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.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Grammy results

Well, I got 6 out of 7 Grammy predictions right.

Congrats to former Inland Empire resident John Jorgenson, who snagged a Best Country Instrumental Performance Grammy for his contribution to "Cluster Pluck" on Brad Paisley's latest album.

Jorgenson grew up in Redlands, attended the U of R and has been an in-demand session player for decades. He was also part of Elton John's touring band. I had the pleasure of interviewing him a couple years ago.

Some thoughts on the 3 1/2-hour Grammy Awards show telecast last night:

>Whitney Houston seemed a little shaky while presenting the first award to Jennifer Hudson. My first thought was, 'oh no. She's back on drugs!'

>What a shock it was to see the first-ever (to my knowledge) TV commercial for the Coachella Festival in the awards' first hour. Bet that cost Goldenvoice a pretty penny.

>I missed the announcements of non-televised award winners at each commercial break (which there were way way too many of).


Too much Kanye West for my liking. Jonas Brothers were embarassing with Stevie Wonder. One of the JoBros forgot the words to the R&B legend's hit "Superstition." As much as I enjoyed Neil Diamond and Paul McCartney, what was the point of having them sing an old fave? Al Green too - although that was just a Memphis tie-in with Justin Timberlake and a last minute sub for Chris Brown.

Even with the USC Marching Band, I didn't think Radiohead was all that captivating during its first Grammy Awards show appearance. I'll have to watch the clip again, but apparently only 2/5 of the band were onstage. Thom Yorke actually smiled at the end! The second half of Coldplay's medley was great, as was U2, Sugarland and Plant & Krauss.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Grammy predictions

Below are some of my predictions for the Grammys, which will be handed out on Sunday. If there's any justice (often there's not with the Grammys), Lil' Wayne, Ne-Yo and Estelle will win in the R&B/rap genres, not the general/pop categories.

should win: Coldplay/Viva la Vida
will win: Plant & Krauss/Please Read the Letter

should win: Radiohead/In Rainbows
will win: Plant & Krauss/Raising Sand
>I'd also be happy with a Coldplay win

should win: Coldplay/Viva la Vida
will win: Adele/Chasing Pavements

should win: Duffy
will win: Adele
>Jonas Bros. have released other albums prior to the eligibility period and shouldn't even be included here. Of course that hasn't stopped previous winners (Shelby Lynne)

should win: Girls in Their Summer Clothes/Bruce Springsteen
will win: Girls in Their Summer Clothes/Bruce Springsteen
>Since The Boss was inexplicably shut out of Album of the Year for "Magic," I think the Academy will throw him a bone here; it's a tough category with Radiohead, Death Cab for Cutie, Kings of Leon, Coldplay all deserving noms

should win: Kings of Leon
will win: Coldplay

should win: My Morning Jacket
will win: Radiohead

Tyrone Wells concert review

This review originally appeared on the Orange County Register web site. I was actually delayed in turning it in because when I returned to my car from the show, I was detained by Downtown Disney police officers. Since I was eating a snack in my car out of a baggie before the show and then put several items needed to review the show in my coat pockets (notepad, pen, earplugs, etc.), they apparently thought I brought drugs (i.e. weed) onto the premises. I was frisked, had my license checked for priors and basically inconvenienced for 20 minutes. One officer reminded me of all the security cameras everywhere. Next time, if I want to avoid the overpriced bottled water and food at HOB, I think I'll walk to the area outside the venue and eat an apple or whatever in plain sight.

Tyrone Wells
Where: House of Blues Anaheim
When: Jan. 29

For years, I’ve had people tell me what a moving experience it is seeing Tyrone Wells perform live. Last night, I finally got to witness his heart-on-sleeve sincerity firsthand.

The tall, bald singer/guitarist should be familiar to astute local concertgoers. He formed Dove Award nominated Christian rock band Skypark in the late-‘90s as a Hope International University student. Going the solo route earlier this decade, Wells was a mainstay at McClain’s Coffeehouse and the Plush CafĂ© in Fullerton. He put out three indie albums before signing with Universal Republic Records. The major label released 2007’s soulful Hold On. Nationwide radio airplay ensued, along with multiple placements in TV shows.

Latest album Remain, with Martin Terefe (Jason Mraz), Matt Scannell (Vertical Horizon) and other at the helm, arrived in stores last Tuesday. It’s a creative leap forward and lushly rocking affair thanks to a fuller band sound (two dozen musicians, including former members of Snow Patrol, OneRepublic and Evanescence) contribute.

Keaton Simons and Raining Jane served as openers. The latter female pop group from L.A. has collaborated with Mraz and utilized a sitar (!) onstage. The Mouse House was full, but not packed.

The three-piece band launched the satisfying 75-minute set with a funky “What Are We Fighting For.” Reverent Wells fans were treated to a major chunk of Remain. Earthy new rocker “Sink or Swim” recalled Del Amitri, while the gently chugging pace and watery guitars of “Enough,” had a distinct Snow Patrol feel.

Wells was relaxed; he said he was glad to be home, joked about the pervasiveness of “Twilight” books and told a few humorous stories (including the oft-repeated one about his days toiling at the OC Swap Meet).

“When we’re at the hardest place in our lives, we realize how important our faith is to us,” said the front man (whose father was a preacher), before a stark, solo acoustic “All Broken Hearts.” It was marked by repeated falsetto “hallelujahs.” The band really let everything rip on slow-building cover of The Cranberries’ “Zombie” and got a rousing response.

Keaton joined on electric guitar for the sizzling, bluesy “Baby Don’t You Change” and a hushed “This is Beautiful” lived up to its name. Then Wells rewarded diehards with the Ben Harper-ish “Wondering Where You Are,” off his indie effort “Snapshot.”

Everyone sang along loudly to the enticing “Sea Breeze.” Wells talked about the sacrifices you sometimes make to live your dream and how he’s touched that the uplifting epic show finale “More” (whose refrain goes, “I’ve seen the great heights/Reminding me I’m alive”) has kept a few fans from committing suicide.

The song was heightened by Michael Kopulos’ chiming guitar work and Wells’ highly dramatic vocals. Halfway in, he segued into older tune “When All is Said and Done” and went back to the original. It ended with Wells leading the crowd in a chant and noting, “we’re here together and your life is a precious gift.” All told, an inspirational evening.