Have you ever heard a band and known upon your first listen that they were destined for greatness? In the summer of 2001, MTV’s Buzz Bin had the band Ours in heavy rotation with the blistering yet delicate song “Sometimes.” Played alongside “Deep” by Nine Inch Nails and “Pyramid Song” by Radiohead, “Sometimes” eloquently bridged the gap between Trent Reznor’s rage-fueled industrial rock and the atmospheric experimental landscapes of Radiohead’s Kid A.
As fate would have it, Ours’ label failed to promote or even support the band, leaving Jimmy Gnecco to create music without knowing who would hear it and how. As geniuses are wont to do, Jimmy forged ahead and released two albums before finding a label to release the band’s third album, Dancing for the Death of an Imaginary Enemy. Rather than being discouraged, Jimmy was more determined than ever, as he and the band embarked on an ambitious U.S. tour to preview the new material, much of which has been accessible online thanks to the band’s open policy on bootlegs.
The Scenestar recently talked with Jimmy after two sold-out shows at Chicago’s Schubas, where the only thing hotter than the sweltering temperature was the band’s scorching performance!
SS: First of all, thank you so much for taking some time for us.
Jimmy: No problem at all.
SS: I guess the first question is pretty obvious. What’s going on with the new album, and will we see it soon?
Jimmy: We are finished with it. There might be one more round of mastering or just some minor changes. But we’re pretty much finished with it, and we’ve just been waiting on finding a home for it with the record companies. So I think we’re gonna sign a new deal with Sony Music and American Records with Rick Rubin through Columbia. We were gonna sign with him 10 years ago…
SS: Yes, I’ve heard that story before! So that’s cool. It has finally come full circle… That’s nice. And how close are you to signing? Really close or…
Jimmy: Yeah, I think we’re very close. A deal has already been sent over to me. I’m just in the process of looking at it and, you know…
SS: Did you anticipate the album being released before the current tour started?
Jimmy: Oh yeah. Yeah, we never thought it was going to take this long, but it’s OK. We really enjoy playing these songs, and we’re really proud of the record no matter when it comes out. So yeah, it’s a good thing. We listened to it the other day for the first time in a long time, since we stepped away and stopped working on it. And we all felt really good about it. You know, sometimes, months later, you can listen to something shortly after you’ve made it and before it has even come out, you think “oh no.” So we didn’t feel like that, and that’s a good sign.
SS: How do you feel about half the audience or maybe even three-fourths of the audience knowing a lot of those songs already?
Jimmy: It’s amazing.
SS: It’s a good feeling?
Jimmy: Yeah. It means we’re doing our job in the sense of being a real, live touring band. We’ve always encouraged bootlegging, so that just shows us that it’s getting out there. Whether we’re selling records or not… it’s just however people are getting it, they’re getting it.
SS: It’s interesting because a lot of the lyrics have a lot of frustration in them about the current state of the music industry—or perhaps the whole world in general—but at some point, there is always a bit of hope to the songs. And I think that also comes out in the way people end up hearing the music. You’re allowing that access to the songs even though you’ve been held back by the record companies or traditional media or whatever. But there’s still that chance for everyone to hear it, and you’re definitely making it accessible to everyone. I think the fans completely appreciate that. I know I do.
Jimmy: That feels good because we haven’t really compromised what we wanted to do on this record. We just made it as good as we felt we could possibly make it. And that was always the goal. There has not been any kind of compromise in the sense of doing anything for a record label. So that was good.
SS: How collaborative was the process in making the album with the current band as opposed to the other two?
Jimmy: Well, the whole creative process this time was amazing because, on Distorted Lullabies, I made up not only … You know, this was all by default … I should make a disclaimer before I say this because I’m not saying it in an egotistical way. Because I’m going to come around to the other side of it … but [on Distorted Lullabies,] I played on all of it just because I didn’t have a band. It wasn’t because I wanted to do it all. If I didn’t do it, it didn’t exist. Ten years ago, I was signed as a solo artist. So that was Distorted Lullabies. Precious was kind of like that as well. A little more input from some of the guys, but it still wasn’t everything that we wanted it to be.
The most amazing thing about this time was that I was able to write a song and have an idea about how I wanted it to sound and what I wanted to get across with it. And then have a group of people make it better. So when that happens, it’s a real blessing.
I feel this time around really blessed by the lineup and the creative process. I managed to get everything I wanted out of it for myself and then everybody made it better. Those are rare moments when things like that align and happen. And we all felt it as it was going down. We were proud to be part of it.
SS: It’s amazing to see you guys on stage, and everything just really gels. Watching the intensity between all of you, you can see the eye contact and that everyone is really paying close attention to what everyone else is doing. It’s incredible to see you all reacting to each other and really feeling each other during the live set. It’s unique too. I see a lot of bands, and a lot of times, it’s these guys going through the motions. Your intensity really sets you apart!
Jimmy: Thanks. The whole thing with the eye contact and all that … with us, I feel like we have some place that we want to come out on the other side … Like tonight, I felt it. Some nights you do, and some nights you don’t, you know? But we want ourselves to be transported to somewhere as we play, and the whole thing is to build the music from the inside. And you kind of build this ball of energy that grows and grows.
Again with this lineup, because we have this same kind of goal in mind—and that is to create the kind of energy that you’re really inside of—once that happens, then it can get bigger than us. But when we go out there and just specifically try to perform, it feels kinda empty. So there’s a balance between getting out to people and making sure we’re getting there ourselves first.
SS: With the kind of improv thing you did last night in Chicago with opening act Blue Hippopotamus, was that completely improvised?
Jimmy: Yeah. We do it with the intent of not knowing what’s going to happen, and again, hopefully come out on the other side feeling like, “oh yeah, that worked!” And you know, sometimes it takes a long time … of even deconstructing something to rebuild and get to the other side. We have that patience when we’re just at my house kinda playing around. We’ll sometimes play for hours and hours. But to be able to do that in front of people, I think it takes the most courage for me. Because you’re completely vulnerable, and you don’t know what’s going to happen. And if you can learn to let go and embrace just that moment in front of people…
SS: Yeah, because I don’t think the audience ever knew how it was going to end. You know, how are they going to pull this back into the rest of the song? Yet it sounded seamless and was truly an amazing moment.
Jimmy: Thank you. It’s a very important part of what we want to do. Now and in the future. Not be so tied down to any formula. We want to be able to experience some balance of structure and [at the same time,] complete reckless abandon. And that has taken the longest time to accomplish. I think we’re all really glad we’ve been able to get there.
SS: Going back to the intensity that you particularly bring every night, how do you recreate that? Do you go back to the place where you wrote the song? Looking at it from a theatrical perspective, are you a method actor? Honestly, how do you scream like that every single night and not have it sound fake? It is so genuine, and you can tell you feel every bit the passion that you did when you wrote it.
Jimmy: That’s how I feel every day. I don’t know. Yeah, I don’t know what it is. I think the only thing I do try to do these days before we play is not to let any of the other things that could have gone on throughout the day—negative things like something going on in the sound check or the audio—just not to let that interrupt the journey that we’re trying to go on. And not to let it destroy the show for people.
People don’t know any of the shit that we’re going through. You know, people came to be moved. So these days, the only formula for me is just to remember that. Be your best for everybody. Make sure you can get over your own shit.
But the other side of it, I’ve been singing some of these songs for 15 years, and I don’t even think about them. I feel that way. I guess that’s the thing of knowing which songs are going to stick and which aren’t.
SS: So what’s next for you guys? I know you’re winding down the U.S. tour. Are you looking to go right back out on the road?
Jimmy: No, no. We’re going to finish this paperwork with the [record] deal and see about getting over to Europe before the record comes out over here. That’s what I would like to do. I think that would make the most sense, to go over and do a residency. Because we’ve never played over there…
Jimmy: Well, we did on Sept. 11, 2001.
Jimmy: We were flying actually. So we landed as the first plane hit, and then we got to the hotel and saw the next one hit. We were in Spain. And yeah, we had a whole tour booked, but it didn’t make much sense to do it after that. So we played one show. It was like a conference kind of thing. And yeah, we haven’t been back.
At some point after our second record, when DreamWorks once again didn’t put it out internationally and didn’t do anything for it, I got tired of hearing from even our lawyer, [imitates gruff, angry lawyer] “Ah, I can’t do anything for ya.”
And I said, you mean to tell me that a few years ago when I signed the deal, I had every major label offer me anything I wanted—anything I wanted!—whatever amount of money I wanted, whatever kind of deal, even DreamWorks, and they gave it to me. I ended up not taking a ton of money from them because I didn’t want to end up owing them that many pounds of flesh in return. So you mean to tell me that now, not even an indie label will put out our record internationally? And they said [once again, in the gruff, angry lawyer voice], “Ah, I don’t know what to tell ya!” So basically I felt like [the lawyer] was, you know, their fucking ass pony.
SS: Can you say that?
Jimmy: I just did! [Laughs] So I went over [to Europe] myself with just my acoustic guitar and knocked on people’s doors. I got some guy who had a label over there, and I said, “I want you to listen to my stuff.” He booked me a show a few days later in Manchester, and I went in and played. And yeah, he was ready to put our records out. And then DreamWorks folded and some weird stuff happened … so yeah. That’s our international story. So we’re going to try to get over [to Europe] before this record comes out and try to build something over there.
SS: So in the meantime, are you going to just relax? Do you ever relax?
Jimmy: No, no.
SS: Do you ever take time off? You’re always very intense and very focused … You don’t vacation?
Jimmy: No. I’m going to though! I guess a week after I get back I’m going to California and play an acoustic show…
SS: That’s not a vacation!
Jimmy: Well, and I’ll hopefully get lost in a long jam and get really drunk and try to forget what’s going to happen for the next week.
SS: OK, well, that sounds good then. Thank you so much for everything. And good luck to you with the record deal, with the album release and with everything!
Jimmy: Thanks. We appreciate it.
Though Ours is just about done with its U.S. tour, Jimmy will perform a solo acoustic show at the M Bar in Hollywood on July 26! If you are a fan of any of the bands they’ve been compared to—Muse, Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead and Jeff Buckley, to name a few—you owe it to yourself to check Ours out. You couldn’t possibly be disappointed!