How much of a band's music is determined by where and how it records?
For Ted Joyner and Grant Widmer, who formed Generationals in 2008 and have released an album or EP each year since, their fourth album seemed to be the right time to leave behind a process that was both familiar and successful. What effect would leaving their comfort zone have on Generationals' music?
"It wasn't an active reason that we needed to change. We were just interested in what that would bring about and how that would change our method and how that would change our output," Widmer says. "It's healthy to upset [your routine] when you're creating."
For a band that's steadily been bringing synthesizers, drum machines, and a dance-rock vibe into what began as a throwback pop sound, Richard Swift's work with the Shins, Foxygen, and Gardens & Villa put him at the top of Generationals' list of dream producers for Alix.
"We reached out, he said he was into it, and we thought this was a good opportunity to take a full left turn in how we approach creating an album," Widmer says.
Shucking their comfort zone did indeed change the process for Widmer and Joyner, who put more time and effort into demoing their new songs than ever before.
"We were inclined to go further, make it 95 percent done so that if it came down to it, we could just finish it, even if the worst case came to pass and we didn't click at all," Widmer says. "He kept almost all of the demo recordings that we brought in and added to them rather than starting over."
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Alix, the band's second album for Polyvinyl Records, is another step forward for Generationals, helping to define the band's broader sound, but the newer elements don't mean the band is abandoning the vintage pop sensibilities that have been their identity from the start.
"It definitely does feel like a natural progression for us in terms of what we're into and the kind of things we enjoy writing," Widmer says. "We really enjoy playing with the combination of organic and synthetic. I don't look at it as a binary thing, that there is this one spectrum of organic to synthetic. It's more à la carte. We're into drum machines and hollow-body guitars. Recording synth music on old tape machines is a cool way of having one foot in two worlds."
One thing that hasn't changed for Generationals is the symbiotic musical relationship between Widmer and Joyner, whose friendship dates to high school in New Orleans.
"We've been doing it for so long," Widmer says, "we've just developed a really good shorthand and a way of editing each other and overseeing each other."
So amid the longstanding songwriting process and the new recording process are the songs themselves. In terms of subject matter, they span life, love, struggle, and triumph, "the same things everybody has been writing about since the Greeks," Widmer says.
"On my favorite songs, I might attach completely different things to it than the person who wrote it. Songs that leave that door open are the best ones," he says.
"We're totally different people in terms of where we are in our lives now than where we were 10 years ago or five years ago. Different things matter to us, and it's a fun challenge to approach writing lyrics that speak to what you're feeling and thinking but also to make it inclusive so that people can find some connection to their own world, even if it's the not same precise issue or problem."
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