The Gourds’ alt-country weirdness contains a surreal beauty.
Thursday, July 1, 2004
Members of Austin-based band The Gourds look like regular guys who talk football or cars over a few brewskis. They might be, but the music that this quintet plays is anything but ordinary. It’s how Ween might sound if the band played roots music exclusively.
Most listeners associate The Gourds with their rootsy cover of Snoop Dogg’s “Gin & Juice,” which became a minor hit back in 1998. The band has also been known to perform their own takes on diverse classics like The Stone’s “Miss You,” David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” and Sam Cooke’s “Cupid.”
The Gourd’s accordion player, Claude Bernard, says he has no problem being known for playing the country version of a classic gangsta rap song.
“I really thought it was a good thing,” he says. “I can’t believe it became popular in the first place, but with that, there came an increase in attendance at our shows.”
Despite an impressive assortment of covers, the band’s 2002 album, Cow Fish Fowl or Pig, proves the band’s originals are even more interesting. The album starts with an upbeat number called “My Name is Jorge,” about a fruit vendor who peddles his wares to William S. Burroughs, Harvey Oswald and Muhammad Ali. On another number, “Ants on the Melon,” one of the band’s primary songwriters, Kev Russell, sings the song (with lyrics about the Virginia Hamilton Adair poem of the same name) through what sounds like an empty bucket of fried chicken.
These references to figures like Adair and Burroughs make it clear that someone is a serious reader. Bernhard pinpoints the culprit. “Kev worked in bookstores for years before we got The Gourds off the ground,” he says.
Other band members include multi-instrumentalist/songwriter/singer Jimmy Smith, drummer Keith Langford and the newest member, multi-instrumentalist Max Johnston, formerly of the legendary alt-country band Uncle Tupelo and its successor, the current critical favorite Wilco.
When Johnston joined the group, after playing on The Gourd’s 1999 album, Ghosts of Hallelujah, Bernhard says, the fiddler, guitarist and banjo player changed the group’s sound. “He just blew up our sound; we could really sound like a competent band,” he says.
On Cow Fish Fowl or Pig, the band’s blown-up sound ranges from beautiful old-school country (“Blankets”) to a tune that imagines funk musicians like Bootsy Collins and Maceo Parker as billygoats and trolls respectively (“The Bridge”) to a song that sounds like a classic southern rock number (“Ham-Fisted Box of Gloves”).
Despite the band’s success on Cow Fish Fowl or Pig, Bernhard says The Gourd’s next album, due this November, will be more like their earlier works. “It’ll have a cool, low-fi grit to it,” he says.
The Gourds play Hidden Valley Theater, Carmel Valley Rd. and Ford Rd. in Carmel Valley, Saturday at 7pm. $18. 625-1229.