By Brad Lopez
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By Noah Hubbell
By Inkoo Kang
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Gnecco's been making music in earnest since 1988, and the New Jersey native joined the DreamWorks roster in 1997, putting an end to a rather heated bidding war. Gnecco says he chose that label primarily because it put a high premium on artist development — or so it claimed — and seemed to have decent sensibilities.
"They had Jonathan Fire* Eater, who is now the Walkmen, without the lead singer," he notes. "They had Eels. They had Rufus Wainwright. Now, Rufus hadn't even finished his first record yet, but I knew of him and I loved him. And I felt like anyone who would sign those artists knows what it's all about."
Not so much, as it turned out. After signing, it took three years to release Distorted Lullabies, Ours's first record. But Gnecco stresses that it wasn't the label's fault so much as that of a micromanaging A&R guy who, for whatever reason, wouldn't let anybody else get close to the project. "He was somebody who signed Pearl Jam and signed Rage Against the Machine," Gnecco says. "Now, he isn't used to development. He's used to 'We need a huge hit on this first record or else we don't get to make a second record.' So I'm immediately into a marriage with conflicting views. It was a nightmare, because he didn't allow anybody else from the label to get involved. It was his project, and he was going to keep it under his thumb. So that's exactly what happened. He kept everyone away, and it wasn't until a few years into — I'm saying a few years; that's insane! — a few years into me being signed to them that other people got involved, and once they did, that's when we were able to put a record out, because they were like, 'You're insane,' to the guy."
Gnecco was signed before he really had a band. And with as much time as it took to record the album, there was ample opportunity for him to develop chemistry with the players he'd assembled. All the same, it took a while for him to find the right people and to be confident that his bandmates shared his passion for the music and were capable of elevating the art.
"People would come in just looking to get something out of it for themselves," he remembers. "And if I was going to give up as much as I was for it and offer it up, I wanted to know that they were really going to be a part of it, be committed to the idea that there isn't always going to be money." And just as the pieces finally started to come together, the band was rushed into the studio to record the next record, Precious, which Gnecco looks back on with a note of rueful disdain.
"The second record was taken so far off the tracks," he declares. "I don't even like traditional rock music. And so many steps in the process were messed up that I wouldn't even know where to begin. I don't want to point fingers, but we messed up so many ways on that record. And when I listen to that record, I'm like, 'Who is this?' Right down to having a cover song. We were railroaded into putting this cover on the record. Now, I like doing other people's songs — I do it all the time — but to put it on our own record?"
DreamWorks must have shared his assessment, because the label all but abandoned Precious promotionally within the first month of its release. To compound matters, the week the album was released, Gnecco's girlfriend ended her life. It was enough to make him re-evaluate the whole idea of making music. "It forced me to look at it more than I was already," he recalls. "Now I'm completely losing things that are so important to me. You know, her dying, I felt really guilty about it, because I felt like I wasn't there for her, because I wasn't around. I was just emotionally and physically not there. And I just felt like this is killing me. Literally. This is killing people around me. And then three weeks after that, one of our buddies who bought a van to tour with us crashed his van and died. And that was all within...my girl died, and then I had to be on the road that week; we started a tour.... It became empty, and I wasn't going to do it if it didn't have meaning anymore. I just lost the plot, you know?"
Gnecco spent the following winter holed up at a house in the woods by himself, weeping and working out to the point of exhaustion. "The helplessness you feel when somebody dies, and the anger — I needed to get that out," he says. "So I just worked out a lot and punched and kicked the bag a lot, to the point where I'd fall on the ground. I had to get it out. I was really hesitant to pick up a guitar again and start singing or writing. I didn't feel like singing. And writing...I couldn't even look at myself in the mirror, so how could I write? I just felt like, 'I don't like myself at all.' I felt horrible. I felt guilty. It wasn't until a few months after that when I met up with my girl's family and her mom told me, 'You know, you have to keep doing that. She loved your music and she wanted you to be happy. You should really keep doing it.'"