Austin’s roots rock veterans the Gourds are no strangers to the road. For seventeen years they’ve toured the U.S. and abroad with their sweet and spicy brand of southern country-blues-rock. With a new record out, Old Mad Joy, and a whopping nine other studio albums under their belt, the band shows no signs of slowing down. The Old Mad Joy tour takes the Texans from San Francisco to Philadelphia and dozens of towns in between. Frontman Kevin “Shinyribs” Russell calls the live show “kind of a cross between a revival, a house party, a pep rally and a pow wow.” We connected with the guys to ask about their time on tour and tips for would-be road warriors.
Q: You hail from Austin, which has been an indie hotbed for some time now (here’s looking at you, SXSW). Have you noticed a shift in the city’s music scene over the course of your careers?
A: Yes, the scene has been constantly changing for decades now. The biggest change has come from the economic boom of the last 15 years; dot com bubble/high tech expansion and real estate bubble. Also the focus of the city on encouraging downtown residential occupancy and a ridiculous sound ordinance has transformed live music into a migratory population in search of affordable leases and appropriate neighborhoods. The musicians and service workers sort of gravitate nearer to these places. So, lots of them are now in east Austin. The styles have become much more diverse and the talent level much more exceptional.
Q: When you’re on the road, are there particular towns you try to make sure you have a day off in?
A: Well not specifically. It is mostly determined by logistics and scheduling. Occasionally we will try to find some cabins in the woods or in the mountains and cook a big meal, share some down time together like a family. A brief respite from the grind like this can really recharge everybody and help us maintain some sanity in the tumult.
Q: Apart from playing, what do you do for fun on the road?
A: We really spend most of our time talking and laughing with each other. We all genuinely like each other, for the most part. Our sound engineer Mark Creaney is a really great guy. And we often bring a musical friend who travels with us and opens the shows. Other than that some of us escape into writing, computers, art, literature, beer etc.
Q: “Peppermint City,” one of the standout tracks from Old Mad Joy, is allegedly about one particularly divey venue you played somewhere. Can we hear a little more about that?
A: The bone-crushing indifference one meets with in some towns, at some venues resonates with every musician I know. But, this is not just a song about musicians. It is a song about any traveler anywhere. Sometimes one comes into a city that just feels ugly, brutal and wicked. When one feels such, one should get the hell out as soon as possible. There is sometimes an adolescent residual want to blame someone for a given situation. That song is mostly about that.
Q: Austin’s known for its barbecue—care to divulge your favorite joints?
A: The best BBQ in the city limits is probably Ruby’s. Not Rudy’s, which is not bad for a chain. Then I don’t know, there ain’t much else. I have heard about Franklins, but never made it over there. If I am gonna get some Q, then I am gonna go to Elgin (Southside or Meyers), Lockhart (Smitty’s or Kruez) or City Market in Luling. Milt’s in Kyle is great too. Opie’s in Spicewood is good. And it is just outside of a campground, Krause Springs. So you can bring great Q into the tent with you and gnaw on it all night around the fire.
Guest blogger Kristin Anderson is based in New York City
and writes about music and travel.
The Gourds perform a track from their latest record, OLD MAD JOY, live on KUT Radio in Austin, Texas on August 31, 2011. The performance was shot for ALL THE LABOR, a documentary feature in-production about the band. For more info on the documentary, go here.