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Marching to a Different Drum

by Michael Aushenker

March 30, 2000 | 7:00 pm

Building an audience has become something of a lifestyle for the group Guster. Formed at Tufts University, the band Guster consists of three Jewish boys -- Ryan Miller and Adam Gardner on guitars and vocals; Brian Rosenworcel on percussion -- who graduated from the Boston-area college in 1995. And the web-savvy musicians use the Internet to cultivate their loyal following.

On their third and latest CD, "Lost and Gone Forever" (Warner Bros./Sire), Guster deals with themes that are both personal and complex. The CD's title track, for example, refers to a friend's suicide.

In the current music culture, where bubble gum is king and the border between rap and metal is rapidly dissolving, Guster is neither fish nor fowl. Nor is it a throwback, despite some harmonizing reminiscent of the dark-edged melancholy of Simon and Garfunkel and The Beach Boys' more introverted work.

A Guster song like "Barrel of a Gun" has a Turtles tinge to it, while "What You Wish For" melodically resembles a distant cousin of Nirvana's "All Apologies." Another Guster trademark: absolutely no drumming. Not in the rock sense, anyway. Rosenworcel relies solely on tribal-sounding bongos. One can almost picture a naked Matthew McConaghey rocking out to "I Spy."

According to Miller, Guster's moniker is an extension of the group's original name, Gus.

"We found out that 10 other bands were called Gus," says Miller. Midway through the release of its first album, the group changed names.

If anything has dogged Guster on the road to wider acclaim, it's been the inconsistency of its fan base from city to city. It's either feast or famine, and it frustrates Miller: "It's hard to go to shows and going from being the biggest rock stars to having to prove yourself again." But it keeps the trio humble.

As for their Jewishness, they like to play a punk cover of "Hava Nagila." When it was revealed on the Web that Gardner played the shofar as a kid, he was handed a ram's horn at a Seattle show.

"He played a shofar solo," confirms Miller. "A lot of the people didn't know what was going on, but the Jews in the audience were ecstatic."

Guster will be in Los Angeles on Mon., April 3, as guests on "The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn." For more information, visit www.guster.com.

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