Bridging the Gap
New Orleans indie rock duo marries both traditional and forward-thinking approaches to music
Most bands from New Orleans traffic in an instantly recognizable blend of jazz, funk, blues and soul. But Generationals, a duo made of natives Ted Joyner and Grant Widmer, have figured out a way to mesh a love for those traditional forms with a desire to branch out by writing and recording urgent, jangly and sun-kissed indie rock. Over the course of three full-length albums, Joyner and Widmer, who are joined during live performances by Ben Jones and Cameron Gardner, have also detoured into classic pop, doo-wop, New Wave and even electro territory. The one constant? A focus on solid songwriting. Folio Weekly chatted with Joyner about traditional recording techniques, expanding outward from Generationals' New Orleans home, and bringing new songs from its latest album, "Heza," to Florida.
Folio Weekly: Since Generationals hails from New Orleans, you and Grant must have a lot of experience touring in Florida, right?
Ted Joyner: No, I feel like we've underdone Florida — this will really be our first time getting down there, despite the fact that we're so close. It's like us playing catch-up, and I can't wait. I'm really looking forward to it.
F.W.: Your third full-length album, "Heza," came out in April. Looking back with a couple of months of remove, did you achieve what you wanted with the record?
T.J.: I think so. As of our East Coast tour in May, we hadn't played all the new songs yet. But it seems like people have caught on to them a little faster this time around, and they're definitely some of my favorite songs to play live. You're absolutely right, though: You have an intent when you write an album, but you rediscover the songs again — and they take on new meaning or new life — once they're out there actually being performed live. It's very fulfilling to have fans react to them, and the response so far has been great. I think by the time we get down to Florida we'll be playing almost the entire record live.
F.W.: When you and Grant started Generationals back in 2007, did you have lofty expectations of success?
T.J.: For us, it's always been about trying to get really good at making songs while developing more interesting production and recording techniques. We're always chasing songs of a type that you want to listen to over and over again when you're hanging out with your friends — but also songs that translate really well live. So it's been an ongoing project of getting better and better at songwriting.
F.W.: How about a particular sound?
T.J.: We didn't start the project with any specific sound in mind; consequentially, we've written a lot of different songs that pull from different sounds and styles. Any time someone tries to nail down a specific genre that we're trying to mimic, we can show them several examples that undermine that categorization. It's always been about writing — trying to work with each other to write the best songs we can. So there is a spontaneity there; we're always following our gut to make the song as good as it can be.
F.W.: Explain your love of those interesting production techniques you mentioned.
T.J.: Our problem is we have a deep passion for the really old style of recording, playing with traditional, iconic rock instrumentation, and using old analog tape. But we're also passionate about trying out weird, new sounds and strange devices that can make strange sounds you would never be able to make with older instruments. So we mess with both worlds: We stick to the traditional three-minute pop format, but we also have an eagerness to sometimes get as weird as we can.
F.W.: That's about the best breakdown of the word Generationals possible. Was that intended when you named the band?
T.J.: No, that was never the intention. But the further we get into this, the more it makes sense. It's kind of become our whole meaning and manifestation for living.
F.W.: Does a lot of that love for traditional music come from growing up in New Orleans?
T.J.: In part, yeah. That's a really good observation. We don't sound specifically "New Orleans" in the way that most people expect the city to sound. But we're very much informed by the place in which we grew up. We had friends whose parents were musicians, and we grew up worshipping iconic New Orleans names like The Meters, the Neville Brothers and Irma Thomas. That all ends up filtering in to how we think about our worldview and our music.