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Something That Can’t Be Faked: Gary Jules, September 27 at Huckleberry’s PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Wednesday, 23 September 2009 14:20

Gary Jules

Despite being an internationally known singer and songwriter, Gary Jules -- performing on Sunday at Huckleberry's in a show -- has neither a manager nor a publicist.

He did at one time, riding his and Michael Andrews' version of Tears for Fears' "Mad World" to the top of the UK pop charts in late 2003.

But the success, he said in a phone interview last week, led to "a lot of stuff I considered to be, I don't know, pork-barrel spending, fat that needed to be trimmed. ...

"I ended up in a lot of situations that I wasn't comfortable with. ... This is not what I started doing music for. A lot of those things were generated either through the people I had hired or the miscommunication between me and them."

By uncomfortable situations, Jules doesn't mean hookers and drugs. ("I'm totally fine with hookers and drugs," he joked.) But managers and publicists would try to get him in Rolling Stone and Spin and other major music magazines, while Jules felt his audience was more likely to read Dwell.

"You can spend a whole lot of money on traditional music-publicity stuff without ever really getting anything done ... ," he said. "There are a lot more interesting ways to do publicity and to have a career these days."

Jules would know. He had the happy accident of "Mad World," used at the emotional climax of Richard Kelly's 2001 cult-classic film Donnie Darko, other successes in film and television licensing, and the on-air support of influential radio hosts Nic Harcourt (of KCRW in Santa Monica, California) and Bruce Warren (of WXPN in Philadelphia).

Being championed by those tastemakers, Jules said, was invaluable. "People equated your presence on those radio stations as something that couldn't be faked," he said.

Similarly, the authenticity and rightness of "Mad World" in Donnie Darko couldn't be forced. The cover -- stripping and slowing down the 1982 original -- is an exquisite match of music and material, with both the song and movie gaining weight. Jules' voice, over simple piano and strings, manages to capture both sadness and hope, and it seems impossible that it wasn't written for that moment in that movie. (It makes little sense out of context -- some might say it makes little sense in context -- but here it is.)

Jules and Andrews -- who have been playing music together for almost three of Jules' four decades -- recorded the song on a lark. Andrews, who composed the Donnie Darko score, thought it was something Kelly might use.

"We had played that song as far back as high school in all of these different ways and in various drunken arrangements in the basement of his house throughout the years," Jules said. "He called me and said, 'Hey, you should come over tomorrow morning and we should record "Mad World" in the style of the Donnie Darko music and see if they want to use it for the end titles.'"

They knocked it out in 15 minutes, Jules said. And when the U2 song that Kelly had planned to use for that critical section proved too expensive, "Mad World" was there to take its place.

Darko was barely released initially -- after September 11, 2001, the studio decided there wasn't much of an audience for a movie that involves an airplane engine dropping into the title character's bedroom -- but it has built slowly. (On Wednesday, it sat at 134 on the Internet Movie Database's top-250-movies rankings.)

But don't mistake Jules for a one-trick pony. Despite the fact that his most famous performance is of somebody else's song, he was (pre-"Mad World") and remains a respected singer/songwriter.

Of his 1998 A&M album Greetings from the Side, the All Music Guide was rapturous: "Gary Jules arrived on this debut fully formed, an insightful lyricist whose words were accompanied by some of the most sad-eyed, exquisite melodies to come out of the decade." With a pillow-soft voice (reminiscent of Paul Simon and Sufjan Stevens) and a subdued palette to match, most of Jules' music could have come from the soft-rock '70s.

Although he's a San Diego kid raised in a surf-and-music culture, since 2006 he's lived in North Carolina -- where his wife is from. One day, Jules said, she announced that they were moving from California. "That was right about the exact same moment I was thinking: 'I don't want to do this again. I don't want to get a record deal and be part of that machine again. It's already not worked twice for me, even though the second time I pretty much got to do exactly what I wanted.'"

His second record, 2001's Trading Snakeoil for Wolftickets, was released by EMI and included "Mad World," but the title hints at a disillusionment with the business and Los Angeles. The recording process also portended Jules' future; he said it was literally recorded for $90 -- the cost of the three analog tapes he and Andrews used. (The All Music Guide again: "In every way, Jules has grown as an artist.")

The popularity of "Mad World" led to 300 shows between July 2003 and July 2004, Jules said, including a three-week tour supporting Bob Dylan.

But Jules stripped away the music-biz machinery with his 2006 self-titled record, retaining just a licensing person, an attorney, and a booking agent.

Jules released a band album, Bird, last year that occasionally trots out his rock side -- "Been a Long Time" lyrically references not only Led Zeppelin but also the Beastie Boys -- but will do nothing to alienate longtime fans. He said he hopes to have a new record out next March.

The aim now, he said, is to find the balance between his home life and music career; 90 shows a year would be ideal.

"It's getting to the point now where I could use some help," he said of the workload.

But don't expect a Gary Jules publicity campaign anytime soon. Managers and publicists, he said, want their artists to get as big as possible, but "I don't really aspire to be that guy."

Gary Jules will preform on Sunday, September 27, at Huckleberry's (223 18th Stret in Rock Island). The show starts at 7 p.m. and also features Becca Rice. Admissions is $5.

For more information on Jules, visit or

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