Certain bands — think Flaming Lips, Mudhoney and the like — gain a legion of loyal followers during their career, but never truly break out as full-fledged, arena-filling mainstream superstars. Guster, a Boston-based quartet that formed 25 years ago, certainly fits that bill.
The band, who play White Oak Music Hall’s downstairs room on Saturday (Duncan Fellows opens), has released seven full-length studio albums since 1995. Of those seven albums, five have charted on the Billboard Top 200, and four have even peaked inside the Top 40 – the band’s latest, last year’s Evermotion, even debuted atop the Billboard U.S. Indie Albums charts. However, not one of them has even gone Gold.
“I’ve thought about that a bunch,” Guster drummer Brian Rosenworcel says on a recent phone call. “There were times when we thought this album should be bigger, or that album should be bigger, that we should have been the Maroon 5 of our era, or like peers of ours that went on to win Grammys. But the truth is, we’ve seen so many bands shoot up and then burn out, and our kinda slow and steady burn has served us well.”
That approach has inspired a devoted crop of followers as well, many of whom will catch the band on Saturday night for the seventh or eighth time.
“We’ve been able to make the music we’ve wanted with relatively little drama,” says Rosenworcel, a founding member who has been with the band since 1991. “We’ve had our fans stay with us through generations, and I wouldn’t trade that at this point for anything. It’s been a great path. We’ve had moments where we wished for our Killers song [“Mr. Brightside”], but I don’t think we’ve written it yet.”
What the band has written is a steady stream of quality tunes that has kept Guster in business for more than two decades. What once was a pipe dream – making a career out of playing music – has long since become reality. Rosenworcel admits he never expected Guster to become a full-time thing when the group formed at Tufts University in 1991, nor did its members really care if it did.
At the time, Rosenworcel was just an 18-year-old drummer who didn’t even use drumsticks. Instead, he brought his bongos to college and insisted he play those when Guster formed. He added drumsticks to his musical arsenal more than a decade ago, and now blends sticks to hands at a pretty even ratio, in an effort to evolve both his and the band’s sound.
Nearly 30 years into its run, Rosenworcel admits — as in any long-term relationship — that playing in Guster hasn’t always been the most exciting time. In fact, there are days when it felt like any other job. However, when comparing his career to those with 8-5 jobs, Rosenworcel admits that comparison provides instant perspective.
“Sometimes you’re onstage and you’re playing a song you’ve played a million times, and you’re not always feeling super-inspired by it,” he says. “But I don’t think any of us would think another job would be near as fun as the ones we have now.”
That perspective also finds Guster in search of an all-timer.
“We feel like we’re always honing in on a classic album,” Rosenworcel says. “We’re never like, ‘Oh, we’ve gotta go make another album.’ It’s more about what we have to say at the time, how we can evolve and how our songwriting gets better. We’re pretty psyched still about making new music; it keeps us moving forward.”
So too has adulthood. All founding members of Guster are now fathers and family men, which has not only provided further stability for the band, but also expanded their songwriting repertoire. In fact, Rosenworcel attributes a successful marriage in part to his time in Guster.
“We’ve learned from our relationships with one another,” Rosenworcel says of his bandmates. “That was our first marriage. We don’t compromise the music, and everyone has to give and take to make it work. Now that we all have families and we’re out on tour, it’s more fun than ever. It’s hard to be away, but it’s incredibly rewarding. You appreciate it more. Plus, I can sleep, and nobody wants Cheerios at 6 a.m. This is the best.”
Guster and special guest Duncan Fellows perform Saturday, December 3 at White Oak Music Hall, 2915 North Main. Doors open at 8 p.m.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.