Summer’s here, and that means Phono del Sol ain’t too far off. It also means Generationals will be in town to play the festival. Those of you familiar with the music of the New Orleans-based two-piece are already excited, and for those of you who aren’t, here’s why you should be excited: the duo comprised of Ted Joyner and Grant Widmer make some of the catchiest, synth-based electro-pop out there. Their latest LP, Alix, is a prime example of that, boasting huge melodic hooks on songs like “Black Lemon” and “Reviver” that echo an ’80s pop past yet remain fresh enough to fit in the 21st century. I was able to speak with Grant about the latest album, the roots of Generationals and their thoughts on playing this year’s Phono del Sol Festival.
The Bay Bridged: You started this project after graduating from college right?
Grant Widmer: Not exactly. Me and Ted had another band together in school that broke up.
TBB: But you were set on pursuing music for a living after graduation?
GW: Yeah. There was about a four year gap between graduation and the formation of the Generationals. Ted and I had been in a number of projects since we were teenagers. We both ended up in the film and television industry which has really grown over the years in Louisiana. We saved up the money we made from our jobs and used it to fund the first Generationals recordings. Even though I went to school for writing, I always had it in the back of my head to pursue a music career. It’s the thing I was most passionate about and something I always thought I had potential for.
TBB: I hear a lot of ‘80s New Wave influences in your music. Is that accurate? And, if so, what particularly drew you to the sounds of that era?
GW: Yeah that’s accurate. It’s difficult to explain the attraction to any music really. Why do you like the music you like? That’s a tough one. There was just something about the energy of that time and the unique sound of the instruments that caught my ear. I definitely try to fuse those elements with more modern influences.
TBB: What’s your songwriting relationship with Ted like? Is the songwriting a 50/50 collaboration? Do you each write separate parts and try to put them together?
GW: It’s a combination of the two. We certainly collaborate on every song together and work to flesh out the ideas we have as a team. Sometimes we have a strong individual opinion of what the song should sound like.
TBB: Any fights ever result from creative differences?
GW: We’ve probably had our share (laughs). For the most part we’re pretty agreeable though. We respect each other’s feedback and opinions. And we know how to back down too. You can always tell if your writing partner feels very strongly about a certain song or element in a song, so you don’t try to push them too hard. You have to know when to compromise and when to keep pushing.
TBB: You just released two albums in back-to-back years (Heza in 2013 and Alix in 2014) which is quite a feat for independent artists nowadays. What was the thought process behind that decision?
GW: We weren’t consciously trying to go faster. That’s just our natural pace. After finishing the tour behind Heza we went back home and started writing again. Writing seems to be our default state of being. Polyvinyl encouraged us as well, and me and Ted have had a few conversations about not being dormant for too long. If you’re not consistently active in today’s music scene, people will forget you exist. We’re very conscious of the churn and the public’s shortening attention span.
TBB: How were you able to turn around and write another album so quickly?
GW: Our success rate of songs started is pretty good. I remember reading this article on The Walkmen recently about their songwriting process. They said they start with about 30 songs and then whittle it down to 9 or 10. We’ve never done anything like that. It’s actually a bit strange, we always write the exact amount we planned from the start and can usually knock the final arrangements out in a few months.
TBB: I think Alix is probably your most polished and tightly-constructed release yet. Are you guys just maturing as songwriters or were there other factors involved on this one?
GW: Thanks! Our new producer Richard Swift definitely added a lot to the album. He viewed the individual tracks within the context of a larger piece, probably contributing to the more cohesive structure of the record. The time frame was also more compressed so we were more focused than usual. Pressure can really strengthen the writing process sometimes.
TBB: What are you looking forward to most when you head into San Francisco to play this year’s Phono del Sol?
GW: The city just has so much to offer and we love visiting it every time we get a chance. I wish we had more time on tours to explore the city but we usually only get a couple days. It kinda reminds me of New Orleans too. Both cities are culturally rich, historically interesting, and have a weirdness to them you don’t find in a lot of other places. There’s a great quote by Tennessee Williams where he says, “America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.” I think that sums it up pretty well (laughs).
2015 Phono del Sol Music & Food Festival, with Tanlines, King Tuff, VÉRITÉ, Sonny & The Sunsets, Marriages, Mas Ysa, Everyone Is Dirty, The Tropics, TIARAS, and Scary Little Friends
Potrero del Sol Park
July 11, 2015
12-7pm, $30, All Ages (Buy Tickets Here)