Makin' Memories: The Gourds have yet to have their fill
For Austin, Texas-based country rockers The Gourds, looking back at their past 15 years of jamming is akin to leafing through a musical scrapbook– their ascension to a nationally-recognized roots rock band has been full of stumbles and successes. But one thing has yet to change: their desire to impart some meaning into the honky-tonk genre.
"It's a nice balance we've been able to achieve, between simplified progression and more complex melodies, hooks, lyrics," bassist and vocalist Jimmy Smith says. "Listen to the lyrics and that's where you get your payoff."
Maybe you've heard their countrified cover of Snoop Dogg's "Gin and Juice" (which was for some time inaccurately credited as a Phish song– and that Snoop reportedly liked). Or you might have heard their name alongside the likes of the Avett Brothers or the Hackensaw Boys.
The early 2009 release, Haymaker!, indicated a turning point for The Gourds– instead of rocking out to a record full of singles, the album created more of a narrative, with characters and storylines dominating songs. In "Luddite," the band croons, "I am just a Luddite / Gimme some Luddite juice / Machinery replaced me / They had to cut me loose"– intertwining a catchy country tune with satirical introspection.
"Everyone likes a good story," Smith explains. "It's a challenge to actually get something down in a song that won't bore or be too abstract so that you can't follow it."
The Gourds rose from the ashes of a few Texas bands– from punk rockers to songwriting duos, all current members made their way to Austin's disparate music scene. Vocalist and guitarist Kevin Russell, Smith, accordion player Claude Bernard, and drummer Keith Langford joined forces and started making what is known today as "Gourds music." Adding in final member Max Johnston as a multi-instrumentalist was what Smith refers to as a "high water mark" in the Gourds scrapbook, and from there, the band began to make waves in the country-rock genre.
But what is "Gourds music"?
"It's roots rock," Smith says. "People want a definite answer– I'll play a country song for you, but there's a disco song coming after that– so be ready for it."
The Gourds claim to look to just about everything for lyrical inspiration– from pop culture to high art, food to advertising. "We're just receptors," Smith says.
That anything-goes attitude is further highlighted by the wide-range of dedicated fans.
"There are some straight people, some freaky people, everybody responding to the old Willie Nelson anatomy of the 70s," Smith says. "Where rednecks and hippies set aside their differences and decided they wanted to have a good time and rock out to freaky cosmic music– we nurture that."
While The Gourds have nine albums in nearly 15 years of existence, their spark is far from fading. After touring non-stop for the past six months, some much-needed downtime is in order to tend to families and song-writing in preparation for a new album– one that promises to continue catering to intelligentsia and rednecks alike.
"The highest water mark is the fact that we're still together and enjoying ourselves making music," Smith says. "There's a lot of music still to be made, and I can't wait to see what we come up with."
The Gourds play Fridays After Five on 5/29. Kathryn Caine opens. The show starts at 5:30 pm and admission is free.