Welcome to Influencers!
For those of you who listened to the last episode, you know that we have Brian with us. The hints that were given were that Brian considers himself from Brooklyn, although he really isn’t. He became a percussionist after picking up a cheap set of bongos when he was a teenager. He and his band have produced an immense body of music that really stands a test of time. The Incredible Hulk would play him in a movie version of his life. The book that represents his life is Portnoy’s Complaint because it is the defining book of a young Jew. He went to many of the trials and tribulations of becoming a member of a successful band. He has a last name that is so long and so incredibly difficult to pronounce that no other percussionist could compete.
Then, the second interview is anonymous. If you can figure out who it is before we reveal it in the following podcast, you could win a coveted invitation to the Influencer Salon.
Listen To The Podcast Here:
Find A Way To Be New And Exciting with Brian Rosenworcel
Brian, who are you? What have you accomplished? What do you do?
My name’s Brian Rosenworcel. For the last 25 years, I’ve been the drummer and percussionist in the band Guster. We formed in college at Tufts University and have pretty much been touring since. I don’t know if I could spout off a list of accomplishments beyond the fact that I’ve spent 25 years touring in a band and I still enjoy it. That’s pretty much my main accomplishment. We’ve played with the Boston Pops Orchestra. I know you want me to say that Maroon 5 and John Mayer used to open for us so I’ll throw that out there too. A lot of people that opened for us back in the day went on to win Grammy’s.
Maybe I’ll get to open for you one day and then win a Grammy.
Your chances are pretty good.
Before I even go into another question, the fact that you and your bandmates still like each other is incredible. That’s just amazing because you always hear these stories of how tumultuous band life is and how people end up hating each other and never wanting to see each other again.
You’re right, that is one of the most remarkable things about it. A couple summers ago, we were on tour with a reunited Ben Folds Five. Their drummer came up to me and we were like, “You want to go rafting down the river with us? We’ve got the day off. Why don’t you guys come?” He’s like, “I can’t believe you guys hang out with each other.” I realized it’s abnormal but it also is what has kept us together.
I see the same thing, you mentioned Maroon 5. From my interactions with some of the band members, they really are friends and the reason they’ve had such a good career is that they have this mutual respect and actually hang out.
Relationships are super important, just like in a marriage. You need to communicate and respect each other. Why would it be any different in a band? The band usually has bigger egos and it’s more challenging.
When people discover that you’ve had this incredibly long career and several albums and all that, what’s the most common question they have?
There are a lot of questions that feel angled towards, “When are you going to hang it up?” That’s so annoying because no one’s asking Thom Yorke that question. We have a fan base that has never wilted. They’ve supported us. We released an album and tour and they just keep coming back. It’s a great way to make a living and it’s a great way to invest yourself in an artistic process. I want it to keep going as long as it feels vital to me. I don’t care if I’m in my 50’s or 60’s. I’d love to be doing it. There is sometimes the certain interviewer who wants to know, “When are you guys going to quit?”
I can’t imagine quitting doing something I enjoy if it’s still giving me energy and creative spark.
We have a lot of kids now. Whereas we used to be on the tour bus eight or nine months a year, it’s more like three or four now. It gives you a healthy balance in your life of domestic and creative and travel and so on.
Is there a certain accomplishment that you’re most proud of?
One of the things that I’m known for is that I created my own percussion kit and I played it like a drum set, which is to say that there are snares and cymbals and kick drums involved and it’s all hand drums. For the first ten years we were a band, that was all I played. I didn’t use sticks at all. Then I added a traditional drum kit into the mix. Having built this percussion kit that worked and was a real attraction live is something that required me to not just be creative but be stubborn. I had to resist everyone telling me to do things a certain way. I’m proud to have built something unique, something that’s my own.
There’s no doubt that there’s countless people trying to make it into the music industry. Many of them have an incredible amount of talent. But there are only so many people who become famous or can support themselves doing it. Do you have a few tips for the people that really want to succeed doing what you do?
When we started, it was a different industry. There was no internet in the 90s. When we were first starting out, we sent postcards and newsletters to our fans. The industry has morphed. It has died. As we’ve gone, it’s just been all about touring and treating our fans well and nurturing what you have. We never relied on a label or radio or anything we couldn’t control to sustain us. We created good relationship with our fans. That’s worked well for us. Now, with the internet, you can become a sensation overnight. That’s not how we did it. I know what we know and what we did, and that was to write songs and hit the road.
You can become a success overnight but nobody really does. It happens on very, very rare occasions. The fact is, people have to pluck away for years to figure out their sound, their fan base and engage them and build up enough of a support to really do something.
We spent four years in a van. That’s something you have the luxury of doing when you’re in your young 20’s. You’re like, “This is awesome. I slept on the floor last night and we got twenty people on the mailing list.” In your 40’s, you can’t really get away with that. We did it and we paid our dues and we learned how to be a band and how to find a sound and play together. You’re right. It took years and years to get good and to develop what we developed.
What are the pitfalls nobody talks about or the secrets?
Even once you’ve reached a certain level of success, you have to reinvent yourself. You have to find a way to not only get better at something, like songwriting or playing live. You have to find a way to be new and exciting again. For us, we wouldn’t want to get together and write songs if we were just going to write songs that sounded like the last album. Every time we challenge ourselves and we exhibit what we’ve been listening to and we grow. Our evolution is probably one of the proudest things. Where we started as a college band and where we are now, you wouldn’t even recognize us as the same band.
Do you feel like your fans support that?
Not all of them but a lot of them do. That’s just the way it is. When Bob Dylan played an electric guitar, people yelled “Judas” at him or whatever. You can’t listen to your fans or trust them to provide you aesthetic direction.
What we generally know is that people don’t necessarily want something new, they want something old wrapped in a new way. When you give them something unfamiliar, it takes time to adjust or they’re just not interested in hearing it.
I’m guilty of that as a fan too. The bands that I love, because I fell in love with their certain sound, I haven’t stayed with them through their various versions of themselves always. I don’t expect it from our fans. I also feel like our songwriting has been going down this vector that’s getting closer and closer to a classic album. There are a lot of people who are on that train with us.
It’s amazing that you’ve been able to build up an audience that can support that for so many years in a row. Is there a certain book that influenced you the most, besides how to be a nice Jewish boy?
When I was in my 20’s, I read The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. It really resonated with me. The Howard Roark character, who was this complete non-conformist with this enormous ego and this enormous passion for what he did and achieved therefore, was someone I wanted to model myself after. Trying to exist as a percussionist in a world where everyone said you needed to be a drummer to back up a band, I needed some of the lessons in that book. Politically, I may not agree with Ayn Rand and I’ve never read anything else of hers but The Fountainhead definitely resonated with me.
I can’t imagine trying to put a new spin in such a well-established industry of how to create sound.
Now that I do play a traditional kit, and that’s what excites me, it’s hilarious that halfway through my career, I’m like, “You can play with sticks and it doesn’t hurt. Now, I can sound like the Talking Heads if I want to.” I needed a certain stubbornness and a certain almost God complex to be able to keep persevering with the direction that I chose.
What’s something completely unexpected about reaching this level of success? I’m sure you’ve had the standard backstage tour stories of people throwing themselves at band members and all that stuff.
Our band has had a nice steady moderate level of success. We’re able to sell out Radio City Music Hall. But if you come see us in Atlanta, they’ll be 1,500 people there. It’s definitely plenty of fame and success for me. But many of the other people that attend your Influencers dinners have more people at their shows.
I always try to figure out what’s the right balance. It seems like you have it, in the sense that you can walk down the street and maybe once a month somebody will be like, “It’s Brian.” But it’s not interrupting your life. You’re not on The Voice and you have to walk around with private security.
A lot of people don’t recognize drummers. When I walk down the street with our lead singer, we generally get stopped and people are like, “I know who you are.” When it’s just me, the drummer, it takes a really deep fan to be able to recognize a drummer.
Do they ask you to hold the camera? Like, “I love Guster. I know all of your songs. Brian, do you mind holding the camera while I get a photo with the singer?”
I actually prefer to do it because I can get it done quicker that way. I don’t have to depend on someone else to adjust their focus. I can just grab it, do a long arm selfie and carry on. I know I sound like a dick.
No. We’ve had a lot of guests who are television celebs and stuff like that. They go to Comic-Cons and things, and they have a rule about getting photos with fans. Rule number one is, no matter if the fan is taller or shorter than you, your arm is always on top. Because they’re so nervous meeting you, then they’re sweating a lot. You don’t want their armpit on your shoulder because your clothing starts smelling bad after a bunch of photos.
You get the sweat and you also get the shaky people. The worst of all is when you get the hover hands. Do you know about the hover hands?
No. What are hover hands?
Hover hand is when someone is uncomfortable putting their arm around you and physically touching you while you take the selfie together. They put the arm there but it’s just hovering. There’s nothing more awkward than a hover hand.
It’s like a weak handshake, like a dead fish. You just feel dirty after.
There’s nothing you can do to a hover hand person except hover hand them back.
It looks like the two of you are photoshopped into the photo together.
You have this invincible force field around you.
Who’s your hero? Obviously, there are certain characters in books and people that you’ve come across, but is there somebody that you really look up to?
When I was growing up, my answer to this question was Mookie Wilson. He was the New York Mets outfielder who had a very nice career and hit a famous groundball between Bill Buckner’s legs. Now that I’m in my 40’s, I should come up with a better answer. I haven’t really thought about heroes. My kids are my heroes right now. I spent so much of my life involved in their lives. I treat them like heroes. I try to connect so hard with their experience. It’s hard to remember that you should have your own separate vector where you’re pursuing your own goals. I’m going to get back to you on it, but we’re going to stick with Mookie Wilson right now.
Imagine you get a random email, complete stranger, not warm introduction. They said something in the email and asked to meet you. What would they say in that email that would actually have you accept that invitation?
I am the guy in our band who receives the emails. Over the years, I’ve developed a really good radar for people who approach it correctly, who put together sentences that are intelligent and strong. So many of our crew members and my friends, I’ve met this way. It requires a certain tact, a certain level of diplomacy and also a certain impact. You have to say something that’s going to get my attention for me to want to write back with something that’s not just generic.
Can you give an example of something that really worked?
On a very basic level, years ago, our now friend Dave Yonkman wrote and said, “You guys are coming through Indianapolis. Me and my friends like to go tubing on this lake on Saturdays. You guys should come with us.” Nine times out of ten, we’ll say we can’t. But on this particular occasion, we said, “Sure.” It led to our friendship where he ended up shooting a DVD for us and a bunch of videos. We set him up and he married my best friend and so on and so forth. There are tons of people we’ve met this way. Pretty much I’m lucky to be able to meet so many people based on what I do. Sifting through for the people who strike me as really cool and really smart and really connecting, that seems like a great benefit of what I do.
Tell me a little bit about your passions outside of family and work. Is there a certain non-profit or social cause that you like to get behind?
It’s hard in this day and age to not feel political. Even before Donald Trump was elected, I would watch the headlines about all the African-American men losing their lives at the hands of police officers, and I would be so frustrated. I support Black Lives Matter completely. I was absolutely heartbroken when somehow they were twisted into a hate group or a terrorist group, which is absolutely opposite of what they are. When some rogue lunatic shoots police officers in the name of Black Lives Matter, that should not be associated with Black Lives Matter.
I couldn’t agree more. I actually had the pleasure of hosting Opal Tometi, one of the cofounders, at a dinner. She couldn’t be more genuine and caring and just wanting to create an impact for a community that’s been in a really awful situation for far too long.
I really was grateful that cellphones and technology allowed a spotlight on to this situation that clearly had been ongoing as long as we’ve been around. I really want to make sure that with all this new stuff going on, we don’t lose focus that lives are being lost and now more than ever, police probably feel emboldened to act in a certain way. I’m super supportive of Black Lives Matter and getting to a situation where police and civilians treat each other well.
What’s a very human secret that you’d feel comfortable sharing on the podcast? Some people have shared stuff like people expect me to be an extrovert but I’m really shy or I suffer from anxiety or things like that. What’s something that you would feel comfortable?
Living in New York, it’s an extremely lonely place for being surrounded with millions of people and having lots of friends and having constant contact with other families and people I love. There’s also a side of it where you feel a little isolated. It’s weird to say that you embrace that isolation, or I do anyway. There’s just a certain amount of space necessary in my life where the people are there and they will connect with you when you want to and when it’s appropriate. But often, I will choose to be by myself and it feels good.
People have an impression that because I travel so much and I host all these dinners that I’m out every night socializing, going to parties. Frankly, to be productive, in most evenings.
My impression of you Jon is that when you are out, you’re completely in your element and you make the most of it. I don’t see you as that all the time but I have read your book so I know a lot about you. I do admire the way you take advantage of what’s presented to you.
Thanks. I really appreciate it. Here are two of my favorite questions. You know I’m a geek. If you could be any comic book hero, who would you be?
This requires a knowledge of comic books. I’m going to go old school. Comic books are when they fight each other and it’s super heroes and stuff. I’m thinking of comic strips like Family Circus and Blondie and Andy Capp. Can I give you a comic strip hero?
I can’t even think of one.
There can be 400 Marvel movies out and blockbusters everywhere. You can’t turn your head without seeing an ad for some superhero or another between the Justice League stuff and The Avengers and everything on Netflix.
I hate all that crap. I avoid all those movies. It’s funny because I actually did a Marvel Comics podcast. We sat down with Marvel Comics and talked to them. I had to pretend like I had interest in their whole world when I didn’t.
Considering you picked Mark Ruffalo to play you in a movie, he’s The Incredible Hulk. Let’s just go with that and get you off the hook. If you could meet anyone living that you haven’t met before, which three people would you want to sit with? Maybe even cook dinner with.
Donald Trump, don’t laugh. It’s a serious answer. That would be my first choice, would be Donald Trump. Then I’d need a cleanser after that. I would actually choose Monica Lewinsky, she’s not the cleanser but I actually admire the direction she took with her life. She really steps up on the bullying issue. Then Mookie Wilson. Donald Trump, Monica Lewinsky, and Mookie Wilson.
Do you have a favorite story from the road? Something that was completely outlandish, that really exemplified your experience, that stood out so much that you’re like, “I cannot believe that happened.”
Back in the days when we were touring in a van, this was like the mid-90s, we would often be invited back to someone’s house to crash, like, “We got a futon and two couches, why don’t you save the money on a hotel and crash at our place?” Often we would say yes because we didn’t have a lot of money and we would take that opportunity. In Michigan, we played a place called The Blind Pig in Ann Arbor. These fans who seemed pretty normal, invited us back, they gave us the address. We got in the van, we headed over there. When we got there, there was a raging party. We all look at each other and we said, “This is not the night of restful sleep that we thought. What do you guys want to do?” We voted to stay. We imbibed and some people gave us their bong and so on and so forth. We had a good time.
Then, Adam, our guitar player, he seemed to have a gaggle of people following him wherever he went at this party. He was really high and he went into the kitchen. It was October. It was fall. He had the munchies, as one does. They’re going through and they finished all the chips. He’s making a spectacle of himself about it. He looks and on top of the refrigerator is a plastic orange Jack-o’-lantern with a handle, the sort of thing that you might think would be full of candy. Adam thought it would be funny if he took it off the top of the refrigerator and dumped it all over his head, like imagining Jolly Ranchers and SweeTARTS all pouring down his face. He opens his mouth wide and he pours it in and just cigarette butts flowing out of the Jack-o’-lantern into his mouth. Everyone’s watching as he’s doing this and he’s just yelling, “Cigarette butts, cigarette butts!” That was the best day of my life. That’s the most rock and roll story unfortunately from Guster.
Thank you so much for sharing that. Brian, it was an absolute pleasure hosting you. I’d love for more people to be able to find your music and be able to follow the band. Do you have a website, social media? Where can people find you?
The Guster page on Facebook is probably the most updated spot. That’s where we put our tour dates and our little pictures of us with our kids.
Do you have an Instagram, Twitter, that kind of stuff?
Yes. Listen to our music. Maybe you’ll like it.
Brian, thank you so much for coming on. Listeners, stay tuned because we’re about to have a new guest on and if you could figure out who it is, you’ll get to participate in The Salon.
About Brian Rosenworcel
Brian Rosenworcel has been playing drums and writing songs with the band Guster since the early 1990’s. He’s best known for creating a rock style percussion kit using only hand drums. Brian lives in Brooklyn with his wife, three kids, and no dogs.
Facebook: guster or Brian Rosenworcel
Anonymous Guest Interview
As you know, during this portion, we have our anonymous guest. Today, I have the absolute pleasure of hosting the legendary, Aya. Aya will now answer a series of questions and if at the end you can figure out who she is, you can get an invitation to the coveted Salon. First of all, welcome, Aya.
Just to get the listeners started on the right foot, tell us a little bit about your background, where you got started, where did you grow up?
I grew up here in New York City, right on the island of Manhattan.
Did you really? Did you go to school here?
I went to school here in New York. I come from a very creative family. I’m lucky to have parents who are involved in the design and art field.
Was there an incident or a teacher, experience that inspired you to go the direction that you went?
The incident probably, I would say, was multiple incidents over many years. As I said, I have always had the great fortune to be surrounded, growing up, by people who do something that they love every day, do work that matters to them. I am lucky to know in my later life that that can sometimes be a unique circumstance to grow up in. I definitely think that that was a huge influence on me growing up.
Is there a certain accomplishment during your career, I know that you’ve accomplished quite a bit, but something that you’re just really proud of?
I am extremely proud of the opportunity to go to the White House in the last year of President Obama’s administration and work on a photoshoot with the First Lady.
Now, for some fun questions. If there was a movie about your life, who would you want to portray you?
She doesn’t look like me at all because I’m not white but Scarlett Johansson. She’s the coolest. That was confirmed when I styled her for a photoshoot and had the best time hanging out with her. We had a great conversation. Every presumption I had that she would be a very cool chic was confirmed.
That’s awesome when you can meet somebody and they’re everything that you expect them to be, because often people say you should never meet your heroes, but that’s absolutely amazing. Is there a song that represents your life?
I really love Hall & Oates. Maybe anything by Hall & Oates, I think their music is really optimistic.
Craziest thing you’ve ever done on a dare or stunt that actually caused success?
I dared myself in my late 20’s to move to the other side of the country. I wasn’t happy with what I was doing here in New York. I wasn’t happy with my work. I wasn’t happy with my personal circumstance. I decided to drop a full-time job and just leave. Interestingly, although I was leaving a very secure corporate job, it ended up being a career growth to leave that situation.
Was there a certain moment that you’ve felt like you had arrived, not that your career is done, but now you’re playing in the Big Leagues.
I don’t know if I even feel like I have arrived right now. The business that I work in is changing a lot right now. It is quite frankly having tectonic shifts. There is no feeling of arrival for me in my career and I think that that’s a good thing. It’s fine with me.
Last question, what hint or riddle would you give people to figure out who you are?
I said I worked on a photoshoot. I said I wasn’t white. I said I grew up in New York.
You also said that you’ve styled the First Lady and Scarlet Johansson.
I would say, shoes, clothes, bags, talented people, difficult people, and a whole lot of logistics, and part heavy lifting, literally, moving heavy objects.
Listeners, you have to figure out who Aya is. Don’t forget to submit online at InfluencersPodcast.com. If your guess is that she’s a professional mover for celebrities, you’re probably wrong. Looking forward to having you join us next time.