Whether you think The Gourds non-sequitur loving n'ere-do-wells or post-modern lyrical geniuses, their mandala-like musical vignettes and gulps of down-home authenticity can not be denied. Musical lifers and road dogs to the end, Kevin 'Shinyribs' Russell, Jimmy Smith, Max Johnston, Keith Langford and Claude Bernard remain at once roots music's envelope pushers and its torch bearers, its purveyors of Joyce-ian density and nickel novel groove - its Jekyll and its Hyde. With Haymaker!
the band celebrates 15 years in music and the journey that has taken them through the outer reaches of popular music... and back again. In this back porch conversation Shinyribs Russell expounds on the new album, 'Well-Read Necks,' rekkid making voodoo and the ever present truth that mammals want a story...
You've called this the The Gourds' most linear record. Creatively, how did you end up at this point, considering the experimentation that band has conducted over the past 15 years?
"We are very much influenced by surrealist art and literature. Mixing that with American roots music is intoxicating imagination fermentation. Instead of remaining in the safety of traditional song structures and formulas we headed out on our own into the undiscovered country of psychic crypto-shenanigans. But lately, through the on-going study of southern blues and folk traditions and the aging experimental nature of the songs we were writing, it became clear to me that, without a doubt, the mammal wanted a story. Without the proper frame for the house of song it would seem unstable and uninviting. Slowly the songs have become more driven by characters and narratives without becoming derivative."
True to that notion, Haymaker!
contains vivid vignettes about Austin weirdness and Texas fringe characters...
"Being the kind of band we are, we have attracted a colorful tribe of cast off's, esoteric partiers, paranoid pilgrims, hubristic Trotskyite Gnostics, Cartesian alcoholic minimalists, autoerotic constitutionalists and other natural nonconformists of all shapes and sizes. It is not so much a goal to get them into the songs as it is a necessity for working through some of the post-traumatic stress we endure from the experience. We use songs to document memories, places and events we shared with each other. Our collection is like a giant musical scrap book that we open and look at each time we play."
The Gourds are able to authentically meld styles most would find disparate. Haymaker!
is a great example of this. Is this a conscious goal?
"We have made our living melding disparate styles. This is one of the overall concepts of The Gourds that is often overlooked or avoided. For some it might be like looking into the refrigerator and finding a pair of shoes. The fragmented, surreal nature of the post-modern is a fact that is equally uncomfortable for the mammal brain. With this in mind we unabashedly, provocatively play any song or style we feel like. Again, this is a hard thing to sell to those who do not like finding shoes in their fridge, which is a way of saying that one should be open to synchronicity and surprise. Those are things that make consciousness fun."
How did working with Cow Fish Fowl or Pig
recording engineer Stuart Sullivan again affect the sound and recording process of this record?
"Stuart is a mainstay of the Austin recording scene. Many people seek him out to make their record as good as they can be. He is a gifted, righteous man. We wanted to work with him again after Cow Fish
, but it took some years for it to happen. Great engineers are like witch doctors. Only they really know what they are doing. Jimi Hendrix always said that the record is made in mixing. And he is right. Stuart brought a continuity and color to these recordings that was not there before. He went inside and found things, brought them out and shined things a bit here and there until it all sounded like a Gourds record. We highly recommend him to any and all."