Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Q&A with singer/songwriter Gary Jules

Last week, I did a phone interview with La Jolla, Calif. native Gary Jules, who now lives in Ashville, N.C. He's best known for a hit cover of Tears For Fears' "Mad World."

The digital version of Jules' new album "Bird" became available in December, while the physical CD will be in stores this spring. Some of the material that didn't get into the main story - which you can read at (click Preview secrtion) - is in the Q&A below.

Jules plays UCSD's The Loft tonight, Feb. 12-13 at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, Feb. 16 & 19 at the Belly Up in Solana Beach and Feb. 20 at the Roxy with Donavon Frankenreiter.

How do you like living on the East Coast after spending so much time in SoCal?
I love it. It’s beautiful out here. It’s a much better quality of life for me and my family. It’s the first time I’ve ever lived outside Southern California. So there’s snow on the ground right now. It’s very difficult to go surfing from the Blue Ridge Mountains. There’s really good restaurants and there’s really cool people. We built a studio in the house. My kid is running around in snow boots and a Batman outfit.

You're about to embark on a month-long tour with Donavan Frankenreiter. Have the two of you toured together before?
We have. We’ve known each other since I was in my late teens and he was in his early teens. He was a surf buddy of my brother’s and friends with my family. I’ve known him forever. He and I toured together in Australia about five years ago.

Will you be playing solo acoustic on these dates?
For me it will be, yes. I’ve been doing almost exclusively solo stuff for a long time...when I get back to North Carolina, the band’s going to come out. This will be the last little solo thing for awhile.

The album has been available online since last month.
We’re just setting up to do the whole physical release at retail. Online [reaction] has been great. My biggest [reason] for putting out records is it allows me to go on tour and folks always take my songs and put ‘em on television and in movies. For that, it’s been great.

Some of the ‘Bird’ songs turned up online last spring. How did that happen?
I’m not actually sure. [They were] around. People had [them] on their computers and I had handed copies to people here and there.

Are you one of these acts that shies away from doing too many new songs live before they’re recorded because the songs will end up on YouTube?
No, I’m fine with it. There’s no blanket answer for all musicians obviously. Each person’s feelings probably extends from how it effects their bottom line…I’m not dependent on radio spins or people waiting in line at 'insert record store name here' to boost the perception of the record. It’s not that kind of party for me. I’m stoked if people hear the songs, like ‘em and want to use them for whatever.

When is the retail rollout?
It starts simultaneously with the beginning of the tour. The record (and all the rest of the CDs) will be in stores in April. I actually own every recording that I’ve ever made. I’ve made a lot of decisions in my career when things were good and bad to keep that control. With the exception of “Mad World,” obviously, which I didn’t write. This will be a cool way to get records into stores. ‘Greetings’ will be available for the first time and the [self-titled] record I did, which was pretty much only on the internet. Several stores bought copies here and there.

This is the first of your albums credited with you and The Group Rules band. What made you decide to go that route?
It’s the first record I ever made as a band. ‘Greetings’ was more of a full production, but even then, it was mostly just Mike Andrews and I – he did the “Donnie Darko” soundtrack and score. We’ve been friends since we were kids. I’ve made pretty much every one of my records with him. We started with four tracks. What became making records was really just an extension of us writing songs and fooling around in the apartment. This is the first time I started a recording where the guys I play live with were going to come in and play the parts we all came up with while writing the songs.

Were the songs written over the last couple years?
Yeah. Some were even written before the last record was put out. I didn’t record them because what became the self-titled record was definitely more of a solo project album, exclusively guitar/vocal.

On “Road Beside the Highway,” you name check Joe Strummer, Bo Diddley and James Earl Ray. Where’d that come from?
I have this book of pictures about The Clash...I had seen The Clash on television on the nascent MTV, but seeing their energy in person – there was something about Joe Strummer...I don’t where that line came from. At the time, I was traveling a lot. I was also obsessed at the time with the idea of family and American generations. I am fascinated and befuddled by what it means to be an American. It’s getting easier now. It had been difficult. That was a string of images that all came together.

What was the music scene like in the La Jolla/San Diego area when you first started performing live in the '80s?
When I was in elementary school, I started surfing and hanging out at places all the time. I was one generation removed from the Tom Wolfe "Pump House Gang" sort of stuff. There were those old style beach parties all the time. I came up into a scene where there were tons of bands that played at these crazy parties. I got into a band and we tried to be like the older guys. Everybody played music and surfed. It was a strange amalgamation of classic rock and singer/songwrtiter and odd punk rock stuff.

Did you play a lot of the small clubs and coffeehouse when you started out?
I did. I played at one place in Solana Beach on P.C.H. called Java Depot in my early ‘20s. When I was in junior high school and we first started our band, the only game in town was Headquarters, near Mission Bay Drive.

Any fond memories of playing the Belly Up over the years?
Sure. When I first put out ‘Snakeoil,’ Jack Johnson was just coming up. I had met him in the surf world before he made his first record. Before he recorded it. We played shows together. One we did was at the Belly Up. It was fantastic. I didn’t live in San Diego anymore, but it was one of those defining moments of how much I loved Southern California.

You’ve had a lot of great exposure through song placements in movies and TV. What has given you the biggest boost other than “Mad World”?
Probably the use of my song “Falling Away” in “Grey’s Anatomy.” They had been setting up a plotline for six weeks where a lead character’s father was taken off life support. While he was in the midst of his demise, they played four minutes of my five minute song. Just vocal and guitar with no dialogue or anything. So many people downloaded the song in the next 24 hours that it charted on Billboard.

When you first heard “Mad World” had gone to No. 1 in England, what was your reaction?
I was in England at the time. Until the day it became No. 1, I was there and the middle of the maelstrom of publicity.

Was it a double-edged sword for you because it wasn’t an original composition?
Sort of. Going into it, I knew it was going to be a complicated issue. It wasn’t like I didn’t expect people to ask me about it not being my song. I didn’t really care so much. I had been working at trying to play bigger shows and get more people to hear me for so long, that when it went No. 1, I was thinking in terms of exposure. All through the aftermath of it, when it went No. 1 in Germany and other places, it was popular all over Europe and we toured all over the UK. In the back of mind the whole time was, with all the millions of people that have heard this track and bought the single or bought my record, even if 1 in 1000 actually likes the rest of my songs and is interested in me as an artist, it’s still a huge leap for me.

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