Guster's Luke Reynolds On Carpentry, His Solo Album And Calling Vermont Home

Jun 3, 2015

On a recent spring day, Vermont Edition headed out to Lincoln, Vermont, to talk with musician and songwriter Luke Reynolds about the cabin he recently built with his father and his new solo album, After the Flood. Reynolds is based in Nashville and Brooklyn, and spends much of the year touring with the band Guster, which he joined five years ago. But he says Vermont is still home.

On having strong ties to family and Vermont

“I’m a sixth-generation native Vermonter from Addison County, so I knew my work as a musician was going to require that I move around a lot, and having a base camp set up somewhere was something that very much appealed to me. Lincoln, Vermont, where I built my cabin, has been my favorite town in Vermont since I was a little kid. So I was lucky enough to find a large chunk of land up here. This is the first house that I built from scratch; my dad and I built it together, it was a really wonderful experience.”

Reynolds' father is a woodworker and he made many of the musical instruments Reynolds has played throughout the years.

“My dad is a really important person in my life. He’s a boat builder, so when I was growing up he was building traditional Adirondack guide boats and traditional canvas canoes. Collaborating on a project together was something that was new to him and me, especially because in a lot of ways this was my project ... There was a learning curve on learning to work together in this way. Sharing a creative vision with someone can be challenging.”

On the similarities between carpentry and music-making

Reynolds built his cabin in Lincoln with his father, who is a boat maker and also makes instruments. He says that building the cabin together was "a really wonderful experience."
Credit Luke Reynolds

“I enjoy making the kind of music that I want to hear in the same way I think my dad enjoys building the types of objects he himself wants to find in the world. Whether it’s the kind of traditional boat he wants to use, or whether it’s working on an archtop guitar, I think that we both share that and I think that I learned that from watching him work.

“There’s also a demystification process that happens that I’ve witnessed with him from working on this house together. I love Scandinavian architecture and I used to think, ‘Oh man, I’m going to have to hire someone else to do that,’ but working with my dad on this project and this cabin was really cool. [He showed me] anybody could do that, I could do that, and it’s similar with music and recordings. A lot of the music that I love and obsess over from other artists, once you get in there, anyone can do it, really, if you hang in there long enough.”

On his music eclectic musical style

“I haven’t spent a lot of time trying to articulate how my music sounds. I just made a record called After the Flood, and when I started writing that record I kept these huge poster sheets and I hung them from the walls of my apartment. I used them to keep track of what I was listening to, what I loved and what turned me on. I was able to look up at the wall and jot an idea down, jot a lyric down and just brainstorm – it was pretty eclectic. If I remember correctly, it was Scott Walker and the Walker Brothers, Richard Swift, Nick Garrie, a lot of fringe musicians from the 1960s … when I hear After the Flood, I hear how all those records of theirs that I love influenced the writing.”

On the album title After the Flood

Reynolds explains that the title of his album isn’t in reference to Tropical Storm Irene, which hit Vermont in 2011. Or to Hurricane Sandy, which battered the New York region in 2012.

“It’s actually a reference to the first poem in [Arthur] Rimbaud’s Illuminations … That collection of poetry was incredibly important to me while I was writing the record.”

"If I remember correctly, [I was listening to] Scott Walker and the Walker Brothers, Richard Swift, Nick Garrie, a lot of fringe musicians from the 1960s … when I hear 'After the Flood,' I hear how all those records of theirs that I love influenced the writing." - Luke Reynolds, musician

The book of poetry was given to him by his wife, Abby.

“Basically, I was looking to get free, to free up the way I thought about writing, the way I felt about recording and the way that I felt about playing. Abby somehow knew that feeding me a bunch of French symbolist poetry was the right thing to do at the right time, to her credit.

“I made that record because I needed to make that record. It was out of necessity. Amongst groups of professional musicians, I feel like everyone is always [wishing] they were working on cooler music and music that they love … Well, it’s one thing to talk about wanting to work on music that you love, it’s another thing [to be] the guy who goes out there and creates a body of work for everyone to go cut. I had a few months off of touring, so I did that.”

On one of Reynolds’ favorite tracks from the album

“The opening track on After the Flood is called A Million Miles Away, and that track coming off the floor in the recording studio was one of the hottest tracks that any of us had ever cut, and [we] definitely felt touched by magic.”

On Guster, which Reynolds joined five years ago

"This is a new chapter for me and my involvement in Guster, in that I very much have ownership in this new body of work."

“The band, until recently, was very much their vision. And to their credit, they built something that’s really special and really unique. When I was first asked to join the band in 2010, I was very much serving their vision, and their music, and I worked really hard to do that. Most recently, we put out a record called Evermotion. It came out a few months back. I helped write that record, I helped write the entire record, played on the entire record, and I’m an equal owner in that. So this is a new chapter for me and my involvement in Guster, in that I very much have ownership in this new body of work.”

On his past musical experiences and getting compared to Coldplay

“I look at the records I’ve made before, my first real pop record I made was called Burning in the Sun [with the band Blue Merle] ... I was 22 or 23 years old when I wrote that record, and when I listen to that record now … it’s like losing your virginity in the music business. That’s the coolest way that could have happened. I didn’t feel pressure at the time when I was writing it, and there are a couple songs on there still that I’m incredibly proud of ... I think that’s just part of making art and being an artist is trying to do the best you can where you’re at with your life.

“I’ve been a professional musical musician now for almost 14 years and at the time, you’re right, having comparisons about the music you’re making, the art that you’re creating, to someone else – it hurts the ego, the similarities that Chris Martin and I might have had 10 years ago, we both have scruffy voices and singing in a falsetto occasionally, we’re both also incredibly handsome, talented and modest. But, the ego of a 23-year-old is that you want to make something that’s just your own, but ultimately you can’t control what people think of your music or who [you’re] compared to.

"What I'm interested in is over the course of my life, [building] a body of work I can stand behind and say, 'I made these records,' and still stand behind them."

“The benefit of now 14 years into being a professional musician is I just see that it’s part of the game … The art that you’re creating, the music you’re making and the records you’re building are going to change on their own. What I’m interested in is over the course of my life, [building] a body of work I can stand behind and say, ‘I made these records,’ and still stand behind them. I’d love to be 70 years old and be able to pick one or two songs off of each record of my career and still stand behind them and say, “That’s a great song.’ That would be something that would be really sweet.”

On his goals as a musician

"The long term goal would be to stay in music as long as I love it, and so far I’ve found that I continue to fall back in love with it."

“The long term goal would be to stay in music as long as I love it, and so far I’ve found that I continue to fall back in love with it. It goes low, it goes high, it goes low, it goes high, it’s just part of it – it doesn’t scare me anymore. It used to scare me when I’d fall out of love with music … but it doesn’t scare me anymore because making music, specifically cutting records, is something that I return to and brings me so much joy and deep, immense satisfaction on multiple levels, that I hope that I will continue to fall back in love with it – always.”

Learn more about Luke Reynolds and his new album on his website.