By Brian Knight
The first time I saw Strangefolk was in the basement of a UVM party in 1993. At the time, the band consisted of Jon Trafton and Reid Genauer sharing vocals and guitar. Over the year, I also got to see the two play at the Middle East, a hopping Winooski bar that was run by Saint Michael's College graduates. Three years later I returned to Burlington and was looking for something to do on a Wednesday night. The Middle East had long been shut down and I wasn't ready for college basement party. Much to my personal surprise, Strangefolk was headlining at Club Metronome. What I saw that night was a true musical treat. The band had gained Luke Smith on drums and Erik Glockler on bass and vocals. These additions not only increased the overall sound of the band but also expanded their songwriting abilities.. This past Wednesday I had an opportunity to talk to guitarist and lead vocalist Reid Genauer and he brought me up to date with the band.
With three members attending the University of Vermont, Strangefolk played Burlington's downtown bars and fraternity parties. After graduating from UVM, the band members spent the summer apart. This was not a split up, but rather a celebration for completing school. Perhaps it was also a time for collecting their thoughts, for when Strangefolk reconvened in Burlington the following Fall, they were determined to raise Strangefolk from a college band to a regional and national act.
It was difficult for the band to restart again and they found it hard to find places to play. Genauer commented: "I would never want to relive that experience again". Through old contacts and friends, Strangefolk slowly began to build a touring schedule. As they hit the road, their popularity began to build as well. Genauer attributes alot of the bands rebuilding success to New England. Genauer related the whole process to a "nutrient cycle": transplanted Vermonters would support the band when they were on the road and when things didn't go so well, the band could return to Vermont for a liitle morale boost. Genauer says that this process still exists today and claims that the "cycle" is a primary reason for Strangefolk immense popularity in places like Bozemen, Montana.
A good indicator of the band's growth was the 1996 release of their first full album, Lore. The album contains eleven well polished songs. Through close scrutinization of the liner notes, one will notice that there are no songwriting credits on any of the songs. Genauer claims that this was not a mistake and that all the band members contribute equally to the development of a song. " A single member may create the foundation of a song, but each guy adds a little something to help it bloom into a fully developed tune". Lore was produced by Dan Archer of Archer Studios in Colchester, Vermont and the band plans to return there this upcoming fall to start recording their eagerly anticipated second album. The band has also re-released their first demo tape on CD. Although not as well produced as Lore, the demo contains many of the band's finest songs.
When asked of their musical influences, Genauer was hesitant to answer: " If you listen to the music, the influences are obvious. However, our individual life experiences have a huge impact on how we sound. The band members provide a fresh set of emotions and a unique worldview which come across through our music." For instance, their song "Alaska" was drawn from each band member's personal experiences in the Frontier state. "Poland" is about Genauer's grandmother who escaped from Poland before the Nazi's reign of terror and made a new life for herself in the United States.
The bandmembers form a unique bond in their musicianship and songwriting. Genauer feels that the band has many "yin-yang" relationships. On the songwriting level, Genauer feels that his songs are "self indulgent and emotional based", while Glockler's song tend to be "from the gut and straightforward". This is evident when listening to the uncertainty and loneliness of Genauer's "Sometimes" and the feel good simplicity of Glockler's "Rather Go Fishin'". The "yin-yang" relationship continues on the musical level as well. While Genauer, Gockler and Smith maintain the rhythm for the band, Trafton's guitar work allows for the band to travel down more experiemental roads. Trafton definitely helps create the "strange" in Strangefolk.
Sometimes it is easy to find a band's influences through their choice of cover tunes. This is not the case for Strangefolk. Their cover song repertoire ranges from the disco hits of "Funky Town" and "Do a Little Dance" to the Willie Nelson ballads of "I Get Off On You" and "Whiskey River". Nat, the band's soundman, further describes the band: " Imagine the Grateful Dead and Pearl Jam having a baby and Willie Nelson delivering it". With all of these diverse tunes and descriptions, I guess one would have to see the band for themselves in order to pass an effective judgment.