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The Gourds deliver a haymaker

By Dan MacIntosh, December 2008

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Unfortunately, there are music fans who only know the Snoop Dog "Gin and Juice" side of The Gourds repertoire, but not the smarter and original "Luddite" part.

"Some people love that song, and it means so much to them," Russell admits. "And when they find out we're the band that did it, that's all they want us to be; that's all that we'll ever be. With some people, that's just the way their brains work; they just become obsessed with one thing for a long time, without considering - or wanting to even know more - about the band or what else we do."

"But then a lot of people have gotten to be fans through the song - it was the bait that hooked a lot of people on the band; ones who have become huge fans since then. A lot of fans reluctantly admit that to me. It's fine. It's a great song. It's a great sort of parody thing we did. It is what it is. In hindsight, we think that if we'd had known what we had, we probably would have approached it differently. We were pretty half-assed. We just threw it out there."

"We didn't do a censored version because we didn't want to play it up too much. We didn't want to be known for that, necessarily. We knew it had the potential to be a really big novelty thing. We tried to avoid it and play it down as much as we could, consciously. I had no idea it would the staying power it still has to this day. It has a life of its own. It's really a phenomenal thing."

Surprisingly, Snoop Dogg digs The Gourds' version of his Dr. Dre produced song.

"Snoop likes it," says Russell. "He didn't believe it was a real band the first time he heard it. He thought it was some kind of joke or hoax or something. You can probably find it on the internet (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5psP-mmw_c) with him listening to the first part of it. There was a guy from spin.com who interviewed him. Snoop had just gone on this talk about how rap music had touched every form of popular music in America. It had incorporated everything and had been incorporated by every style - everything except country music at that point. And then the guys said, 'Have you heard The Gourds doing 'Gin and Juice'? And he said, 'No.' So he played it for him, and his eyes light up and he's, like 'Aha, we've conquered the whole world!'"

The Gourds are not big stars, like Snoop Dogg, so they still need to fight just to survive. Thus, it's only appropriate that the band called its latest CD "Haymaker!"

"For me, it's just an allusion to the big, roundhouse punch," Russell says. "We struggled on what to call this record for a long time, with a lot of title skewing as we traveled around. We had some great ones. But 'Haymaker!' was just the only thing we could agree on. The Gourds is just a democracy, pure democracy. It's really sloppy and inefficient in a lot of ways. Getting anything done and getting consensus takes forever and it is really hard because there's five guys, and everybody wants to be the guy that names titles it."

The fact that two songs on the new disc have the word "country" in them only drives home the point that you may be able to take a person out of the country, but you cannot take the country out of a person.

"This musical style, I'm just so steeped in it!" Russell admits. "And I don't want to escape it. I think when I was younger I did try to...And so I embrace it now. I just love everything about the old country music. American music - I love it. And going out to the country is a great thing to do. I love going out, getting out of the city - that's what the song 'Country Love' is all about. It's about getting out of the city and going camping."

Russell loves country music, even though it sometimes appears to be sick and hospital bound these days.

"The state of country music is very bad, I think," he says. "There's good stuff happening in Austin and different places in America. But the problem is that the country music industry doesn't care about country music. They only care about making money, basically, and creating the product that sells"

"And they control the means of production and distribution and every facet of country music. And no one outside of their machine can compete or even get a fair shake in that market. It's sort of the most extreme version of what happens when there's a free market. Country music today owes more to The Eagles than it does to Hank Williams or The Carter Family, and that's not good."

The Gourds, while still young enough at heart to dig Snoop Dogg's music, are aware that they're not getting any younger. This is what "Fossil Contender" is about.

"That was a working title of our last album, 'Noble Creatures,'" says Russell. "And in that regard, it's sort of a joke about our age. We are fossil contenders. And Jimmy (Smith) just wanted to write a song with that title. He just liked it. I'm not really sure, lyrically, what's going on there. It's probably my favorite song on the record, though. As a musician, it's just such a fun song to play. The chord progression is so fun. The feel of it, everything about it...I love that song."

Nevertheless, increasing age has not decreased Russell's dedicated joy in making music.

"I love it now more than I ever did," he says. "The thing that happens to you when you get older and playing music - and probably other areas of work as well - is you don't have that same sort of naive enthusiasm and inspiration, when it all seems new. I seemed to be fueled by this sort of carefree, crazy, enthusiastic rage love thing."

"It was just all about youth in hindsight. It was just so exciting. I was doing what I wanted to do, and I had no other responsibilities, and I was free to do whatever I wanted. I didn't appreciate that, and most young people don't."

"But I do now. But no, I just love doing what I do for the sake of what it is. I am so really fortunate to have the gifts that I have and for there to be people out there that actually give a shit about what I do. It's pretty amazing to me still, that I can make this music and people like it and I can make a living doing it. This is the dream I had as a young boy, and I'll be damned if I'm not living it still."

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