Interview: Jimmy Gnecco of Ours
Thu, 10 Apr 2008 07:42:11
Ours is Jimmy Gnecco's band, but Jimmy Gnecco is not the sum total of Ours. Sure, he's been the driving force behind the lineup since the band's inception in 1992. Through the years (and the record labels), Gnecco has endured more than his fair share of line up changes. He actually had his first record deal before he even had a full band in place, so he hired studio musicians to play on the record. Since most session players can't tour, he had to hire touring musicians after he recorded. The cycle repeated a few times until 2003, when Gnecco decided to "pull back and put a real band together. I never intended for Ours to be me. Ours isn't me. I am the captain of the ship, but I am not trying to be Nine Inch Nails or anything." Now that he has a solid supporting cast, Ours can take steps forward with the Rick Rubin-produced Mercy (Dancing For The Death Of An Imaginary Enemy). I spoke to Gnecco, who is known for his dramatic, onstage flair, and found the frontman to be a chill, laid back gent with kids who's prepping for a move from his native New Jersey to North Carolina.
How did you get the hotter-than-hot Rick Rubin to produce Mercy?
I have known him since 1997. He used to come to my dad's house where we rehearsed when I was younger. He would lie on the floor and listen to us rehearse. He and his buddy would come over and hang out and listen. He wanted to sign me to American Recordings back then, but I signed with DreamWorks instead. I didn't want to sign under the Sony regime he was under at the time. There were elements there that I didn't want to sign with. I honestly signed with DreamWorks, because they had Rufus Wainwright, Jonathan Fire Eater, and The Eels on their roster. But the guy who signed those acts didn't sign me. Luckily, Rick and I stayed friends over the years, and I love him. We were finally able to make a record together. Him being my friend makes it a certain type of relationship and working together can change people, but it didn't change us. It made our friendship better. It was rewarding for Ours, and I hope it was for him. There wasn't a struggle with him, with him suggesting things to us and us thinking, "That doesn't feel right." He would tell me to just try something and I would, since I would think, "Ok, I am not comfortable with this, but I trust you, so I will try it." He did the same thing to me.
It's ironic, since you are now signed to Columbia, under the Sony umbrella! So, Rick never came to studio during the recording process. Isn't that unorthodox to the nth degree, to record without your producer physically manning the boards?
He was not there, not for one day. I have an acoustic guitar, so I did the arrangements, went to play the songs at his house. Then we went to the studio at his other house in Laurel Canyon and made the record, and reported back to him, playing him music. He trusted me to put the whole thing together with the band. It was an amazing process. I found a group of guys, a consistent band that I loved and trusted. Everyone felt free, doing what they wanted to do. Whatever we worked on, we went with it and kept it. We would do it, bring it to him, and ask if he liked it. 9 out of 10 times, we'd play it, he'd close his eyes, listen, open his eyes, and applaud. He had a different perspective than if he had been there all day. When I would be punchdrunk from working on the same song over and over, he could be like, "Oh, keep this!" or "This is good." There was no "Fuck this" type of resentment. We looked at his suggestions like, "This could make our album better."
The music is dramatic and sweeping. What's your source material and inspiration for such sonic high drama?
I loved when music took me on a ride, and when I had feelings in me. I like to be shaken and woken up, so I wanted to give back what I got. The drama of Queen and soul music. That is my favorite stuff. The crooning that I do...that comes from soul music, like Philly and Motown stuff. I loved Michael Jackson growing up. I wasn’t a rock fan, but I had a flair for the dramatic, because of Queen. I learned that you can be creative with your arrangements. The 'dark ride' in the music comes from my love for Indian music, which drones on one note, and builds rhythmically. Music can be changed by energy, not just by the chords. You can play one note, but it feels different the entire time.
You are a native New Jersey'ite, and the state is often chided as the armpit of the nation, and Ours hails from New Jersey. Here is your chance to disprove NJ’s status as the sixth borough!
A good chunk of what people see when they come to New Jersey is around the Newark Airport. There are beautiful areas that people don’t see. We go and play the clubs in shitty areas, because that is where they allow the rock music, and the beautiful areas and their inhabitants don't want the 'rock' element around them so we get stuck playing there.
You are moving soon, though, correct?
We are building a house in North Carolina. I don't love the cold of the Northeast, for one, and I am not sure I can keep up with the pace and the aggression. New York is one thing, and I love it. I wish I could live there but I have 2 children, so I can't. I stay here in Jersey because I grew up 4 miles from the city. I can't take it anymore. I want to be in a place where my neighbors say 'hello' to me. I was going to go Athens or Atlanta. Ultimately, I would like to be on the West Coast, but my son is a ball player and wants to go to college and wants to do so in the South, so that is where we looked. Some people told me about Asheville, NC.
“"I loved when music took me on a ride, and when I had feelings in me. I like to be shaken and woken up, so I wanted to give back what I got."”
I hear that's an artsy colony?
Yep. We have land in a beautiful neighborhood, and we're going to build a moderate, modest place.
Are you prepared for the culture shock?
I am a little worried, but I tour so much, and Asheville is a cool place. It’s like the lesbian capital of the South! I think I will enjoy it for a while. They say, "It’s the San Francisco of the South."