What shapes the music of Generationals? All the other music.
"I can feel our stuff evolving, but I can't put my finger on what it's evolving into."
Ted Joyner of Generationals approaches interviews carefully. He thinks before he speaks and he doesn't overcommit. Over the space of our 45-minute conversation last month, he wasn't evasive, but his answers weren't entirely responsive either. Does he hear the echoes of New Order that I hear in "Lucky Numbers," the title track from their new EP? No, but he accepts that I hear it.
When we spoke, Joyner was preparing for a national tour that brings them to Tipitina's Saturday night. He and Grant Widmer hire additional musicians for tours and live shows, and they were in the middle of rehearsals. He's really happy with the current band - "We're better than we've ever been" - but when I asked him Joyner about what he was listening to these days, he said, "It's been non-stop practice so I've been listening to us. When I'm off the clock, I don't listen to anything."
Joyner's circumspect stance is a trait frequently found in pop bands whose music isn't born from angst or a radical self-expression. Generationals aren't blazing new musical trails; in fact, they make a happy home inside the pop/rock canon, and the echoes across the decades give the songs additional richness. In the case of "Lucky Number," the song started from a bassline Joyner wrote that had more of a '60s soul vibe. "Grant took that idea and ran with it and took it in an entirely different direction."
The song's keyboards scream New Order, but since Joyner was born in 1981, he was too young to have that music form a crucial core of his musical DNA. His first musical recollections were a Fisher-Price pocket rocker and a Kingston Trio tape that he got from his dad. He discovered The Beatles not through radio or records but when his father rented the movie Hard Day's Night. He thinks the first album he bought was by The Red Hot Chili Peppers. "People will try to act like they never liked the Chili Peppers, but I still think they are an important band. I don't apologize at all for having bought that."
When pressed talk more about influences, Joyner starts and almost immediately critiques his own answers. "I always felt I was late to the game on The Pixies, but they had an impact," he says. "But I'm sure everyone could say that." His list is pretty canonical, starting with The Beatles and Stones and ranging forward to Radiohead, Wilco, Belle and Sebastian and the first Strokes album. "I always liked a lot of the stuff that a lot of people liked."
One element of the exercise interests him. "I'm almost more fascinated by the stuff I look back on and, 'My god, this is terrible' because then I have to re-examine: Where was I in my life that this seemed good?" He recently revisited one such band - The Mighty, Mighty Bosstones - who meant a lot to Joyner when he was in high school. "It was really fun music when everything was kind of grungy and downer. Ska was more optimistic-sounding. And it was rooted in this tradition where all the songs had a similar structure which made them really easy to pick up playing guitar. There's something easy about them."
Generationals have a very different ease to them. The songs on their two albums - Con Law, Actor-Caster - and two EPs - Trust, Lucky Numbers - aren't necessarily optimistic, but they don't lug around weighty emotions and are built on attractive melodies and harmonies. And it all sounds like it happens effortlessly. In the case of Lucky Numbers, it was easier. In the past, they've traveled to record with their producer Dan Black, who has worked with Joyner and Widmer since they were members in Baton Rouge's The Eames Era. This time, they recorded the tracks in their apartments and in spaces around New Orleans, then sent them to Black for mixing. This time, the emphasis was on immediacy. "We went on a beach trip, and we're on the beach tweaking some of the tracks on our laptops," he says. "A couple of weeks later, we got to put it out, which is the shortest we've ever gone from creating the music to putting it out."