For an unemployed father of twin 7-year-old girls, Todd Gautreau seems relatively cheerful and calm. Maybe that's because his band, Crushed Stars, has just released its third CD, the lovely Gossamer Days, and the Internet buzz is almost universally positive.
Still, his demeanor is a bit surprising.
"My wife is getting to the point of really worrying about me getting a job," says the 38-year-old out-of-work graphic designer.
Crushed Stars performs with Pleasant Grove and Stumptone on Saturday, March 1, at Double Wide.
Sitting in a North Dallas restaurant, Gautreau talks about his music and job prospects with such casualness that it's hard to believe he's seriously involved with either matter. Stoic and easygoing to a fault, Gautreau takes laid-back to a new level—and such is reflected in the music of Crushed Stars.
"Half-asleep romanticism is a recurrent theme for me," says Gautreau.
Gautreau's languid attitude is just part and parcel of his personality. It's hard to envision this guy getting upset over anything, even his music. While he says he meticulously obsesses over his songs, Gautreau hardly seems anal-retentive. He says he's happiest when cloistered in Frisco, creating his placid compositions, surrounded by his machines, keyboards and computers, which he probably views as better company than most people.
"Everyone says that my music is relaxing and soothing," says Gautreau. "I don't know what makes it so soothing besides the fact that it's not aggressive."
Gautreau's non-aggressive songs are more like sonic paintings, full of evolving details that reveal more with each listen. Most are painstakingly created in his home studio and taught to a different cast of players for each release.
"I still don't know many musicians," Gautreau says. "I kind of lose touch with everyone."
Gossamer Days, though, features a rather prominent cast of locals, including Pleasant Grove's Jeff Ryan, Taylor Reed from Cordelane and a trumpet player Gautreau claims to have found on Craigslist.
"I'm not even sure I spelled his name right on the insert," Gautreau says, laughing.
It was with Ryan, however, that Gautreau found more than a session player. Playing drums, bells and keyboards, Ryan helped bring focus to Gautreau's shapeless muse, adding definition to help rein in the frontman's tendency to ramble.
"With Jeff, it was the first time I worked with someone who really contributed creatively," Gautreau says. "It wasn't just another guy playing the parts that I showed him."
Much of the new effort was mastered by Stuart Saikes (who has worked with the likes of Cat Power, The White Stripes and Modest Mouse). That pairing further increased the shared process that has historically not been part of Gautreau's modus operandi. Reflecting like-minded influences such as The Clientele and Red House Painters, Crushed Stars exists primarily as a studio creation that, much to Gautreau's irritation, must occasionally perform in clubs.
"It's just not important for me to play live," he says. "Whenever we play, I'm always thinking that I'd rather be home working on some new stuff."
Gautreau explains that part of his frustration lies in his own perfectionist nature. The other part comes with the difficulty of presenting his band's textured sound in a nightclub environment.
"[At] most places—especially locally—people are drinking and talking instead of listening to the music," says Gautreau. "Sometimes, I can't even hear myself."
Luckily, Gautreau's personal disdain for public performance doesn't usually manifest itself at gigs. Working as a trio with Jeff Ryan and guitarist Joe Schwartzott, Gautreau seems to have found a core of players that he feels comfortable collaborating with. Songs such as "Spies," "All Lovers Are Blind" and "Life Until Now" gain spirit as the live unit uses improvisation to add meat to Gautreau's wistful structures. With his whispered delivery and penchant for writing melodies with riffs that take time to present themselves, it's important for Gautreau to find the right band and venue.
"Playing my material is just plain difficult," Guatreau says. "But at least with this stripped-down band and a club with good sound, it's easier to lead and easier to improvise."
Even with a solid backing band, Gautreau seems like a guy better suited to the studio, a reclusive, soft-spoken guy with perpetually sleepy eyes who questions the entire format for music presentation.
"I just don't want to have bass and guitar on everything," he says. "When there are drums and bass on everything, it's too loud, and I don't know how other people do it."
Though Gautreau begrudgingly admits that playing live is usually a necessity in order to sell CDs, he also thinks his new effort is good enough to attract attention with or without shows.
And he's right.
Although definitely dreamy and picturesque, Gossamer Days is more substantial than the two previous efforts from Crushed Stars. "In Parallel" and the aforementioned "Spies" follow a kind of psychedelic '60s vibe. The layers of sound mix and mingle like waves rippling back against each other; riffs carried by pulses of sound then float by and connect at just the right moments. According to Gautreau, the new effort is more focused due to being less personal.
"I really wanted to step back from some private issues and focus on the music and arrangements more," he says. "On my other records, everything was very immediate—sometimes painfully so—but this time I allowed the music to flourish more."
Gossamer Days is a lush and intricate record—music best suited for rainy days and out of the hands of manic-depressives. It features a fascinating dance of dynamics that requires, perhaps, a little more listener participation than can normally be expected from a local performer.
"My music is stuff you listen to late at night, in your house, with your headphones," Gautreau says.
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Likewise, Gautreau hopes the new CD will be successful enough for him to be able to stay at home full time, instead of forcing him to continue along the endless series of temporary jobs he's had to take since being laid off last month. Still, he's remaining somewhat afloat as is, thanks to the royalty checks he receives from two unlikely sources: MTV and VH-1.
"On the show Total Request Live, MTV uses an old song, 'Exit Wounds', as their outro music," Gautreau says, almost embarrassed. "And now VH-1's Celebrity Rehab is using 'Disbelief Shop Windows' from my last record, [Obsolescence]."
Ironically, "Exit Wounds," one of Crushed Stars' most atypically upbeat songs, has provided Gautreau with his biggest exposure. But in classic slacker fashion, Gautreau finds a black cloud looming over the success.
"I've made more money from a song that I don't even like than from anything else I've ever done," he says. "I'll take the money, but I kind of wish I'd never written that song."