Over the past few years, Generationals have been turning out steady pop records that have been consistent and evolving. Core members Ted Joyner and Grant Widmer both grew up in New Orleans, learned guitar and with Generationals have experimented with different sounds, while writing songs that are timelessly hook-y. The band’s latest LP, Alix, recorded with Richard Swift (who’s worked with Stereolab, The Shins and Foxygen), is another piece of durable pop loaded with bells and whistles.
Paste caught up with Joyner to discuss reconnecting with guitars, ska phases and keeping it real in New Orleans.
: You worked with Richard Swift on the new record. Tell me what he brought to the experience.
Ted Joyner: We wanted to get a little outside of our comfort zone. We really enjoyed driving up to Cottage Grove and being completely isolated in a completely unfamiliar place where we were just singularly focused on the work. We tracked it all in less than 10 days. It was really easy to slip into a work pace with him. Aside from be able to draw really cool sounds from anything he gets his hands on, he just had a really friendly vibe.
: From your perspective, how has Generationals evolved since Con Law?
Joyner: I think there’s been a general tendency towards more electronic or synth elements, generally drifting away from guitar. Maybe because that’s where we started, so it’s just been an outward exploration of trying out things that weren’t guitar-based. From my perspective it all feels the same, even though if I listen to all of those records back-to-back there’s definitely a progression. Grant and I rarely have conversations, if ever, that are like, “Let’s really try to get into more this, or more that.” It’s really a fluid continuation of the same process we started, even from the band we played in before this one.
: What draws you to the electronic element and makes you push the guitar aside?
Joyner: It might just be from starting on guitar, so I think sometimes you just drift into other stuff. I always feel myself going back to it. I always feel myself—once I’ve gotten enough out of my system—like I’ll come back to a more traditional bass, drums, guitar. Even within this record, the song “Reviver” is very guitar-driven. Once you’ve spent enough time in synth world, the guitar feels new again.
: You’re based in New Orleans. What’s the music scene like there, and how do you fit in, or not fit in?
Joyner: In some ways we don’t fit into what people might expect from New Orleans music. But there are some contemporary artists whose sound, for one reason or another, is such that they can lean into that New Orleans branding. For us it’s more, this is where we’re based; we both grew up here. We grew up with New Orleans music, and obviously there’s a huge history and tradition here. But our specific type of music doesn’t fall so neatly into that kind of brand and marketing. I mean, there is all kinds of music going on here, but the identity of this city is so interwoven with certain kinds of music.
: Have you even been tempted to move to New York, or Portland, like a lot of bands do?
Joyner: Good question…I guess we just haven’t felt the need to. Really, we knew early on that if you’re going to do a band, you gotta hit the road. Early on, we got on the road and toured, which I feel you do from anywhere. Had we moved to Brooklyn, would it have helped our band? I guess, maybe, but it never even crossed our minds.
: That’s even more impressive, the fact that you were both born and raised there. Most people can’t wait to get the hell out.
Joyner: I think New Orleans might just be one of those cities that hang on to people longer. Maybe it hasn’t felt so claustrophobic because we utilize the rest of the country.
: What did you grow up listening to?
Joyner: Whatever was on MTV in the ‘90s. I feel like there was a ‘60s nostalgia in the ‘90s.
: Oh, there was for sure.
Joyner: It must’ve been maybe ‘92 or ‘93 when I watched A Hard Day’s Night and got really into The Beatles. Then from there I just made my way through the Stones, Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix, all these iconic bands. That and, of course, Nirvana…you know, a steady ‘90s diet. I went through a ska phase…I don’t know if you did.
: I can’t say I did, but I did at one point own Question the Answers by Mighty Mighty Bosstones.
Joyner: I was way into it for a summer I think. [Laughs] You were probably listening to much cooler shit that hadn’t trickled down to me. I didn’t have an older brother, so finding music was self-motivated.
: I was the oldest, too. I was a metalhead, which was cool, but when you listen to metal at a certain age, everything else sucks. So, I was close-minded and closed myself off to a lot of music I love now.
Joyner: It is fascinating those days when you had the music you were into and that was it. Now, I feel like kids don’t feel so bound by a certain genre they have to fit within.
: Do you find it challenging getting your music heard? On one hand it’s easier than ever to make something and throw it on the Internet, but at the same time you really have to cut through a lot more noise.
Joyner: In some ways, yes. Sometimes I’ll come across something that someone else has made—and now you can instantly evaluate something, like how many views or plays does this have—and I’ll be like, “This is so great, why isn’t this huge?” I just chalk it up to the fact that we live in this vast ocean of content. So in some ways I’m surprised anyone listens to us considering how much is out there. I see it with my own habits. I’m thankful that when we put out a new song that at least a handful of people are like, “Cool! I am still paying attention to you guys.”
: You guys are consistent, though. You put out a new record every year, and keep the creative process moving.
Joyner: I feel extremely lucky—I mean I’d probably do it anyway—that people are still down. Because it’s the best, most fun thing to do; just doing it is its own reward. [Laughs] I’m trying to think how I could come off cooler saying that, but yeah.