The Gourds are the best band in Austin, Texas, according to the American-Statesman newspaper. Outside the region, they’re relatively unknown … except in the Netherlands, Belgium and England.
Try to explain that one.
“It all stems from our main record label, which is Munich Records, in Europe,” guitarist-mandolinist Kevin Russell said recently. “They’re an old label, about 50 years old, that started as a jazz label; they were bought in the ’70s by a guy who is a popular old Dixieland jazz clarinet player from Holland. He’s retired from music and bought this label. They mainly do distribution, but it’s all roots music. They’re really hard-working, honest people, and they’ve got connections all over Europe.”
But, really, why the Netherlands and Belgium?
“They have a great love for all types of roots music,” Russell said. “What it gets down to, it’s world music to them. They view us as world music, which is strange because when you think of world music you think of Ladysmith Black Mambazo or something like that. We’re definitely a regional-styled band. They love Texas and all the music that comes out of Austin.”
Even in Austin, the Gourds feel like the lone wolf. Russell, bassist Jimmy Smith, drummer Keith Langford and accordionist Claude Bernard wander where few bands go, straddling alterna-country, rock and a general quirkiness.
“We rarely get to play with anybody that has the kind of aesthetic ideas we do,” Russell said. “When we tour, if we have opening acts or we’re the opening act, it’s usually some sort of strange clash of styles. We’ve definitely made a lot of friends, like the Old 97s and Slobberbone, that we have a kind of brotherhood with. Stylistically and the way we write songs and the diverse nature of the songs, they definitely set us apart.”
They first caught the ear of producer-manager Mike Stewart (Poi Dog Pondering), who secured them a deal with Munich. Their first album, “Dem’s Good Beeble,” brought so many rave reviews that Austin-based Watermelon Records signed them and released the follow-up, “Stadium Blitzer,” at the end of April.
They’re not Americana, not in the Wilco sense, but Russell said: “We come from the same soil, but it’s a whole different crop altogether. It’s just convenient for people to lump us into that.”
The Gourds love to record, Russell said, but they are really in their element when they play live.
“I generally think our records are just promotional tools for our live shows, to get people out to our shows,” he said, “and they’re always surprised to hear the record and then see our show. People are always surprised at how much more we can do, because we don’t put a lot of cover songs on records, for publishing reasons mainly.
“Live, I like to play other people’s songs, it’s a lot of fun. We have some real doozies. There’s two in particular that always pretty much bring the house down, like this old Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee song called ‘Turkey Through the Corn.’ We’ve totally changed it; we never know what’s going to happen with that song. It’s a high-energy, almost zydeco thing. Then there’s ‘Gin & Juice’ by Snoop Doggy Dogg; people always love that one.”
BWF (before we forget): Get a load of The Gourds on the Web @ www.thegourds.com.