When Amherst College turned him down, a souvenir Ryan Miller had picked up on a campus visit paid the price.
“I was so mad I ripped up the sweatshirt,” recalls Miller, a Texas native who was bent on attending college in the Northeast. He ended up opting for Tufts University.
It turned out to be the better choice.
As a wide-eyed college newbie in the fall of 1991, at an orientation program for freshmen that preceded the first week of classes, Miller met Adam Gardner and Brian Rosenworcel. Miller and Gardner were guitarists; Rosenworcel had arrived in Medford with a set of bongos. Though those elements didn’t quite seem to add up to a proper band, they started playing music and writing songs together.
They’re still at it. On Thursday, their band, Guster, triumphantly kicks off the first of four homecoming shows at the Paradise Rock Club to celebrate the group’s 25th anniversary.
The band’s early sound — accessible pop songs woven from acoustic guitars, hand percussion, and sweet vocal harmonies — equipped it for a shot at mainstream success. Though Guster has never broken out in a massive way, the band has scored some Top 40 hits and placed albums as high as 22 on the Billboard 200; two albums, including its most recent, 2015’s “Evermotion,” reached No. 2 on Billboard’s chart for alternative albums.
If there was a VH1 “Behind the Music” on Guster, it wouldn’t be that dramatic, says Miller, 44. “It’s kind of a quiet career in a lot of ways,” he adds. “We were this band that just put their heads down and wrote pop songs and did their work for 25 years.”
After two independent releases, Guster recruited heavyweight producer Steve Lillywhite for the band’s major-label debut in 1999, “Lost and Gone Forever.” (Rosenworcel recalls Lillywhite visiting the shabby, bachelor digs the three shared on Aberdeen Road in Somerville to work on that batch of songs.) From there, the band began expanding its sound, adding bass, electric guitar, and a full drum kit to some songs and welcoming fourth member Joe Pisapia. Since 2010, multi-instrumentalist Luke Reynolds has held down that fourth chair.
The members of Guster never had trouble attracting fans for their shows. As undergrads at Tufts, their victorious performance at a battle of the bands at the Paradise caught the ear of a local promoter, and they became a frequent choice to open for national acts playing the venue. By the time they graduated, they were able to sell out their own headlining gig there.
Not all of Guster’s onstage moves at the Paradise have been successful. Rosenworcel tells a story about going with Miller to see the band James there back in the day, and Miller attempting to stage-dive into the audience but crashing to the ground instead of gliding aloft a sea of raised hands.
The band’s relationship with its fans has always been a big part of Guster’s identity. When the trio moved out of their place in Somerville, they invited fans to a yard sale. One day in 2014, Guster rented a car and picked up fans for errand runs; one fan picked up his dry cleaning, another needed a ride to work. Early last year, when a show was snowed out, the band posted a street address and photo of a dumpster on social media, and played a short afternoon set there for 11 people. (Another so-called #dumpstershow drew six onlookers, on short notice.)
You can draw a straight line back from those shows to the days of the band playing for free in the parking lot of Twin Donuts in Allston, or busking in Harvard Square. (The very end of Palmer Street was a favorite location in the Square, Miller says; on high-traffic days, like during the Head of the Charles Regatta, they’d get up at dawn to claim the spot.)
“Maybe it’s just us being true to who we are, or us starting out in college where our fans were our peers, but that kind of never ended, the feeling that our fans are our peers,” Rosenworcel, 43, says. “They are our friends. It’s not like we’re breaking down the fourth wall; there was never a fourth wall that went up.”
Long since enshrined as local pop heroes — they’ve played with the Boston Pops, and two years ago they saw Jan. 15 declared “Guster Day” by Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh — band members will be on home turf for this Paradise run. Though Rosenworcel makes his home in Brooklyn, Miller and Gardner live in Vermont and Maine, respectively.
‘Maybe it’s just us being true to who we are, or us starting out in college where our fans were our peers, but that kind of never ended, the feeling that our fans are our peers.’
Formed by teenagers, Guster is now a family affair. Each of the founding trio is married, with kids; they each had their first round of offspring, all daughters, within four months of each other. Sometimes they bring the full brood on the road in a family bus that turns into “a big old sleepover,” says Gardner, 44.
“I think we just feel lucky and fortunate that we still really like each other and we feel like we have something musically to say,” he says. “There isn’t this young, angsty energy behind it, but we’re still hungry and want to make good music and care a lot about our band, and now we’re the most confident and capable in what we’re doing. Swagger would be way too strong of a word, but there’s a quiet confidence in each one of us that we don’t talk about, but it’s there.”
And if Miller tries to stage dive again, this time there will be fans there to catch him.
At Paradise Rock Club, Boston, Jan. 12-15. Tickets: $36, 800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.comJeremy D. Goodwin can be reached at Jeremy@jeremydgoodwin.com. Find him on Twitter @jeremydgoodwin.