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Generational tunes

New Orleans duo's release 'Con Law' has a warm, saturated '60s pop sound.

Patrick Caldwell

When Grant Widmer first started hanging out with future band collaborator and musical soul mate Ted Joyner, the main thing he took home was that he'd need to get a lot better at playing guitar.

'He was better than anyone else in our age group at guitar. I think he started playing when he was around 9, to my 13,' said Widmer, who started playing with Joyner their freshman year of high school in New Orleans. 'I wanted to work really hard to get as good as he was.'

And work Widmer did, often alongside his new friend as the two compared notes on the music they loved — the Beatles, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Fleetwood Mac. More than 10 years later, they're still working together. Their latest project, a buzzed indie pop act by the name of the Generationals, swings through Austin Saturday for an inside show at Stubb's.

Widmer and Joyner spent their high school years tinkering around casually with music, though Widmer confesses that he 'wrote some terrible songs that were never recorded or performed.' Their approach grew more serious after leaving high school, and they formed pop quintet the Eames Era with friends at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. The bouncy and carefree act received some college radio airplay and their music popped up on 'Grey's Anatomy.'

But the band fragmented when two of the Eames Era's members moved to Chicago. Widmer and Joyner returned to New Orleans, attracted by the prospect of cheap rent and plentiful service industry jobs. For the duo that had savored the joys of touring and were already sitting on a new batch of songs, the time had come to try something new.

'We could just kind of feel the wheels coming off and we were really eager to continue to tour,' said Widmer. 'And when not everyone else in the band was in a position to do that we were pretty intent that we would have to keep moving but it would be on different terms. We had these songs we'd been working on, and when (the Eames Era) fell apart, we had to find a way to re-channel them.'

They juggled jobs as film crew workers with trips to Washington, D.C., to record with producer Daniel Black. Widmer and Joyner would record until they ran out of money, return home to stockpile cash and make the trek northeast again when finances permitted.

It took them three trips, but eventually they finished debut album 'Con Law,' released this summer. CNN's coverage of the presidential election was a constant background presence as the pair recorded —and they noticed that nearly every issue was dubbed a 'generational' issue. They found their band name.

'Con Law' emerged from the start-stop recording process as a 10-track treat with a warm, saturated '60s pop sound. Single 'When They Fight, They Fight' — a catchy tribute to '60s girl groups with a maddening hook — began to spread through the music blogosphere.

Widmer and Joyner roped in local musicians to fill out the band's live lineup and began to tour extensively. Reworking their complicated songs for live performance proved tricky, but the real challenge was getting comfortable with their jobs as vocalists — a role Widmer and Joyner had never before embraced.

'It certainly was not a natural-feeling thing at first. And it's still going on,' said Widmer. 'Every day we're getting more comfortable doing it.'

Hesitation aside, the tour is attracting solid crowds — the band opened for Broken Social Scene at an Austin City Limits aftershow Oct. 2 at the Seaholm Power Plant, which Widmer called their largest audience yet. As the pair mull a return visit to Washington, D.C., to record an EP this winter, Widmer's confident the dynamic he's shared with Joyner for more than a decade will keep the Generationals fresh. Even after 10 years, he continues to marvel at some of the skills Joyner brings to the table.

'He can say "baby" in a song and that's one word I haven't found myself being able to sing yet,' said Widmer. 'He can just pull off things like that.'