Jimmy Gnecco is a self-taught virtuoso singer, multi-instrumentalist, and songwriter who is one of the most underappreciated artists in music today. When he is lauded by musicians and fans, he’s usually praised (deservedly so) for his powerful falsetto, but what is often overlooked is the facility with which he moves from a velvety, insinuating baritone through a sweetly mournful tenor to the top of his range, often culminating with a ferocious wail that leaves you breathless.
Intelligent songwriting is as important as a good voice, and Jimmy’s insight into his abilities (and limitations) also deserves mention. His command of dynamics, the many subtle changes of mood that build the complex atmosphere of his songs highlight an intuitive understanding of music that far too few songwriters possess.
Jimmy was born with an extraordinary instrument, and to keep it in top condition, he runs long distance, maintains a strict diet, avoids smoke, and even air conditioning when touring. And audiences reap the benefits of this strict discipline. His remarkably controlled singing, achingly beautiful voice, and personal attachment to the songs he sings combine to give listeners a sublime experience.
Jimmy graciously agreed to an interview with Smile Politely, but it was only when he called that I learned he was leaving for a short tour of the UK, literally driving to the airport, which he needed to get to within the hour. I cut about a third of my questions, and tried to stay on-topic.
SP: Are there any bands playing at the festival that you’re going to try to see?
Gnecco: I’m not sure what my schedule is going to be like, but I will try to catch as much as I can. I’m not sure what time I’m getting in, but I’m going to try. I don’t know much about the festival. How long has it gone on for?
SP [gives brief, succinct history of festival]: 2005…Seth Fein…Iron & Wine…DIY…
Gnecco: It’s not easy putting on shows. It’s a lot of work for one person, I imagine. All the effort it must take to make it happen. That’s great that he’s doing this.
SP: Do you like playing festivals? I only know of a few that you’ve played before.
Gnecco: Yeah, I do like playing them, depending on [unintelligible] with the festival, and a lot of the other bands that are playing, and what the whole thing represents.
SP: For those who aren’t familiar with you, how would you classify your music? When I’m asked what ‘kind’ of music you play, I have a hard time answering. I usually just give the non-answer ‘alternative rock.’ But that’s not really an accurate description. How do you classify your music?
Gnecco: It’s hard to answer exactly because I don’t think it fits into any one genre.
SP: I agree. And when I’m asked, ‘Who does he sound like,’ I answer, ‘He doesn’t sound like anybody; he sounds like himself.’ Many times people describe you as ‘indie,’ and I don’t even think that’s a legitimate genre for music.
Gnecco: I don’t believe I’m anywhere near the genre of ‘indie.’ We can clarify something right now. You can do this, and hopefully people will read what you write and they’ll get more of a sense of what the true story is. We’re not…I don’t even know what ‘indie’ means, to tell you the truth. If it means that we’re independent unto ourselves as far as not trying to sound like anybody else or fit into any other category, yeah, then we’re that but, otherwise the term ‘indie’…I honestly don’t know what the fuck that means.
SP: I don’t either.
Gnecco: We’ve made records now for Dreamworks, Sony, unofficially for Geffen because we made it for Geffen and it went into Sony. And I haven’t made them any different for Sony or Dreamworks than I did on my new label. I chose to go to a smaller label in an attempt to just get more attention and be able to get records out at a better pace than what we were doing. I’m not…I don’t think we fit into the ‘indie’ category.
SP: I don’t think that ‘indie’ is a legitimate category; I never have.
Gnecco: It’s pretty vague what that means.
SP: It’s like saying ‘corporate music’ and ‘indie music.’ That doesn’t tell you what the music’s about or what it’s like.
Gnecco: Radiohead made honest music without any compromise and they did that on major labels. Our last record we did without any compromise really, and we made the record that we wanted to make. And that was with a major. It’s just…I don’t know…anytime anybody puts ‘indie’ next to my name I get a little…it just doesn’t fit. I don’t know why they call it indie; I don’t know what that means, and I don’t relate to it.
SP: I don’t want to say you’re unclassifiable, but trying to pick a genre is impossible. There’s this fusion of all different kinds of music that can be found in your albums. It’s rock music, but it’s got some goth elements, alternative elements, ambient, and some acoustic.
Gnecco: Our records go…from the beginning they’ve gone anywhere from The Beatles to Nine Inch Nails. I think that the records…the songs like, anything from “As I Wander” to “Places” to “Fallen Souls” to “Live Again,” the music goes everywhere from what would be on a Rubber Soul Beatles record to the most urgent Beatles record. From “Hey Jude” to “Revolution.” In the same way that the Beatles played all kinds of music, I think that’s what we try to do.
SP: I think you do. You mentioned “As I Wander” and “Fallen Souls.” Those two vastly different songs are on the same album. So how can you label Distorted Lullabies with one genre of music when you have those two songs that are so drastically different from each other? So I think I have to take back what I said earlier: you actually can’t be classified.
SP: Will you be playing mostly songs from your new album, since you’re currently in the middle of a tour for The Heart?
Gnecco: I’ll be playing pretty much mostly new songs. Maybe a song or two from the past. The last couple of nights we’ve been playing the song that I did for Spider-Man 2 and the song that I wrote for the Neverending White Lights record.
SP: I don’t think I’ve ever heard you sing “Someone to Die For” live, so that’s fantastic.
Gnecco: I really try to separate this tour from what would be on an Ours tour. It’s nice that people want to hear Ours songs because essentially they’re my songs; I wrote them all. But it’s just that, there has to be a way to kind of…being that I have a band with me as well, if we just started playing Ours songs…it would be Ours anyway because I know how to make these new songs sound like Ours if I wanted to anyway. So we have to kind of draw the line. Maybe we’ll fit in one Ours song, but we’re trying to stay committed to just doing songs that I’ve released as a solo artist.
SP: Do you ever see Champaign as a regular stop between Chicago and St. Louis?
Gnecco [laughing]: I’ll have to see how it goes. I can tell you that night.
SP: Will Chicago or St. Louis be on your tour this fall?
Gnecco: We’ll be back through in late November.
SP: Thank you for calling and for agreeing to perform at this festival.
Gnecco: I’m glad to be a part of it.
Jimmy Gnecco performs Saturday. His show will feature songs from his new solo album, The Heart, unbiasedly and impartially reviewed here.
Indi Go Artist Co-Op
Saturday, Sept. 25, approx. 11:00 p.m.
Doors: 7:00 p.m. / $10.00