Music Interviews

Interview: Gary Jules

After a Christmas Number One single with his cover version of Tears For Fears’ Mad World, and all of the exposure such an achievement entails, Gary Jules is back in the UK to support his latest album, which is officially two years old, but has only recently been released on this side of The Pond.

musicOMH caught up with Mr Jules and discovered that he believes in universal truths, loves full English breakfasts, but is far too clued up on reality TV for his own good.

It is a bright and perky Gary Jules that politely greets me at an ungodly hour of his first morning inLondon with a cheery “hey there!” before launching into the mandatory explanation of the title of his newestcollection of heartfelt tunes:

“Trading Snakeoil For Wolf Tickets,” I am informed by the softly spoken voice on the line, “is American slang for swapping bulls**t for bulls**t.”

Snakeoil is a Native American potion with a somewhat placebic nature but what do Wolf Tickets amount to? Apparently, they are “those promises you make, knowing you can’t keep them.”

In other words, the title is a reference to the more cynical and less glamorous side of the big city lights and media frenzy that surrounds Hollywood and LA in general.

I ask Gary if continually touring the same songs for two years has meant that their meanings have changed or altered somewhat. I am greeted with an eager response:

“Oh sure, the songs have all totally evolved. I mean, when you’re playing the same songs night in night out, they take on a life of their own. I can’t even remember what I wrote some of them about now!”

“Bob Dylan just isn’t comparable to David Gray.” – Gary Jules on how they don’t make ’em like they used to.

Listening to Gary’s music, you get the impression that he is commuting his way through life, pausing for poignant reflection. With his brooding, melancholic voice, he paints a far off tranquil landscape, much removed from the hustle and bustle of the 21st Century cyber-conurbations in which his listeners dwell. He explained where this feeling of calm comes from:

“Well, when it comes to inspiration, I come from San Diego originally – it’s an un-media-hyped, sleepy sort of town, big on beach culture you know?”

“Myself and many others left our little towns to travel into the big city, for the streets paved with gold and the bright lights etc. We had our parents’ dreams in one hand and our own high hopes in the other, but the reality is that people get very strung out, on women, or drugs, and then end up getting their teeth kicked in.”

“But for those of us who managed to stick it out, survive it and pull through – well I think it’s a noblething you know? We might have given up on the unrealistic dreams, and had to harden up a lot, but we stayed.”

After a very unfortunate record deal fiasco when he did manage to get signed, Gary decided to take a year off to “freak out, and deal with some personal issues,” one of which included completing his degree in English Literature.

“I have always loved English Lit, the old old stuff you know? Like Chaucer, Milton, Beowulf, Shakespeare. I’m a great believer that a lot of newer stuff can’t be compared to the past… Bob Dylan just isn’t comparable to David Gray.”

“I loved exploring the history in English and I found out that people through the ages are exactly the same as now, they had the same issues, the same desires. One thing that’s clear when you read old literature is that there are some great universal truths – things like fart jokes, guys screwing other people’s wives and the hunger for power. These are things that will always be funny, and will always interest people, so they make such great, timeless stories.”

“… Things like fart jokes, guys screwing other people’s wives and the hunger for power. These are things that will always make… great, timeless stories.” – Gary Jules on English Literature’s recurring themes.

After some digressions about the historical comedy value of the “fart joke”, I enquire what occupation Mr Jules might currently be involved in, were it not for his undying belief and solid determination to his music.

“Well the hip-hop answer to that question would be, ‘Thanks to the Creator, ‘coz if it weren’t for music, I’d be in jail now!'”

There follows a rare but well-deserved outburst of laughter at his own joke. After recovering from his self-amusement, he continues:

“Honestly, I really don’t know. I’ve been doing this for so long, it’s impossible to imagine anything else. Maybe – but I don’t want this to sound arrogant – but maybe with my love of words I’d be teaching high school English orsomething.”

I bite my tongue from suggesting that I bet he’d fit right in with his trademark flat cap, and that allhe needs now is the tweed jacket with leather elbow patches.

Finally I get around to a question that I’m sure Mr Jules is thoroughly bored of but is, nonetheless, necessary – did he expect Mad World to do as well as it did?

“We played that song over the phone to a close friend who cried after hearing it, and from then on we knew Mad World was something really special.” – Gary Jules on the emotional impact of his Big Hit Single.

“We were constantly amazed at the response to the song – it was so unexpected. But at the same time, wehave always had a strong belief in what we were doing. We played that song over the phone to a close friend who cried after hearing it, and pretty much from then on we knew Mad World was something really special. And people obviously really identified with the it, especially a younger generation who wouldn’t remember the original!”

In my cynicism I ask Gary (in somewhat sarcastic tone) if he is familiar with the Fame Academy winner Alex Parks, and that her recently released album also contains a cover of Mad World. Surprisingly, I get my knuckles rapped:

“Well sure, hers is obviously a cover of our cover, but it’s a good song. And I really think it’s cool that she’s so young and out and cool with that.”

Well that’s me told!

Just before Mr Jules is dragged away, I have time to enquire what he thinks is the best thing about our glorious little isle.

“Oh, English breakfasts, man. They’re awesome – a full cooked breakfast is the best thing!”

Well between that and his love of our writers, Gary Jules is welcome back to Britain’s mad world any time.

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More on Gary Jules
Interview: Gary Jules
Gary Jules – Trading Snakeoil For Wolftickets