do? The question I ask myself is, who has a point of view and who is sharing it, besides just adding to the negative spin?
It is really hard to find or to point to too many individuals or organizations who are doing that. I was scratching my head on how to free myself from feeling crippled and just demoralized and borderline hopeless and how I might help those around me. It was one of those things where it’s like the answer is always in front of you the whole time. I just thought, “That’s what music has always done.”
In the sixties, there was a clear cultural intent in that they looked to music as a way to build community, to create connectivity, and to convey the positive sentiment. I mean, all of those songs are about spreading love and positivity. Nine out of ten Beatles songs are about love. So I thought why not explicitly call upon the power of music itself, the stories they tell, and the power of the collective narrative or the community it builds? That’s how the idea for Conspire To Smile was born.
L4LM: How do you plan to execute your concept?
RG: Regarding execution, I just started socializing the notion with a bunch of my bandmates and my extended community of musicians and musical friends, and everyone was nodding their head in violent agreement. So we all agreed on a core set of tunes, an artistic approach, and a logistical approach. It was hard to plan it all out in advance, but I just kicked it into first gear, and it’s moving.
L4LM: Are the tunes chosen for the album originals?
RG: No. So the album is called Conspire to Smile. The title track is a brand-new song. The other tracks are covers, but I call them “retold.” The audience will have to deliver the verdict on whether we succeeded or not. But, what we didn’t want to do was create bad covers of good songs, so I tried to do something fresh—whether it’s the instrumentation or the arrangement or the feel, so that the songs have new voices. The album is coming out under Reid Genauer and Folks, but this is the first time Strangefolk has all recorded in the studio since 1998.
L4LM: How did that feel?
RG: It’s awesome. It has inspired all of us on so many levels. Personally and musically, we choose a weekend to do it, but I know it’s inspired a creative lust. It proved to us that even though we don’t live in the same place right now, we can still make it happen. It was really empowering creatively.
L4LM: How many songs will be on the album?
RG: At least fourteen, so far: twelve covers and two originals. I intend to release them on a rolling basis when they are ready for free.
L4LM: How did you decide what musicians you were going to call on for this project?
RG: It was a mixture of things. Some of it was serendipity and who I ran into. Some of it is that I wanted it to not just have it be a “guitarmageddon,” so I have Ryan Mountbleau sing on it, Erik Glockler and Jon Trafton of Strangefolk. I also have Jen Hartswick who is going to sing on it—she has an amazing voice—and Aaron Maxwell from God Street Wine, so partly I was curating based on who was going to crush it vocally. Also, Elliot Peck from Midnight North; she sings like an angel.
I was thinking about some other filters too—people with unusual voices who could lend that “other” to it—so that the songs can be retold. Jason Crosby, who has been my bandmate, is an obvious one, plus Scott Metzger and others. That was all part of it, but the other part was that I wanted people who were intimately part of my musical community. Instead of going wide and asking strangers, it’s a coming together for those who are already converted, so to speak.
It was important to me that it was a tightknit group, so that the artists were exhibiting behavior that might extend to the audience and beyond. In the back of my head, sure, I would love for it to be a global movement, but my ambition is modest. Let’s say collectively between Strangefolk and Assembly of Dust, we speak directly to 20,000 people, and let’s say ten percent of those people participate—I don’t mean in the Kickstarter, but participate in finding some sense of comfort, orientation, or relief. That’s a win. That’s a huge amount of energy that won’t get wasted, and that can be used towards more productive things.
Let’s face it, a lot of the things people are bummed out about are justifiable, but because of social media and its lack of a point of view, some large percent is just this crippling spin that keeps telling the same story. That spin is what prevents you from doing something, whether it’s going for a run or spending time with your family or saving the world. You have to get out of your own way.
L4LM: What will the Kickstarter go toward?
RG: Well, the musicians all donated their time, but it’s the cost of putting something like this together. What I like about Kickstarter is that inherently you feel emotionally invested in what you have chosen to participate in. That is really what’s most important to me. Why not have people who are investing in the ideal and the collective? I am looking for leaders, not listeners, and that is what Kickstarter does by default, so it is a great platform for something like this.
L4ML: Strangefolk played a few dates together this year. Can we expect more from the band in the future?
RG: I can’t remember the dates, but the original Strangefolk lineup did not play together, I can’t remember the exact dates for upwards of ten years. In 2012, we did some reunion dates that were intended as a one-off, but it just felt good, so we have toured sporadically since then.
L4LM: Is it true that Pete Shapiro left a Disney family vacation for the Strangefolk reunion?
RG: [laughs] That I can’t remember, but he put the reunion together. We had hardly spoken in ten years, and Shapiro scheduled a conference call when he was opening The Capitol Theatre. He got us all on a conference call and in Pete Shapiro manner was just like, “Enough of the bullshit. You guys are playing.” He had always been a close friend and a great supporter, so I think we all respected him and felt the logic and enthusiasm in what he was saying. He, like many cool things as of late, deserves the credit for putting us back together.