I’ve always been a big fan of The Gourds. The first song I ever heard was the opening track of Cow Fish Fowl or Pig, and I was immediately hooked.
Oh, how to describe the sound of The Gourds…A sort of folky, twangy, alternative country-esque, rockin’ and rollin’ trailer park orchestra. Yeah, I think that sums it up. If you’re not familiar with them, get ready for an experience unlike anything you’ve laid your ears on.
The Gourds are fun. Their music keeps your attention, and without even knowing it, you’ll be clapping your hands and stomping your feet to the rhythm of their unique sound.
This is definitely the case with their latest album – their 11th studio album – Old Mad Joy. From front to back, beginning to end, this album is a joyride of great music.
Fortunately, I had the opportunity to chat with Kevin Russell of The Gourds about his new album and the band’s latest tour (coming through New York City on Saturday October 1st at Sullivan Hall in the West Village). They’ll be rolling through Asbury Park the following night.
You opened the tour in August in Austin, Texas. You end the tour in December in Austin, Texas. Sprinkled throughout are stops in California, Arizona, Pennsylvania, the Carolinas and Colorado (just to name a few of the Lower 48s). What’s it like going from a place like Lincoln, Nebraska to the West Village in New York City?
It’s like boiling rocks that look like eggs; things are similar but possess different attributes and qualities. People look the same, but act different. We are a nation at once physically homogenous, but culturally less informed by a universal moral compass. It’s like shaving with a butter knife. Our toolkit sometimes is missing what we need for a given situation. Confusion is often our companion, fragmentation our philosophical foil. ‘The map is not the territory,’ said Korzybski. In searching for that quote, Gurdjieff also said, ‘It is the greatest mistake to think that man is always one and the same. A man is never the same for long. He is continually changing. He seldom remains the same even for half an hour.’ In addition to changing my font, that quote also signals me to embrace the cosmic shuffle inherent in this lifestyle. The variety, depth and speed of changes can be dramatic.
Your 11th studio album, Old Mad Joy, was recorded at Levon Helm’s Barn in Woodstock. What was it like recording in his studios?
That was the most enjoyable, inspiring, challenging, gripping recording experience thus far. I would liken it to being aboard Noah’s Ark in those fateful days after the flood; before the crow came back with mud on its feet. Or maybe it was like the early stages of the Mayan pyramids. From the basic burial mounds to the ornate, inscription laden temples of deities, with each song, each layer we created something sacred to all of us. This kind of collaborative creative cabal is valued on a human scale. Regardless what any review suggests or any scantron sales report indicates, this is a grand success that can never be repeated or imitated. The men involved, the air, the color of the sky, the moments captured like ghosts, the dirt on the floor, the fireplace, the food…all of it converged into this recording: unique and everlasting.
This is your first record that you brought in an outside producer. Did having Larry Campbell as your producer change your normal routine in the record-making/song-writing process?
He certainly changed the way we think about making recordings and yes, writing and arranging songs. His influence on the songs were after they had been written. But, watching his way of deconstructing them and sticking them back together will have a lasting influence on us. I write differently now. I am more thoughtful in some way. I want to take ideas further. He is like our James T. Kirk, to boldly go where no Gourds have gone before. Haha. I was just wondering what it would have been like if Joseph Campbell or Earl Campbell had produced this record.
Is Old Mad Joy your best album?
I have to say, yes, it is our best. But it has some stiff competition. Dem’s Good Beeble and Blood Of The Ram specifically.
There’s something about the opening tracks to The Gourds’ albums. From “I Want It So Bad” to “Country Love” to “Decline-O-Meter” to “Lower 48″ to my personal favorite “My Name is Jorge,” your albums always kick off with a foot tapping, hand clapping, rockin’ tune. The bar is set high from the get go, and somehow you maintain it – or even exceed it! – throughout the entire album. Is it just me, or do you intentionally pick these types of songs to open your albums?
We put a lot of thought into the sequence of our records. I am not sure if this is antiquated or not? We were raised on albums. So, that is hard wired into the way we think and act in regards to our records. If you sit down and listen to them in one sitting, you might glean something more from the relation of musical and lyrical juxtaposition. Or you might find just how A.D.D .we really are. If it starts to make sense you may be a Gourds savant, which can qualify you for a generous discount on a t-shirt.
The music industry is changing every single day, specifically the distribution of music. It seems the mp3 file has affected the way people listen to their music: from Napster to iTunes to iPods to Spotify…Has the advent of things like “the cloud” affected the way you make music?
Not yet. I think about it and experience it a lot, though. I have lots of ideas that will eventually serve the needs or wants of this a la carte, candy machine market. One thought is that eventually musicians will make song cycles that last 15 minutes, give or take, or even longer. It’ll have to be really damn good to keep the attention of the listener. Imagine a mini opera by Li’l Wayne. Though he could never do in 15 minutes what Roy Orbison did in three…who among us can?
I may be way behind on this one, but I’ve got to ask: What’s the future of Kev Russell’s Junker?
Well, I morphed that into Shinyribs. I released a great little record last year called Well After Awhile on Nine Mile Records out of the ATX. In fact I am label mates with Patrick Sweaney. It’s a great band that leans more toward my side of the musical spectrum of Ye Olde Gourds. Check it out. That band rarely plays outside of Texas.
Are there any new bands out there you’re excited about? What are you listening to?
Jimbo Mathus, Confederate Buddah; Ramsay Midwood, Larry Buys A Lighter; Patrick Sweaney, That Ol’ Southern Drag; Eagle Eye Williamson, Shakey Graves, The Babies…Robert Ellis has the saddest song of the the year: “Bamboo” makes me cry every time, go listen to it.
Before I let you go, what can your New York fans expect from the show this weekend at Sullivan Hall?
A Johansen Thunders kind of amalgamation the likes of which the city has never seen. Yeah right. It’ll be a lot of the new stuff, stories and shenanigans.
It was a pleasure chatting with Kev Russell. He’s a deep guy with a lot to say. I can’t wait to see what The Gourds bring to the show at Sullivan Hall.
It’s going to be a hoot. And a lot of fun.