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Moments of Ours: An Interview with Jimmy Gnecco
by Stella Brown

Jimmy Gnecco performed with guitarist Static and guest percussionist, their friend Ravi, at The Hotel Cafe, on July 13th and 14th. A mid-week work break to jet down to L.A. to see a couple of shows? Why the hell not? Traveling, concerts, and writing are my escapes from the mundane. In "I Ran Away to Tell the World," Jimmy advises: "Don't spend your whole life waiting for your whole life." Works for me, I thought, as I searched for airfare.

If you are not yet familiar with the music of Jimmy Gnecco and Ours, consider yourself in for a treat. Jimmy Gnecco's songs are literary and articulate, melodic compositions. He crafts music that evokes memory, mood, and emotion as he evolves into a truly note-worthy composer. In the tradition of the Beatles and Pink Floyd, he experiments with sound and instrumentation. He pushes all the markers- volume, virtuosity, and verve. The result: complex, richly layered musical moments that still can be stripped down to essential elements and stand strong in live performance. That was quite as evident as ever in his recent performances. 

Anticipating the third album release next year, devoted fans lined up hours before curtain time for two sold-out nights in a row for a preview of the new work. If you did not make the crowd cap of 100, consider yourself deprived- just for now- of shining glimpses into what we will hear in 2006. Each night opened with a different new song: a moody and moving piece, "The Drowning," and the driving beats of "Murder." Over the two nights, Jimmy sang twelve new songs to his receptive and energetic audience. 

The first show included requests for several songs from Ours' 2001 debut release, Distorted Lullabies, as well as a few favorite covers (Orbison's "Crying" and "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen). Jimmy Gnecco's voice floated flawlessly across the musical scales, from wailing out a mournful falsetto to sustaining deep, brooding tones. He bantered with his audience as he improvised riffs from "Welcome to the Jungle" and "Barracuda." And a few selections from 2002's Precious rounded out the play lists. 

[Editor's note: Now Stella talks to the man behind the music, Jimmy Gnecco, in this series of interviews to get a closer look at what makes Ours so special to their fans.]

Interview with Jimmy Gnecco
July 15-17, 2005

Part 1: Friday, July 15, 2005
Face to face interview after Thursday night's show at The Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles.

Stella: Word has it that you have over forty songs that you have been crafting for the next album. Figuring a dozen or so will make the final cut, how do you pick them? 

Jimmy: It's not about picking the best songs. It's about finding a bunch that work together consistently. One could stand out as the best, but if it doesn't fit, it doesn't get on the album.

Stella: You sing, you play guitar, percussion, and keyboards, perform, produce, write - do you have a favorite form of musical expression?

Jimmy: That's hard to say...playing bass. Then, I'll get behind the kit and love that- but the bass more than the drums. But if it's a beautiful piece, I just love to play it.

Stella: Would you agree that you are evolving into a composer?

Jimmy: Yes. On Distorted Lullabies, I made up all the parts. I didn't play all of them, but I had a hand in writing every part.

Part 2: Saturday, July 16, 2005
Phone interview while Jimmy and his daughter wait for a movie to begin- hence, the sensitivity toward language.

Stella: O.K., the first song you played Thursday night- I was clueless to the title- the one with all the f-words in it.

Jimmy: (chuckling) That one's called "The Drowning."

Stella: Do you use the f-word for shock value or just getting real?

Jimmy: No, it's not about shock value. That's just how I felt at the time- it was an honest moment. I really try not to use that kind of language.

Stella: Which do you write first: words or music?

Jimmy: Usually, music.

Stella: Does anyone else in your family sing?

Jimmy:, not really.

Stella: How many siblings do you have and where do you fall in the birth order? 

Jimmy: I have two brothers and three sisters, and I am the fourth child. My three sisters are all older than I am.

Stella: One of your fans from the website asks you to tell us about the Neverending White Lights collaboration and whether you plan to attend the cd release party. 

Jimmy: I do plan on being there, and will perform the song that I did with them. I met Daniel on tour, and then he contacted me to do a record that he was doing with local artists, people who fit what they do and also who don't necessarily fit their style of music.

Part 3: Wednesday, July 20, 2005
Phone interview

Stella: Daniel Victor also joined you in the studio for "Saint Down the Hall," playing keyboards. Will we hear that collaboration on the upcoming album?

Jimmy: I hope so; I'm working on it this week.

Stella: Oh, are you finishing the album back east?

Jimmy: Yeah, I have been singing here since May, basically re-recording vocals. 

Stella: We talked about how you pick songs for the album, that it's about the fit: what's the fit for the next album, the theme, maybe? 

Jimmy: That's hard to say- I guess it's just a feeling. You know the spirit of our first record- I've tried to stay in that spirit. I am most comfortable with those kinds of songs. I have spoken in past interviews of my frustration with Precious. Even though it's a good record, it deviated from the spirit. It's not a dishonest record, but it's just not in the same spirit as Distorted Lullabies- those are the kinds of songs that I like to sing. Ours is about that spirit. So no, no special theme other than that my life has been really crazy over the last few years. I've been living in this world, the same world as everyone else, and this is my experience. We don't operate like a traditional band where we all go into a room together and figure it out. I'm a solo artist, and I finally don't feel bad about it and admit it and everyone knows their roles. This is a huge reason that the next record will be great- I am better at it. When we first went out on tour, there was this energy. And Anthony and Race were amazing. We toured for one year and things were different. I was in charge- not like I did everything, but I made the decisions. Starting with "Kill the Band" on Precious, I could see what was going on and knew the dynamic wasn't going to work I could have pulled back, but decided that the only thing I could do was write about how that particular round would implode. And it did. Was it self-fulfilling? Maybe. When I sing that cancer's coming in "Kill the Band," that was exactly what was happening. Everything was getting sick, diseased. The week the record came out, the girl that I was seeing killed herself, and this was a reaction to what was going on. That was a phase, and this is less of a phase and much more of a growth. A growth toward becoming a better songwriter. When you compromise the songs you choose for a record, you are compromising the record as a whole, and there are songs on Precious that I regret doing on the record. For this next album, I have tried to figure out sequencing- I don't like to repeat myself at all. The feeling is almost cinematic, like scenes from a movie, and I put together Distorted Lullabies that way. 

Stella: The song "Ours," from your 1994 demo tape Sour, has evolved into "Mercy." Has "Mercy" made the next album's final cut, and do you have any plans to release other selections from Sour on future albums or releasing that work in its entirety?

Jimmy: Yeah, it looks like "Mercy" made its way to the album. My problem with Sour is what we were talking about- consistency and fit- some songs just don't go with the rest. It was just a silly demo. I am totally grateful that people like Sour and want to hear it. When I left that situation in '94, I promised myself I would not look back. I mean, if you can pick up Precious and skip songs because they don't feel right to you- that's what I was going back to, and why that second album was really painful. In 1994, I was only 20 years old, and people wanted to do record deals with me, but I knew I was too young, that's not where I was going yet. So, I made one record with Sour and then left it; I didn't want to be known as the ex-singer from Sour. Sour is not Ours- we were just a bunch of young kids, just messing around. I wasn't allowed to be insane, like I wanted, and I had no patience, and wondered why we felt we had to put it out. I was really blessed with the first record, Distorted Lullabies, in that nobody was waiting for it. 

Stella: Are all of your lyrics based in reality and personal experience, or do you ever create works of fiction?

Jimmy: Sometimes. I always want to stir up emotion, but not any feelings of being a victim. Nobody's a victim. I don't feel that way. About 90% is reality, personal experience, and maybe about 10% made-up. That's good for me- gives me a chance to get out of my own head and heart.

Stella: Which of your songs is your favorite to perform?

Jimmy: That kind of changes, depends on my mood. "As I Wander" is a favorite, and other times it's "Fallen Souls." It's a good thing- I can play whatever I feel like. 

Stella: Do you ever get stage fright?

Jimmy: No, I do have low blood sugar at times, times that will make my hands shake- that may look like it. Sometimes, I don't eat right, don't get enough sleep. But I don't get stage fright- I'm pretty comfortable in my skin.

Stella: You are intense and meticulous about the production of your material, and you also seem to really enjoy collaborating with other musicians, with several credits on their work and them on yours. Any thoughts on producing the work of other bands in the future?

Jimmy: I would love to- it's the way my head works. Over the past few years, I have met a few people and see traits in these people. I feel very comfortable in that seat. Rick Rubin is making our record now, and Rick is amazing. And what he's doing for us and this next record is amazing. Just really amazing.

Stella: Yeah, Rick Rubin certainly is a great producer- and great people bring out the greatness in others. There's a long list of credits to musicians that collaborated with you on Distorted Lullabies, a bunch of great musicians playing together and making each other so much better.

Jimmy: That's it, that's the whole thing, Stella. It's all so much greater than me. We didn't get close on the first tour with that band, but that band also didn't play on the record. I wanted to protect the guys in the band, because, yeah, the truth was we did know each other for years. We did go to high school together. On Distorted Lullabies, I got to bring in other people, which was exciting to me. With Precious, we completely limited ourselves to the band plus Ethan, and got in a really bad place. We didn't bring in any outside people and even I didn't play as many parts as I could have. But, I am more at peace with Precious because as much as I wanted to do this next record back then, I just wasn't ready. It would have killed me. It drives you insane, drives you really insane if you are on every step on it. You just don't have the energy to do it. You know, playing with Static makes me better; playing with Michael Jerome makes me better. I come in on this level like building a house and checking where I feel the house crumble, fixing it. I hold it all together. This next record is a combination of people that I put together, great people, and that will make it a magical record. 

Stella: Growing up in a Greek family exposed me to a lot of Middle Eastern music- lots of bouzouki and clarinet. Do I hear a similar influence in your work?

Jimmy: Yeah, I've been into Indian music- Nostrad and his nephew, Raha. It was a big part of recording Distorted Lullabies; when we did that in Woodstock, we ate out at Indian places a lot and listened to a lot of the music. While we are at war with other countries, I would rather embrace other cultures and learn about the people and their music and their country. There is so much to learn. There is so much more to me than rock-n-roll music. I never wanted to be a rock star.

Stella: Really? What did you want to be when you grew up?

Jimmy: I wanted to be a singer and a dancer. I was into rhythm as well as rock. I didn't relate to, say AC/DC- more like Dead Can Dance. So many songs hit me growing up. I grew up with The Sound of Music, The Wizard of Oz, old crooners like Sinatra. There is so much music that I love beyond rock-n-roll. I grew up on tons of Motown- Marvin Gaye is more important to me than AC/DC. Nothing against AC/DC, it just wasn't what I was feeling. I never wanted to be a flavor-of-the-month rock band. I hope that people realize why they like my music; it's not just rock music, but is influenced by classical music and other styles. Classical music takes you up there. And every song is different. I can't imagine having three songs on Distorted Lullabies that sound like "Fallen Souls." Those were battles. Without the song "As I Wander," the song "Fallen Souls" would not exist. 

Stella: Show business imposes exhaustive demands on one's energy, time, and personal life. As a result, many celebrities develop public and private personas. How do you feel about the intrusiveness of the professional scene- like interviews- and how do you manage to stay true?

Jimmy: I'm not at a point where it's overwhelming. I'm not a celebrity, I'm a struggling artist, so my experiences with the people who approach me tend to be rewarding. In the last few years, I gave a lot of myself. Sometimes, I felt I over-extended myself. I know I need to keep an eye out, take care of myself. Persona? Really, I am the same person, either way, public or private. I don't change much, if at all. Maybe I open up a little more around my family, but maybe only 5-10% more.

Stella: You are an involved and obviously proud father to two children with different mothers- how do you balance the unique challenges of raising your children along with the demands of your career?

Jimmy: It's been a rough thing. Most of my time, I'm not with them; my time is mostly devoted to music. When I have time, I practice. It's rough to find the time, and it's very important to me to be there for my kids. I don't want to be absent from their lives, but when I tour, I am away a lot. It used to make me nuts, like if I had any free time at all, I had to spend every minute of it with them. At this point, I'm single, and I'm either with my kids or doing my music. It's a very single-minded approach and it works.

Stella: Only in your early 30s, you have accomplished much: fatherhood, strong family ties, a successful career that actualizes your musical talents. What do you see for yourself 30 years from now? Settled in suburbia with a life partner watching your grandchildren play? Exploring new career interests? Still rocking out on stage?

Jimmy: I haven't looked that far down the line. I make sure that tomorrow does come, but I'm all in the moment. Still, I make certain decisions to secure a financially and emotionally secure future. I've thought, sometimes, that I'd be like Willie Nelson if I'm still around, still doing my thing. But I don't think about it because I don't think I'll be around. 

Stella: Because of any health issues or just because of fate?

Jimmy: No, no, neither. It's just a feeling I have had. And for years, that thought took me down. But not so much anymore. I've learned that it's about finding the right match of people in your life. Maybe I was irresponsible in my past relationships; it's not like I was sleeping around with different people every night, but my behavior was based on a moment, with no planning. These days, I hold onto hope for the next day; and as much as I am comfortable in my own skin, along with that, I have no expectations. 

Stella: And you have no disappointments if you never expect anything.

Jimmy: Yeah, something like that. But you know, it would be great to see where the world is at in 30 see my kids grown up, and technology would just be amazing. Yeah, it would be great to see where things are at.

[At this point Stella thanks Jimmy and ends the interview]

Ours' first two albums chronicle two distinct phases in the band's development. Both are solid works, with lasting music that explores divergent musical and lyrical paths. And judging from the new songs played at the Hotel Cafe, the next album promises to showcase a performer whose songs demonstrate continued exploration, growth, and virtuosity. Come spring, be sure to treat yourself to it. 

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All Photos by Stella Brown
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