The Gourds, Lola's Fort Worth, February 2012
Last night, I finally heard the news--I'm a bit behind; it only took me a couple months--that the Austin-based band The Gourds were taking a break from performing and recording together. The band called it a "Hiatus."
This wrecked my night. The Gourds, to me, were one of only a few local bands (I use local to mean Texas-based or Texas-based at one time) that truly mean something in my world. I've seen them probably a dozen, fifteen times since I first watched them tear up Stubb's in Austin on New Years Eve, 1999. The only other band that comes close would be Old 97s.
And what are they? I get that question a lot from friends I talk the band up to. . but I really don't have a definitive answer. Take a little Lynrd Skinner. Add some Staple Family. Toss in some swampy Zydeco, Snoop Dog, a bit of Waylon Jennings. A lot of folks define them by their unintentional viral hit, a cover of the rap standard "Gin n'Juice." But they're more than that, of course. Hell--I'm leaving out a couple dozen influences here. There is no one "way" to define the Gourds: they just are. It's Gourds music. You either get it or you don't.
I guess if you haven't caught them live by now, well, you might not be able to. Listening to their 12 studio records will only take you so far. To experience the Gourds, you had to see them live. You had to see Kevin's unashamed big-white-guy dance gyrations, and Jimmy's frenetic, possessed vocals and the way he laid waste to that electric bass--it's not clear what drove the rhythm more: that amazing bass or Keith Langford on the drum kit. Claude Bernard handled the keyboards and maracas, squeezebox and accordion, tossing out one liners and nonsequiters between songs. In the corner, stage left, the shy multi-instrumentalist Max Johnston would be coaxed a few times a show to lead the vocals on his original compositions, but mostly he stayed back, playing the lap steel, the fiddle, mandolin or banjo.
"Flyin' moth took what it could
Yer half naked
Moth did good
A rabbit jumps it
A sheep makes it
Go cat go
And I want you to
Crawl out of my bean bowl baby
Little bit after midnight"
Kevin's compositions are more lyrical, romantic, touching: "Promenade" from Noble Creatures brings a tear to my eyes:
"I traded yer sweetness for my loneliness
Yer confidence for my own regrets
Yer simple grace for this disarray
That’s my stock and trade while you promenade"
These are creative artists, and two in one band guaranteed there'd be only so much room for both to fully explore their songwriting. Both Russell and Smith will continue with their side projects, "Shinyribs" and "Hard Pans," respectively, as a way to more fully answer their muse.
Every time, it felt like all was right with the world.
And you can't give a band higher praise than that, can you?
The blogger and Kevin Russell:one of my musical heroes.