Guster was a milestone for me, musically. I grew up in a kind of sheltered musical environment, sticking to my classical discs and showtunes. So I get to college, and suddenly everyone around me is listening to music. All the time. Really really loudly. And most of it, I couldn’t care less. But a friend of mine, he handed me a CD during a study session for music theory in my dorm room, and told me to put it on.
It was Guster’s Lost and Gone Forever, and it became an obsession.
We listened to it over and over again, singing along, and then adding our own layers of harmony until we’d practically crafted cantatas around the thing. I still can’t listen without adding extra lines.
But one of the things nearest and dearest to our hearts was something we couldn’t reproduce vocally. The drumming. These deep heavy sounds, but so rounded and whole, coming from a hand drum kit wielded by one Brian “Thundergod” Rosenworcel.
About two years ago I got to meet Brian – he is a friend of a friend of mine, who also happens to be the lead singer in my band. And though I was concerned about my control of my girlish glee, I found him to be a wholly wonderful, self deprecating, and hilarious guy. So though I was still there screaming and shouting with the best of them as Guster took the stage to play all of Lost and Gone Forever on their recent tour, I am even more pleased to have this small, personal introduction to the man himself, Brian.
Tell us a little about yourself…
My name is Brian Rosenworcel. In my 20s I called myself a “legendary conguero” in the liner notes for one of Guster’s albums. I would never do that now. I’m 36.
How did you get started playing music?
At some point in high school my friends got into acoustic guitar and mandolin and we began “jamming” after school. With nothing to do but lots of desire to fit in, I tapped on a pair of bongos quietly in the background. Thus began our band, Toejamb, and a fascination with hand drumming that I explored mostly on the steering wheel of my Chevy Nova.
What was the first recording you ever purchased?
I bought Toad the Wet Sprocket’s 2nd album, Fear, when I was in high school. I had never heard of them, but my friend Jamie saw their video and convinced me to check it out. I didn’t like every song, but I loved certain ones. I flipped that cassette over hundreds of times, because I’d spent the money on it. Shame that the I’m-gonna-listen-to-this-a-lot-because-I-invested-currency-in-it thing is behind us now — it really created more dedicated listeners.
Your drums are absolutely amazing. What inspired you to put them together the way you did – was it a sound you were looking for, or a concept?
The hand percussion kit that I play live is a very organic creation, built up one drum at a time, with each drum being worked into the system individually, and simply because I wanted more and more sounds. I never envisioned it becoming so elaborate, and I never envisioned myself hitting snares and cymbals with my bare hands. It just made sense to move in that direction to expand our sound. Eventually, after ten years of hand drumming, I got really excited about the idea of playing a traditional kit with sticks.
Of all the instruments you play, which is your favorite?
Djembe is a great instrument because it gets a variety of sounds — big low bass sounds and crisp ringing high notes all from the same drum.
Who would you consider your musical inspiration?
I’m inspired mostly by songwriters. I can’t think of too many hand drummers that I’ve gotten into — I pretty much just tried to support Guster’s music with hand drums as best as I could because it was what I knew how to do. The drummers I like tend to be simple players like Levon Helm and Ringo Starr. If I spend too much time worshiping at the altar of the virtuosos like Stewart Copeland I’ll just end up feeling bad about my lack of chops.
Is there a comparison you would make between your music and something non-musical? A painter, building, dish of cereal?
I keep wracking my brain for a way to do this that doesn’t sound pretentious as hell. I keep failing.
Guster is spending part of the fall doing a “Party like it’s 1999” tour. How did you party in 1999?
Well, we’re playing an album we made in 1999 in its entirety (it’s the album that was all hand drums, “Lost & Gone Forever”). As far as the “Party Like It’s 1999” thing, that’s the subject of the band email announcement I sent out about the tour. Unfortunately the days where I was artful and creative in my subjects are about ten years old too. Now if I can find something serviceable it goes in and gets sent without thinking twice.
In any event there are only two shows left on said tour, both in New York. It was fun to revisit that album though — it was a very simple and creatively arranged record. The melodies stand up.
If you could pick a perfect lineup of bands (dead or alive) for a show where Guster was the headliner, who would it be?
Well, Os Mutantes would be on first, but they’d only play for like 20 minutes. Then The Stone Roses would play their self-titled record front to back (everyone’s doing that these days), followed by a George Harrison solo acoustic set, before Guster takes the stage, as the audience hits the exits.
What attracts you to a particular song? An artist?
It’s melody that grabs me. Sometimes it’s feel and rarely it’s lyrics, but a great melody always appeals to me.
Who should I be listening to right this very moment? Why does their work get you excited?
Cass McCombs. His first album and EP were raw, beautiful, and totally unique. His voice just has the perfect affect. I’m shocked he’s not more well known. Check out the album “A” it’s a masterpiece.
If you don’t already own at least one of these discs, shame on you.