Generationals' two permanent members, Ted Joyner and Grant Widmer, met under the most metal circumstances imaginable--dissecting a fetal pig--but the duo chose to go the indie rock route, instead. And they did so in New Orleans, a town that cares about indie rock as much as indie rockers tend to care about vivisection.
"It's cool because there's an infrastructure full of music here, so it's easy to find practice spaces and crew," Widmer said. "But we don't participate much in the music world of New Orleans."
How little? Generationals play in their hometown approximately once a year--a pretty limited schedule for a band that most comparably sized towns would hoist on their shoulders to hail the conquering heroes.
Pitchfork called the Generationals "immediately likeable" and compared them to mega-acts MGMT and Phoenix. Their songs have been licensed and placed in more than a dozen films, TV shows and commercials. You've probably been humming Generationals tunes you heard in everything from Reeses ads to Starbucks compilations to the Farrelly Brothers film, Hall Pass, and didn't even know it.
Widmer downplays his music's wide licensing reach, though.
"I'm sure there's tons of stuff that I haven't seen, but I don't really spend a lot of time thinking about it," he said. "Sometimes I feel like what it must be like to be an actor. You agree to do something for work and you don't know what it's going to be like until it's done. Sometimes it's great, and sometimes it's not."
"But," he added coyly, "there's a TV show called Girls on HBO. We got a song on that, and that was pretty cool. It's nice to be relevant."
But for the lack of relevance Generationals have to the jazz-and-brass tradition of NOLA, it's impossible not to hear the city's influence in the retro sound of Generationals' first two albums, 2009's Con Law and 2011's Actor-Caster.
Both use swells of horns and the simple, catchy melodies of jazz standards to make Phil Spector-esque '60s pop tunes as sugary as breakfast cereals. "When They Fight, They Fight," the band's most popular track on Spotify, could easily be confused for a lost demo of The Ronettes.
"There's a certain amount that we absorbed from living here," Widmer said. "Horns are such a big part of the music culture here. It's not difficult to figure out what it's about. They bring a lot of energy to a song."
But New Orleans isn't the only retro you can hear in Generationals tunes. "Our Time (2 Shine)," another track from Con Law, opens with a warbly blues organ riff that sounds straight off a Ventures track. "Ten-Twenty-Ten," the lead track from 2011's Actor-Caster, has a bouncing drive comparable to Lindsey Buckingham's National Lampoon anthem, "Holiday Road."
Widmer, for his part, likes Janet Jackson. A lot.
"I think people would probably go, 'That's weird; you're a white guy that plays rock music, that doesn't seem like it should be your thing,'" he said.
But Widmer doesn't believe in the concept of guilty pleasures. If you like something, run with it.
"Guilty is relative to the posture someone may try to have," he said.
And he really owns that philosophy.
"This guy gets a bad rap," he said of Phil Collins. "I liked his work ethic."
But Generationals' latest album, Heza, doesn't come close to a guilty pleasure.
The electro-pop takeover that began with 2012's Lucky Numbers EP expanded until, Unicron-like, it swallowed the retro sound whole, leaving behind an album that sounds like a dream but not in the sense of it being dreamy or washed out. Heza's snares snap, its guitars crackle and its melodies pop, but the record's 10 tunes perfectly encapsulate the concept of an indie electro-pop record. The songs feel snatched from the ether, fully formed.
Widmer credits Heza's sound to a more mature writing process.
"We're a little bit older writing this album than the last couple, and I think we're just feeling like, we want hooks to develop in this album in more subtle ways, trying to find textural ways and more subtle opportunities to make the songs work," he said.
The technique Generationals settled into was not pushing things in the direction of being a hit with a huge chorus. That helped the band craft an album comparable to Pinkerton, Weezer's second album, though it isn't a sonic comparison. Unlike the single-rich Blue and Green albums that sandwich it, Pinkerton's less catchy material makes it a slow-motion classic of the band's more substantive work, rather than an instant smash. Heza is similar.
"The [older] albums seem like a collection of singles, a lot of different kinds of songs or styles that are mixed in there," Widmer said. "This one feels like it's more mature, in the sense that it's not crying out, it's not trying to get a big huge chorus across all the time. It's a little more patient. It's a big step forward for us."
That single-free format doesn't mean Heza is without standout tracks. Though it might be difficult to mindlessly hum, the crunchy xylophone hook of "Put a Light On" is an instant grabber, as is the drifting synth pulse of "You Got Me."
Heza concludes with "Durga II," a smooth and heartwarming tune that both instantly grabs you and remains too slippery to pin down as something you whistle, creating yet another pop contradiction for a band born from them.