Ted Joyner and Grant Widmer, writing partners and core members of indie-pop band Generationals, are not related. But having played music together since freshman year of high school, they now seem, in their late twenties, to in some ways be twins. “We do the exact same things within the band,” says co-singer/multi-instrumentalist Widmer. “On tour we drive the same amount. We alternate who gets to soundcheck guitars first. Ted sometimes sings in a little bit of a higher register, but that’s about the only difference.”
The musical result of their symbiosis is a slyly modern take on sunny, nostalgic guitar pop. The modern aspects appear mostly in the deep production, especially on the horn-embellished EP Trust, which came between the band’s first album, Con Law, and its latest, Actor-Caster, due out March 29. “When we made our first record, there were just a lot of unknowns, the most significant being that neither of us had ever really sung much,” recalls Joyner. “We went into making Actor-Caster knowing we could make a good full-length on our own.”
Despite the advances, Actor-Caster features few of Trust’s wilder timbres. The new batch features more drum machine and synth sounds, but collaborator Tess Brunet of Deadboy and the Elephantmen fame also left to pursue her own project, Au Ras Au Ras. Otherwise, Generationals’ live lineup—which will play five shows at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas this March—has grown. “We’ve tried dozens of different song arrangements and lineups with this band,” says Joyner. “In making an effort to play these songs in a way that is more faithful to the recordings, we’ve recently brought on a fifth member so we could have two guitars and a few more synths and even some samples. We’ve even brought on a couple of trumpets for all the shows we’ve played this year.”
It seems as if Generationals have graced Top 10 and “Best Bands in Louisiana” lists since the week of their inception. The band has gone on to live up to the hype, but even the boys seem wary of that initial reception. “There are hundreds of bands in Louisiana that are far better than us—Brass Bed and Giant Cloud for two,” says Widmer. “I always feel a need to apologize for that a little bit. I would attribute [that early wave of positive press] either directly to Park the Van [their label], or also to staffers at magazines who did not have time to get very deep into the research on that.” The band’s good reputation also has much to do with the luck Generationals have had in licensing their songs to products ranging from Bloomingdale’s department stores to Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
These days, licensing seems to play more of a role for musicians, even little indie rock bands. For instance, no one wrote about Joyner and Widmer’s former band, the Eames Era, without mentioning the song they landed on Grey’s Anatomy. “Licensing is the biggest reason why we are able to earn a living as musicians,” says Widmer. “I think it’s weird to people that Generationals have been licensing music at a level of visibility that really exceeds our status as a live band or as a record-selling band.”
The band’s touring and festival dance cards have remained pretty full too, including shows opening for Broken Social Scene and Apples in Stereo, the Spinto Band tour, Miniature Tigers and a sold out-tour with Two Door Cinema Club. It’s interesting to wonder if Generationals’ success has come because they are that rare New Orleans band not out on the road bringing people a slice of the Crescent City, because musically, Generationals could hail from any of the 50 states.
“I feel like a lot of people are consciously affecting New Orleans soul or heritage,” says Widmer. “In our music, I am just being honest about what I like. I grew up in Lakeview watching MTV and listening to tapes and CDs and radio that rarely had any real New Orleans fingerprint. I have seen the Funky Meters probably more than any other band, but I wasn’t taught by a grey-haired bluesman or something. I also think it asks for a certain amount of virtuosity to play traditional New Orleans music, and virtuosity is not something I’m really interested in as a musician.”
“People cheer, though, when we say onstage that we’re from New Orleans,” adds Joyner, “and I’m not sure they would if we said we were from, say, Dallas.”
OffBeat is proud to sponsor Generationals at this year’s South by Southwest. They’ll play Wednesday, March 16 at 4 p.m. at the Red Eyed Fly; Thursday, March 17 at Cheers; Friday, March 18 at the Cedar Door at 9 p.m., then at 1 a.m. at Mi Casa Cantina, and Saturday, March 19 at the KUT Cactus Café at 12 p.m.