Lessons from Parachute @ 20… by Brian “Thundergod” Rosenworcel

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On Sunday we played our college album Parachute from start to finish, live at a bowling alley in Brooklyn.  Twice.  It’d been 20 years since we recorded those eleven tunes while earning incompletes from our professors during our junior year at Tufts, back before we added the TER to the GUS.  It had probably been 17 years since any of us had listened to the album (Luke listened to it in October for the first time ever).  And with the exception of three survivors who limped their way into our setlist every year or two (that’d be “Mona Lisa,” “Window,” and “Parachute”), most of the songs were retired before the the turn of the millennium.  14 years ago.

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We each had our moments where we cringed while checking in with our teen-songwriting-selves, and unless you’re The Strokes or The Violent Femmes, your first foray into album-making is bound to show some noob.  For me I cringed at my percussion parts, front and center, the busiest bee in the room, buzzing exactly the same way on almost every song… it wouldn’t be until Lost & Gone Forever five years later that I’d figure out how to put space and creativity into my kit to let the songs breathe.  But I also cringed along with my bandmates at their age-appropriate lyrics and overzealous vocal stylings.  Adam and Ryan pretty much played the same guitar part on every song back then — it’s unclear who was copying who.  But these weren’t the major takeaways from the Parachute revisit.

Because there were a lot of musical things going on in those songs too — and the production by Mike Denneen, on reflection, was genius.  He managed to complement our instrumentation with great, subtle players who gave each song an identity it wouldn’t have had.  A handful of our college buddies contributed too, most notably Tom Swafford who brought “Window” to life with a thoughtful and virtuosic violin performance — but Denneen’s guys really stepped up and helped Parachute become a sonically pleasing record.  I am talking mostly about Jay Bellerose, who played drums on “Mona Lisa,” “Eden,” “Dissolve,” and “Parachute,” and Mike Rivard, who played upright bass on a number of songs.  If you happened to catch us really enjoying playing “The Prize” at Brooklyn Bowl the other night, it’s probably because Mike’s bass line added a deep jazzy flair to the verse of a country song.  Our first country song.

And I think we all were struck by how powerful it was when Ryan and Adam’s voices came together the way they did at many times on that album.  When harmonies and counter-melodies were huge priorities for our band.  I might be imagining it, but didn’t Ryan Miller tell the crowd that “we learned something” by visiting the album again the other day?  I am not sure what he learned, but I will guess the vocals struck him.  I was feeling it on “Cocoon” during the inter-woven “dream yourself to sleep at night” broken-down verse.  Do you know how many times I played the song “Cocoon” between 1993 and 1997?  Between 8 sets a night on weekends in Harvard Square where we often opened *and* closed with it, and endless van gigs where “Cocoon” brought down the house before it was replaced by “Fa Fa” in 1998 — it’s no wonder we really needed very little time to get the songs into working condition.  They’re in our blood. Forever a part of our DNA, for better and for worse.  Insert your own riding-a-bike metaphor HERE.

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So after years of being disparaged on stage, ignored in our set lists, and left to rot like The Big Friend itself — a stuffed animal that I received as a gift from my aunt at age 9 that probably wound up dumped in a landfill after being stolen along with the contents of our trailer from the mafia-run landscaping parking lot in New Jersey where Adam’s mom recommended we park our trailer during some downtime — after years of that sort of Big Friend-fate…. Parachute gets its moment and gets a respectful nod from the man who almost ruined it with his bongos.  I’ll even say that the *song* “Parachute” impressed me.  What a great song.

Because I also listened to Goldfly, which we recorded at the end of 1996, and was shocked to discover how much worse it sounded than Parachute.  I mean it sounds awful.  That we ever got a chance to redeem ourselves a few years later on Lost & Gone Forever is a miracle.  There will be no anniversary celebrations, Goldfly.

27 Comments

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27 responses to “Lessons from Parachute @ 20… by Brian “Thundergod” Rosenworcel

  1. Justin

    I think the evolution from Parachute – Goldfly – Lost and Gone Forever is absolutely amazing. For many fans like myself, I was growing with the albums and the lyrics and overall compositions evolved as I grew into a new person and Guster formed into a more established identity. Going back to those albums reminds me of the maturation process I was going through during those years and I associate key songs with key moments of my life. Then moving on from Lost and Gone, every album had a unique addition in the Guster landscape that never fully departed from what we all were amazed by in the 90s, but while not resubmitting the same types of songs album after album. You guys rock.

  2. I always loved Parachute more than Goldfly. Parachute deserves another encore performance back in Harvard Square though, IMO…

  3. Alana Hecht

    Ugh you are so short-sighted Brian! I had the pleasure of being a camper at Wellesley College’s EXPLO program the summer of 1995 when your college friend Jodi Silverman coerced you guys, then Gus, into playing for our awkward 15 year old selves. I got to meet you guys then (and several times after, got very interesting “art” from you guys (someone drew me a banana for instance), and I was obsessed from that moment forward. From the moment I heard it, I knew Parachute was genius, and it is STILL one of my favorite albums (of yours, and in general). The bongs ROCKED and my friends and I always tried to drum along with you on the steering wheel in my car. And as one of your oldest fans, I have to say that Goldfly is AMAZING too and my high school friends would all agree that Goldfly was the soundtrack to our lives in high school. Get with it Brian. You guys have ALWAYS been amazing. The older stuff is different but not any less amazing. I am still one of your biggest fans, and I CAN’T BELIEVE you aren’t in Washington, DC to play Parachute from start to finish.

  4. Stacy

    Your bongo playing was intense. It broke my heart when you stopped playing them after lost and gone forever. As for the early albums, the raw sounds of the music matches the rawness of the lyrics which speaks to our souls. Perfection isn’t always perfect. Guster has always been my favorite band. I can remember watching you play at the bar/grill at my college back in 1999 when only 10 people were paying attention and you rocked then, like you rock now.

  5. Jason Bordelon

    So great reading this and hearing insights into the resurrection of Parachute. Thank you for taking the time to write about it. I really liked how you mention the speed at which you guys got Parachute into “working condition”, probably very little relearning going on there. I was most astounded to hear that Goldfly is frowned upon, I think most Gusterites, myself included, would consider Goldfly a step up, as all of your albums have gotten progressively better. And considering that so many songs from Goldfly currently live and breath on your real time set list. Maybe Goldfly will get a redux in twenty years, but I won’t hold my breath. Happy Holidays and thank you for your music:)

  6. Dave Lackey

    Goldfly was the first Guster album I ever heard and I LOVE IT. Still do.

    • Sam

      Same here! I’d probably never had heard of Guster if it were not for 99x playing “airport song” when I was in the 8th grade. Poor goldfly, I still love you…

  7. Lynne

    Ryan and Adam looked so embarrassed through a huge portion of the Parachute set, but everyone around me knew every single word. Most of us fell in love with you guys while WE were in high school and college, and those lyrics somehow resonated enough to make us all drive to Brooklyn to see you play the entire album (and, in my case, drive home to Worcester after the second show and woke up 4 hours later to teach first grade). A Goldfly reunion show would sell out just as fast, and my husband and stepson would be too, just like they were at Brooklyn Bowl.

  8. Does this mean we’ll get more harmonies on the new record?

  9. Justin Blackman

    Please, please, please release a recording of the Parachute show. I still have that album in a semi-regular rotation.

  10. I love that album still to this very day. And I love your Window Art Big Friend!! My niece and nephew and I have done hundreds of pieces of window art, but I never thought of doing a Big Friend. That must be remedied over the holidays. I do have him on my bumper sticker that says “Kiss Me I’m Carbon Neutral” so he remains alive in all of our hearts even if he has disintegrated in a dump somewhere by now. Love to all Gusterians.

  11. Oh, no, you didn’t!!! You are NOT leaving Goldfly behind as you celebrate anniversaries!! Are you even kidding, B??? Demons!!!! Airport Song!!! Medicine!!! Getting Even!!! This album got me into you bigtime and you are NOT abandoning it, do you hear me???!! This indisgression will not stand!! Get to practicing, you guys! I don’t care HOW you revamp it, but you had better do it and bring it to Toledo, got it!!?? I never!! Plus, that pic on the inside cover, can I get a poster of that? lol, love you, man!

  12. Does this mean we’ll hear more songs from “Parachute” during future concerts? Happy belated birthday, Brian. I didn’t get a chance to see you guys perform in Brooklyn, but was at the “Keep It Together” show in the front row. I’ve seen you guys along with my other friends, who were introduced to Guster in 1999, when we were freshmen at Brandeis. I’d love to hear you play “The Prize” with a country twist. I saw Van Morrison, John Fogerty, along with you guys during November at the Beacon, and Guster is definitely one of the best live acts out there, along with Leonard Cohen. It has become a tradition for my group of friends to see you guys perform live each November – 2005 (Nokia Theatre, NYC), 2007(Beacon Theatre), 2009 (Lost and Gone Forever Anniversary – Beacon Theatre), 2011 (Wellmont Theatre, NJ), and the other night at the Beacon in 2013. I think “Come Downstairs and Say Hello” is an absolute masterpiece, and might be the best song played live by any band. Thank you for the music, Adam, Ryan, and Brian. I can’t begin to imagine how cool it was meeting each other freshman year at Tufts. I’m sure you guys have talked about that meeting countless times. I’m sure the fans would love to read a short story about the formation of Guster. I really hope I receive an e-mail some time during the summer of 2014 that you guys are playing the Beacon Theatre during Thanksgiving. I can’t wait to hear the new songs, and will never forget blasting “barrel of a gun” during my first week at Brandeis in 1999. The Bostonians quickly introduced our entire floor to your music, and we’ve been hooked the past 14 years. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

  13. I absolutely adore you guys. #GUSTERHOID for life!

  14. I was at the afternoon show last week in Brooklyn. Parachute is how, in 1999, I became indoctrinated into your world. I’ve been a loyal, loving follower ever since and have seen you in various spots up and down the east coast. I am so glad you guys decided to do that show. It was perhaps the most articulate and delightful I’ve ever seen Ryan. The show itself was simply terrific, like a warm hug from a nice part of my past with lyrics that I can absolutely apply to my present. Many thanks, much love.

  15. Brian,

    Thanks for sharing! I remember many of those memories. Back when Goldfly was released I saw you open for Great Big Sea at Keene college in nh and then right to Fpc (my college) the same night. Saw you guys many times at the Iron Horse in MA.
    Since, my wife and I still enjoy parachute, it’s such an emotional song (being in 6/8 helps) and speaks to so many memories of our past. So, thank you!

    Keep writing and creating!
    Cheers
    Rob

  16. When I saw you guys at UNH in ’96, I bought both albums, and Parachute was always my fav :) Thanks!

  17. mckenzie

    We flew in (from Idaho) and were not disappointed. We would do it again. Parachute is my husbands favorite album, and since my favorite songs live on Goldfly I am holding out for a reunion. Who doesn’t want to see their favorite band preform an entire album?
    We have seen Lost and Gone Forever, K.I.T., and Parachute. Don’t stop now.

  18. I was at the CD release party for Parachute in the Dewick-MacPhie dining hall, and “Window” is still my favorite Gus(ter) song. (And only partly because of Tom’s violin.)

  19. Bri (and the rest of GUS)… i think your assessment of the vocal performances, the way the songwriting and performance was so interwoven is what i love best about this album. Cocoon being the perfect example indeed. I miss that about Guster. While i love the later albums for sure, the counter harmonies and the beauty of the songwriting the way you guys used to do that is gone. i miss it. when i’m in the car with my daughter and son and the three of us are laying out “What you wish for” it makes me so so happy.

    I know the “teen angst” painfulness of looking back at the songwriting or the busy bee drumming (that was a great assessment of yourself and it put a smile on my face) may be hard for you guys. But your first few albums shine to me specifically because of that tapestry of voices.

    tell ryan and adam to do something like that again on the next album. just for us old fans. :-)

    love you guys.

  20. I remember when I was introduced to Parachute by my college roommate… he had heard of you guys while up in Boston for a rowing regatta or something; I bought the album and had all you guys sign it when you played a small venue in Winston-Salem (I believe Train opened for you, actually… I can’t remember. It was either you or The Connells. And nobody knew who Train was, but I told Pat (Monahan) “You guys have a great sound, you’re going to be big.”)

    I also talked to Brian after the show and he was worn out and his hands on ice, but he was pretty approachable and nice despite that fact … the live Thunder God action was awesome to see, though. Adam was super friendly, too (even with his, I believe, flowbee haircut at the time) [Ryan disappeared right after you guys autographed Parachute for me, so I didn't get a chance to talk to him...]

  21. KGV

    Love the reflections and sad to have missed the bowling alley event. I still listen to both albums regularly. They bring me back to college in Boston in the late-90s (including when you played the BC dining hall). Perhaps that’s why my band covers Rocketship (one of many Goldfly gems). By the way, thanks for playing Missoula, MT this summer. You guys were truly awesome! Highlight of the summer. Hope you make it back.

  22. Bearnard

    Eden is probably one of my favorite Guster songs of all time! I’ve always wished that you guys would play it. Admittedly, Lost and Gone forever is way better than Parachute and Goldfly but really, Goldfly has a lot of gems on it!

  23. I don’t think you meant to be so harsh on Goldfly, because there are plenty of great songs on that album. “Melanie”, however never really grabbed me. It’s just a weird song, but I just listened to a live version recently and I liked it much better because it sounded more musical. It was certainly an improvement over the strange volume-levels and mixing of the album-version.

  24. Courtney Papaz

    However you look at Parachute…that was the start. Look at the following, look at what has been accomplished. I am sitting at the age of 33 in my office, with headphones on and am listening continuously to my “Guster Playlist” on Spotify…consisting of each album. Each album brings me back to a different moment in my life, and for that I am grateful. Your music did that, and that is amazing! Currently playing: X-Ray Eyes….and I love it just as much now as I did when I was 15 years old. So THANK YOU GUSTER!

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