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Jimmy Gnecco isn't a tortured artist. Despite how he's been portrayed by critics and perceived by fans, the Ours frontman isn't particularly in love with his pain, nor does he need to feel tormented to write. But considering the turmoil he's endured over the years — from dealing with paralyzing personal tragedies (his girlfriend ended her own life the week the band's second album was released), to having his creativity stifled by a heavy-handed A&R guy, to passing through the hands of four labels over the course of three albums — if he were even half as dour as everyone seems to think he is, it would be completely justifiable.
"People would listen to the first record and say that I had these demons," says Gnecco. "I didn't have demons until I signed the record deal. I was in a peaceful place when I signed the deal. I had two healthy children that I loved that just completely fulfilled me and made me happy. And I was playing music and having a great time. I want to make this really clear, because a lot of people don't realize this, there's songs, like this song on the first record called 'Medication,' the words are, 'We've taken medication so we can run away from the things that pain us.' So many people could relate to that, and they looked at it like, 'Wow, he's tortured.' The truth is, it wasn't about me. The lyrics used to be 'He's taking.' I was actually singing about somebody else. I don't believe in medicating yourself. I believe in working things out. But when we got to recording it, I also felt like I didn't want to judge anybody. So it was like, I'm gonna say 'we,' and I'm going to take responsibility for what I'm writing about. I don't want to judge anyone. In doing that, it made people say, 'Wow, he's got demons.'
"There's another song on that record called 'Miseryhead.' In that song, I'm laughing about the misery of what was going on in music at that time. I never wanted to give that feeling in what we do. I want to talk about deep, emotional things and go into the bowels of emotion and thought and bring it up but then bring it to light. I think that a lot of people just missed that. The darkness or whatever they felt, that was just the beginning of the statement. They would've had to keep listening to realize that I was trying to bring them out on the other side."
Listening has never been difficult for Ours fans, thanks to Gnecco's transcendent voice, which is as riveting as it is confounding. Moving effortlessly from a sturdy mid-range croon to a delicate falsetto and then to a pitch-perfect, vein-popping howl, he sings with an impassioned conviction that convinces you he believes every line he's singing, like he's lived every word. And the music only adds to the gravity of the presentation. Encased in brooding threnodies that sag under a pall of melancholia, the clouds of despair effectively overshadow any undercurrent of hopefulness. You can see why separating the art from the artist might be challenging for some folks — and why some might conclude that Gnecco's a sad sack.
The comparisons to a certain departed vocalist who possessed a nearly identical multi-octave range and tone also make sense. That venerated musician is Jeff Buckley, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a single writeup about Gnecco (including a preview penned by this author earlier this year) that doesn't mention Buckley in the same breath. Fact is, the resemblance between the two is uncanny, from the inflections to the phrasing to the modulations. At times, their own mothers would have a hard time telling them apart. With their spindly frames, dark hair and smoldering eyes, they even look similar.
Having stood in Buckley's shadow for the bulk of his career, Gnecco is well aware of these similarities — but from the sounds of it, Buckley just happened to make it to the patent office first. In fact, Gnecco chose to name his band Ours both as a ding on his previous band (it was your band, now it's ours) and because he thought that the music they'd crafted had a sound of its own. Still, these two extraordinarily gifted musicians draw from a similar pool of influences: female vocalists (Buckley was enamored of Nina Simone and Edith Piaf, while Gnecco admits to being smitten with Björk and Sarah McLachlan), U2, classic soul and Indian music.
"I was influenced by the things he was influenced by long before I knew about him," Gnecco says of Buckley. "I'll show you what I mean, and you can take it or leave it." With this, Gnecco sings the first lines of the track "God Only Wants You" in his trademark falsetto and then says, "To me, I'm singing like Curtis Mayfield. I'm singing like Smokey Robinson.
"In a song-building sense," he adds, "Indian music, they drone on one thing and they build it, intensity-wise and rhythm-wise. That's where I got that from. Not from Jeff. Maybe at times where Pete Townshend uses that same kind of mentality, or the Doors, when they play 'The End' and they build on that one chord. Lou Reed, 'Heroin,' builds on that one thing. I'm telling you straight up: I learned from that, not Jeff. That's not taking away from him. When I heard him, I felt like, 'Holy shit! He is just, like, killing it.' That's why, in the short time we knew each other, we felt that bond. But I was firmly planted in my roots and in my place and on my road long before I even knew about Jeff."