Guster’s newest member spills band’s secrets

With Guster coming to the College on Tuesday, Nov. 14 and tickets still on sale in Brower Student Center at the College Union Board table, it was time for a talk with one of the guys in the band.

Guster, based in Boston, met at Tufts University in 1991 during freshman orientation. Under the name Gus, the members of the band recorded their first album, “Parachute.”

After signing with a major record label, they were required to change the name of the band because of another band with the same name, and so Guster was born.

Joe Pisapia, once a temporary Guster-mate but now the go-to guitar, keyboard, bass and banjo guy, spoke with The Signal about the band, black socks and New Jersey.

The Signal: So, are you a permanent member of the band?

Joe Pisapia: I am now. Originally, I’d been friends with these guys for a long time.

I was just going to come on to help launch the album “Keep It,” to help arrange it . but the next thing you know we’re writing songs that became a new record. It kind of became a new band after a while.

S: How long have you been with the band?

JP: Four years, pretty much.

S: Does anyone have any quirky regiment requirements before going on stage?

JP: One thing that’s kind of interesting (is that) we get black socks on our (contract), which is nice. But last time they gave us those shorties, you know, and I don’t go that way.

It’s kind of that nice thing. Being on the road is all about socks and underwear. The more socks and underwear you have, the less you have to do laundry.

I think I can do this whole tour without doing laundry, granted it’s only three weeks, but that’s pretty impressive. I don’t know, I don’t think I’ll really be able to, but we’ll see.

S: Have you ever done a college show before? Have you done any on this tour yet?

JP: We’ve done many, yeah. This tour is relatively new; we just started about a week ago, so the answer would be no. We’ve done a festival, and a show, and that’s about it so far.

S: What’s your favorite Guster song?

JP: Favorites are a revolving thing. Lately I really like that song “Come On,” which is off the new record. I just like the feel of it. It has a breezy, California-song feel.

S: What’s your favorite song to play live?

JP: My favorite song to play is the “Airport Song.” We did a crazy new arrangement to it, and it’s so fun. It’s in the spirit of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” – really fun to play. It’s become my new stage favorite.

S: Are you going to be playing it at the College show?

JP: I’m 99.8 percent sure we’ll play it. I’m pretty confident about it.

S: How would you describe your music?

JP: I’ve heard it described in a lot of different ways. Ryan (Miller, vocals/guitar) always calls it “wuss rock.” I always think of it as pop in the classic sense of the word pop. As far as the melodies, they’re rooted in rock sensibilities like the Kinks and the Rolling Stones. I would consider that pop. But Guster also has a folky edge to it.

S: Have you played in New Jersey before?

JP: One time we played in a big parking lot in Morristown for a record release party. Another time we played in this place called the Starland Ballroom (in Sayreville). And we played in Atlantic City not too long ago. Oh yeah, and this summer we played at the PNC (Bank) Arts Center (in Holmdel).

S: What’s your favorite thing about the state?

JP: I really like the Delaware Water Gap a lot. I like the fact that Jersey has so many diverse little micro-topographical anomalies – like the Pine Barrens, they’re the only pine barrens in the country. And you have the Jersey Shore; perfect together . Jersey’s got a lot to offer.

S: And your least favorite thing?

JP: Just the traffic. The traffic and the congestion. I’m a Jersey boy; I’m not sure if you knew that. I grew up in Rahway. My dad still lives there, and my mom lives in Monmouth Beach, down the shore.

S: Where do you live now?

JP: I live in Nashville.

S: What has been the greatest experience so far playing with Guster?

JP: I would have to say one of the highlights is when we played with the Boston Pops Orchestra at Symphony Hall in Boston. Keith Lockhart conducted. He was one of those hot young conductors, very talented and esteemed for such a young age.

A couple of guys from the Pops actually did arrangements for some Guster songs. Then we went up there and played with a 96-piece orchestra. That was one of my favorites.

S: And the funniest?

JP: That’s a tough one; there’s just so much humor that goes on. It’s kind of funny right now because our monitor engineer, Josh, is prematurely bald at the ripe old age of 25. We each paid him 20 bucks to not shave his hair from August to Thanksgiving. He has all these scraggy patches on his head, but he’s sticking with it. I just saw him for the first time in a few weeks, and he looks so weird. But that’s the kind of stuff we do for fun.

S: What is your favorite song of the moment?

JP: Lately there’s this one song called “Aguas de Marco.” It’s an old Brazilian salsa song by Elis Regina. This song just kills me; every thing about it is perfect. I can’t stop listening to it; I don’t know why. Everything about it is just perfect.

S: What’s your all-time favorite song?

JP: I’ll just pick one of my five; it’s not my number one. “I Don’t Want to Fall in Love,” by Chris Isaac. I think it’s a perfect song: the production, the vocals, the instruments, everything. But it’s not my absolute favorite; I don’t think in absolutes. It’s tough to pick just one.

S: Looking forward to anything specific about playing at the College?

JP: I’ve never been to where you are in New Jersey. It’s in Ewing, right? I haven’t been there before. I was looking for it on the map. I’m always interested in exploring the new places in Jersey that I haven’t been. It’s such a small state but there are so many different regions.

S: Yeah, we always have the North Jersey/South Jersey debates here.

JP: Ah yeah. So where do you consider yourself?

S: A lot of people say Central Jersey, so I guess I agree with that.

JP: Yeah, I would say it’s Central. So I’m interested in checking out Central Jersey.

S: Any reason the College show isn’t on your tour dates on your Web site?

JP: That would probably mean it’s a closed show. We don’t usually try to taunt the people.

S: Whose idea was it for the “Joe’s Place” videos on your MySpace? What was the inspiration?

JP: Actually that would be our friend Dave Yonkman. He actually did a lot of the filming of our DVD, “Guster on Ice,” and he wanted to document the recording process. That was a funny thing, because he was only going to be there for four weeks and he ended up staying for a few months while we recorded in my house.

S: Is it actually set at your place? I love the plaid couch.

JP: Yeah, hence the name, “Joe’s Place.” That was a good thrift store purchase.

S: So you do your own decorating?

JP: I do; I’m like a thrift store junkie. That’s one of my favorite things about being on the road: checking out all the thrifts. I just got a $10 winter coat in Omaha. We were dumb and forgot to get winter coats.

S: Yeah, I guess it is getting pretty cold.

JP: We were in Minneapolis yesterday and it was snowing.

S: I was reading some interviews, and people tend to focus on the fact that most of the band is Jewish. Is this something that you guys really consider part of your band’s identity, or is it just interviewers hyping it up?

JP: I think it’s a little of both. But these are pork-eating, shellfish-eating Jews. It’s not a big deal in the overall picture of the band.