June 20, 2013 Interview: Up close and personal with Ours Jimmy Gnecco
Rock band Ours are a band which are defiant to conform to musical boundaries. Since their major label debut Distorted Lullabies in 2001 the band had a sound and style many were eager to hear. With hit single “Sometimes” Ours was on their way. Their 2002 album Precious further exposed the massive talents of vocalist Jimmy Gnecco offered listeners. In 2008 the band released possibly their most complete work Mercy. After a 5 year span where Jimmy Gnecco released a powerful solo album The Heart (2010) Ours is back in 2013 with Ballet the Boxer 1. Recently we sat down with Ours vocalist and band mastermind Jimmy Gnecco for a personal in depth look at the world of Ours.
Crypticrock.com- You started Ours back around 1990. You have released 4 studio albums since that time not including the latest album Ballet the Boxer 1, toured all over the world, and built a solid following over the years. Those which have heard your music would say you are one of the most under rated bands around. With all that said how do you feel about where Ours is at this point in time?
Jimmy Gnecco– Well, it’s been quite a ride. Just to back up one second this will be our fourth studio album. Sour was more of a demo that we did. I guess if people like it you can’t take that away from them and I guess there were some good songs on that. I wouldn’t fully consider that an Ours release. The original band that I was with that made that was called The Harmony Bandits. This is something that not many people know all the facts on. Right before we put that out we changed the name to Ours. We put that out and stopped playing together. That’s when I took the ball and said I am going to keep going with Ours because Ours was the name I came up with. We had some good times together with that group, but it reached its potential and it was time for me to move on. So when I did that is when I look at it as when I really started Ours. That was around 1993 or so when we official changed over to Ours, then we started the search to get it right. It’s been a strange one because the music that we made with the Harmony Bandits had a certain progression to it. As some space went on between that and I was kind of rebuilding Ours, I still kept that urgency because a lot of it was coming from songs I was writing. I still maintained that but I also wanted to do a lot with other more delicate things that we would never had done in that original band. “Sometimes” may have been a little bit of that energy from the early days, but all and all Distorted Lullabies was such a different sounding thing that we had ever done with the Harmony Bandits. Distorted Lullabies was full blown just me going in a new direction. Basically Precious happened quickly , we needed to get it recorded and out quickly for just certain reasons. We pulled back and finally Mercy is where we it really began to become Ours in my opinion, that is what I wanted from the music. Oddly enough to me Mercy started it all, as much as people came to table with Distorted Lullabies and “Sometimes”. Mercy was where I finally started to feel comfortable, so that continued through this record. I just felt completely at home and didn’t feel any other pressures from the business or the public as what was expected of us to do, we just followed inspiration.
Having said all that I feel really good about where we are right now. It’s been a strange thing for us because people have heard us for years and it’s amazing to hear that people think that we are underrated and that we should be a lot bigger but in all honesty in my opinion I thought for the records that we put out we were right where we should be. I didn’t have any expectations or resentment of feeling that we should be a huge band because I think the songs started to get better on Mercy. More definitive of the sound that we were trying to do, sort of find our way. Then throughout my solo record I felt the songs were even better than songs on Mercy, in my opinion. Better is all perspective, you can listen to “Let it Be” by the Beatles and say that’s a great song or listen to “The End” by the Doors and that’s a great song, so it’s all perspective. I was always trying to be more on the side of say “The End” by The Doors. That is what I perceived as a good song, early on. My writing changed as we got into Mercy and my solo record where I sort of tried to refine things a little more. Saying ok, if I sat down and played it with a piano would it be a good song? It’s building a career based on writing songs like I thought I did before, that if you go back to early songs from earlier records like “Broken” they weren’t songs that you’d necessarily be humming along to. They were kind of just like these journeys, I think that without those songs that you can hum along to for the general public you’re always going to be in a certain place with your career. Those were conscious decisions, so as far as expectations as being a much bigger band, I don’t think we should have had that necessarily.
We had some great success off of Distorted Lullabies with “Sometimes”, but I felt like we took it as far as we could. I was happy with that, but it didn’t mean I didn’t want to reach more people. I only want to reach more people as long as we could do it on our terms. It was never about let’s change what we’re doing in order to reach more people. When you make a decision based on the fact that you know what you want and what I’ve been searching for. What I want at the end of the day is do something that I feel serves the purpose of where I am at that time. If I am saying if I really want to have a 12 minute song that takes time , is patience, and the payoff is in the end, it comes down to really that. The rewards are in the work, not in what happens after that as far as success with numbers. That is why I said for Mercy that even though we had more success with Distorted Lullabies, Mercy was way more successful to me because I felt like the songs got to where I wanted them to be. Again that’s perception because people may have liked Distorted Lullabies more or they may have not. As far as my personal gratification and satisfaction it comes from I am chasing my own thing down. As far as this record we got it exactly where I wanted to be, so I’m pleased with where we are.
Crypticrock.com- Now you did a solo record “Heart X” back in 2010. Was it different for you to write songs as a solo artist opposed to writing an Ours record?
Jimmy Gnecco– I chose for it be different. Each time I come into a record I’m following inspiration. It’s not different out of I didn’t have this person here and I was really handicapped as a result. When I went into making the solo record I very purposely wrote songs that I imagined in my head that it’s going to sound really good with just acoustic guitar or the piano, or I pick songs that are best suited for that. It wasn’t like I’m going to go in and write these songs on my own and the band wasn’t around so they’re going to sound different as result. It’s not lack of contribution that they sound different, it was my choice to make them different. Like, Precious wasn’t a different a record because of the people involved because like I said we’re always following my inspiration. Precious was different because I chose for it to be different. We went and started to record and we were doing “Red Color Stars” and I started the drum beat and all of a sudden my drum beat started to sound like “Fallen Souls” and I said oh man I have to change this right now, I have to kill off that record and make like that part of me doesn’t exist. Anything I would have done on that record I will try and not do again. So when I went into the solo record I chose songs that I felt I don’t hear Static (Guitarist of Ours) on, because Static has enhanced the music tremendously with what he does. On the solo record I wrote songs that I felt this song would best be served without Static on it or certain kind of drums or bass, but I wasn’t because of handicap in any way.
Crypticrock.com- The new album “Ballet the Boxer 1” came out this week. I know this has been a work in progress for sometime now and there was a campaign through pledgemusic.com to raise money for the production of the album. How rewarding is it for you to finally get the album out there to the fans?
Jimmy Gnecco– You know what’s great about it is that we went into a recording studio even though we didn’t have much money this time around we were grateful for every penny we had and we tried to use it wisely. We did still go into a recording studio with old school kind of gear, I don’t even like to say that because I just think it’s good sounding gear. An old Helios Console and a Jackson 5 tape machine, it was a real studio with the best of gear that you could want for the style of stuff I like to hear. We had that opportunity which was great, and the best thing about right now is we can literally do anything we want. The day I walked out of that studio with the record we uploaded it to pledge. That created a couple issues because MP3, compression and conversion deteriorates the sonic quality of it, but the idea with that was we said we were going to get it to people as soon as we were finished. We feel good that we did that without any excuses, without any waiting, without any red tape, without a label. We literally finished, uploaded it and got it out to people. Even though the sonic quality wouldn’t be as good as on a CD or vinyl, we still got it immediately out. The fact that we can do anything we want and we can continue to release different mixes. That is why we made this decision with this record that we feel the record sounds consistent from song to song. There might be some songs that we felt we could have used more reverb on that song or less guitar but we can continue to do all these different kinds of mixes and constantly release them to people, because nobody is telling us otherwise. In that sense it’s been really really exciting and liberating.
Crypticrock.com- Now the new album is really good and it has a slightly different vibe than previous Ours albums. It seems like you kind of went down to a raw bare bones type of feel to this. What was the song writing process for this album?
Jimmy Gnecco– This was the mind set. I spent a lot of time with that solo record, recording it and touring it, very sad time in my life. Those songs really helped me get through it, it was amazing to have that outlet. I spent too much time being sad and it was time to get excited about playing music again and being with the band. I started to focus on more energetic and more direct sounding songs. Songs that weren’t as cerebral, still poignant messages, but not as cerebral. Arrangement wise songs that were easily understand for people.
We went out and played arenas around Europe on my solo record and the whole time we were wishing that it was Ours material. We played some Ours material but we were wishing we had an Ours record out. That again inspired us to come home and write songs that sounded like they should be played in a big place. Our last show on that tour was sold out at Wembley and that was inspiring. We came home said let’s keep doing that. Then I jumped up and sang with the guys from Velvet Revolver and that reminded me of a feeling I had when I was younger of a exciting rock n roll kind of edge. We started talking and we said let’s do a set of songs where I’m not singing a falsetto too much. Where we feel like we can just roll into any sort of dive bar, just lay it down, have people be moved and say man that band just kicked my ass. That was the real inspiration for the record and the writing. With that came certain decisions, in order to preserve the performances we stayed away from lots of sound effects and lots of studio tricks. We tried to capture a sound of what instruments sound like together without being tuned and without being made to be perfect. It’s really tricky, a record is comprised of all these decisions you make along the way and at that crossroads you can go one way or you can go another. The sum of those decisions when you’re finished you’re going to have one kind of record or you’re going to have another kind of record. I was very cautious about the decisions made along the process. I said ok, that sounds like an electric guitar, great let’s not change that, that sounds like a piano from the late 1800’s, great lets not change that, that sounds like a vocal where I am distorting the mic and singing my face off, great lets preserve that. That was my production approach.
I don’t have a production style in the sense of it has to be dry or it has to have more reverb. It all depends on the project and what we’re doing. I technically produced Distorted Lullabies and Mercy, I produced all these records. I made all those choices of the direction we were going in. Naturally with other people involved it changes it here and there but at the same time I chose that direction. With this record it wasn’t that I don’t know how to do the things that we did on Mercy. I did what I felt like was right for this group of songs. It seemed like if there were too many tricks or too many delays on my voice it felt like well that’s not what my voice sounds like. We tried to preserve that and the sonic quality of a real recording. We committed to the idea of we are not going to get involved with the volume wars that are going on with music over the last many of years where everybody just wants their record to be louder. In order for it to be louder you have to compress it and you compress it you take out all the dynamics. You bring everything up to the front of the speaker, but then you can’t turn your record up, you have to turn your record down. We wanted to turn this record up, we wanted to hear real bass, we wanted to see what the bass drum sounded like when kicking in the chest. I feel like this record as you turn it up everything comes up evenly and you can keep turning it up and it sounds good. That was our goal and I feel like we accomplished that.
Crypticrock.com-Your absolutely right, you did accomplish that. The way that you just described the album is perfect. Like you said you can turn the volume up and everything sounds wonderful, it’s not too over blown and everything sounds even. I understand that the music has changed over the years and it’s whatever has inspired you at the time. The one thing is the music with Ours has always been melodic , emotional and passionate. what I want to know is what are some of your musical influences?
Jimmy Gnecco– They are so broad, it’s so difficult to say. Everything from classical to Motown. Times of early rock n roll to rockabilly, into The Doors, into 70’s melodrama, into 80’s new wave, moments of 80’s commercial rock bands with great singers and great songs, into 90’s with a lot of Sarah Mclachlan and K.D. Lang, Sinatra, Roy Orbison, and it continues right to up to whether it’s Rihanna or Justin Timberlake. I just like music, I like music without boundaries. As soon as feel like something is put into a box for it to be able to sell then I don’t like that. It can be anything, it can be a dance song, it can be a hardcore song. I feel like if it’s honest or if the melody moves me or the lyrics moves then I like it. If there’s no boundaries to it.
Crypticrock.com- Your lyrics are very poetic and obviously very personal. When you write songs as deep and personal to your heart as yours do you ever get feel nervous about opening yourself up to the world with the songs?
Jimmy- No, that’s when I feel like when I am on the right track. When I hit those nerves, that’s when I feel like it’s most right for me. I’m just so accustomed to that because right out of the gate that is the way I’ve always written. When I am not doing that, that is when I start to get nervous. I only got nervous about releasing one song lyrically and that was the song “Black” on the Mercy record. I say some controversial stuff on that. It was a song battling racism and I use a certain word to make my point. I didn’t want anybody to think the opposite so that worried me. Normally I am not overly concerned what people think of me but to look at me as a racist would break my heart, because that was the opposite of what was going on. That was the only time I have ever been nervous about it.
Crypticrock.com-The reason why I say that is because you are very sincere in your music and that’s the way it’s suppose to be. Not many people can be that honest expressing themselves like that. I have attended many Ours shows over the years and each show has it’s very own dynamic and no matter the size the venue it always feels very personal and feels like everyone in the room is friends and family. Is that something you strive to achieve with your audience?
Jimmy Gnecco– Absolutely, because the goal is for if it’s 10 people or 10,000 people, if we are ever so fortunate, is for people to leave that building feeling closer to one another and feel like that they can do better than they did that day. I don’t ever want people leaving feeling like they want to go out and beat somebody up or mad at the world. So that is what we try to inspire at the shows. That’s always been my goal playing music. I saw U2 when I was 13 years old and that changed my life. I felt like, that’s how I want people to feel, 20,000 people leaving the arena singing “40”, that’s what I want to be part of. Whether it meant I go on to become a roadie for U2 or I’d be able to write songs myself. Whatever it was in this world, that is what I wanted to be part of. If it ended up being a cult, if it ended up being a religion, if it ended up being a baseball team, I just wanted to be part of something where we all felt like we were going to try harder.
Crypticrock.com-I can relate to that, many people can relate to that. I have always been very passionate about music myself. I want to know do you have a favorite Ours song?
Jimmy Gnecco– I have a few that are very dear to me that I don’t get sick of singing. “Here Is The Light”, “I Only Want You”, and “Ran Away To Tell The World”. Those are at the top of my list.
Crypticrock.com- Those are some great tracks. Now back in 2008 you toured with Marilyn Manson. That was a very different tour for you. Playing in front of a very different audience. Looking back on that experience how do you feel went for you and how do you feel Marilyn Manson’s crowd responded to Ours?
Jimmy Gnecco– It was a $90,000 mistake (laugh). They weren’t there to hear anybody but Manson. Our sound system was barely even on, so we really didn’t even have much of a chance to get though to them. We took the tour for a few reasons. I just had went from Dreamworks to Columbia and people talk here and there and word was going around that I was difficult moving from label to label. With things like that I wouldn’t want to do the tour really, I thought well that’s not going to be a good match. Everybody else seemed excited about it and it was a big opportunity, but if I say no to it the stories are going to continue about me being self destructive. Often you make decisions that others think are best for you, but you know in your gut that it’s not. They can often look at those decisions at being self destructive. It was a high profile tour, so many would look at that as an amazing opportunity. I was concerned about it, because 5,000 people a night doesn’t matter if it’s not really the crowd for you. I had my concerns but I said ok let’s do it, because if we say no that might not be the best way to start our relationship with this label. So we did it and it was really terrible because the sound wasn’t on. People didn’t really have a shot of even hearing what we were doing. They were just basically watching us the whole time barely hearing anything. They were really rowdy and angry, angry at us for even being on stage basically. That’s not the kind of room we want to even be in. I don’t want to stand in a room with that much anger, let alone get up on stage and have basically the entire room throwing quarters or nickels at me or whatever they were throwing. The tour was a 2 month tour, right after the first show it was brutal. I don’t intimidate easily so I wasn’t intimidated, but it was clear that it wasn’t working, but I’m also not a quitter. We looked down the line and said well we have 2 months of this. I would have rather just said well let’s not do it and save the money but my fear was the label pull tour support all together on us. Because sometimes they do that, if you piss them off then they pull all your funding. I was afraid that if we said this isn’t the right tour they’d say well now you do nothing. So I said ok let’s take a chance and see if it gets any better. It never got any better, 2 months of abuse, verbal, and physical abuse literally every night. Not 1 show, it was every night for 2 months.
Crypticrock.com-That sounds awful. When they first announced that Ours was going on tour with Marilyn Manson my initial reaction was I’m really excited, but then I thought about it for a second and said how is this going to work? It obviously was a disaster.
Jimmy Gnecco– Yea, it’s a shame because Manson wanted us there. Manson has eclectic tastes in music. He likes all kinds of music, he knew our music. He came up to me singing my songs to me. You can’t explain that to his audience.
Crypticrock.com-I honestly don’t think it would have worked anyway. Not to put down Manson’s fans as I am a Manson fan myself. When it comes to any form of music, especially when it comes to metal, I find many metal fans to be very close minded. I am a huge metal fan myself. I just find many of them just want to hear what they want to hear and that’s it.
Jimmy Gnecco– Well it’s a formula, you know? There is a box just the same as metal you have to certain criteria. There were a couple nice people we met on the Manson run though. There is a criteria to fit to be accepted in the metal world. We are not doing any crazy guitar solos, were not palm muting. We just don’t fit that criteria. I am a tiny little guy and I don’t look very tough (laughs).
Crypticrock.com-None of that matters. What matters is the music. I think I have read in previous interviews with you that you weren’t a fan of metal because you felt it wasn’t emotional enough. Is that correct?
Jimmy Gnecco– No, that’s a game of telephone right there. I like a good amount of metal actually. I’ve always loved Iron Maiden. I don’t know if people would say it’s metal but I like Skid Row and Cinderella. I thought Cinderella were awesome because they had a blues thing about their writing and Tom Keifer’s guitar playing. What I didn’t like was the aggressive nature of the audience, I know that’s it’s a release for people and I can respect that. I am happy that they go to shows and get that release, but I don’t like that it carries over into some of the mindsets of people. My best example would a band like Guns N Rose, which I love, I won’t consider them metal but their music is tough man. Axle’s lyrics are really really tough and it reached a lot people but what it also did was the people it reached, some of those people turned on the band often, throwing things at the band. I know that metal fans are very loyal so I am not saying they aren’t. I just don’t like the aggression, it has nothing to do with the music itself. I think the music has plenty of emotion, I just didn’t always like the emotion it had. Sometimes it can have all this urgency but the message is still not a violent one, then I have no problem with it. You know the idea of going to a show and potentially getting your teeth knocked out, I never saw that as a good time. I want to go hear a band play and not have to worry about people slamming and moshing and worry about getting my teeth knocked out. It doesn’t mean I didn’t like the emotion of the music. It’s like a lot of things, it’s like religion I don’t have a problem with religion just most of its followers at times. The message gets distorted and then watered down. Maybe that’s not even with bands intend, maybe they don’t want people coming to shows and punching each other’s faces in. I like a lot of metal bands and I have no problem with any metal fans. I just don’t like going to a show and watching people get hurt.
Crypticrock.com- It’s funny you should say that because I agree with you about the aggression of some people at the shows and I never really liked that as well. I like the music for the music. My last question for you is pertaining to horror films. Crypticrock.com covers all forms of rock music and horror movies so we like to focus on both areas. Do you have a favorite horror film?
Jimmy Gnecco– I don’t like gory horror movies, I like ones that are more of a mind trip. I am not really a fan of gory and violence. Like The Shining is something I like, movies like that scare the hell out of me. I grew up early with the first Friday the 13th and stuff like that and the first film was just terrifying. Reality is pretty terrifying enough so I usually don’t spend my time watching too many horror films these days. I tend to lean toward films that are more haunting in the sense of like a mind fuck more than the gory ones.
Crypticrock.com-Right you want something that is a story, something that draws you in and is not just eye candy, something that really plays with your mind.
Jimmy Gnecco– Yea another movie like Seven really freaked me out (laughs). I think I was more into it when I was younger, I always loved monsters and stuff like that. More of the playful side of it.
Crypticrock.com-Like traditional monsters like Frankenstein and Dracula?
Jimmy Gnecco– Yea I always loved those movies and always will love those. Interview with a Vampire and stuff like that.
Crypticrock.com-It’s funny because I like the older films, I am not really a fan of the newer ones. The newer films are just exploitation films in my opinion and really violent and gory for the sake of being violent and gory. You look at 70’s and 80’s horror films did have gory but it didn’t the same feel as it does now a days. It just seems like a lot of horror films are way to violent now a days.
Jimmy Gnecco– Yea I’m with you, they are way too violent now a days. The original Friday the 13th and maybe the first few were pretty terrifying and effecting. They are not effecting for me anymore so I just checked out at some point.