In many ways, Ours has made it.
The band is signed to Columbia Records. Its latest album, Mercy (Dancing for the Death of an Imaginary Enemy), was produced by Grammy-winning producer and Columbia co-head Rick Rubin. And the group’s members feel like they’re making the best music of their lives. So why isn’t Ours acting like a band at the top?
Perhaps it’s because when you've struggled as Ours has, it's hard to get comfortable. Since 1997, when singer-songwriter Jimmy Gnecco signed with Dreamworks Records, his band has been hot-potatoed from one record label to the next. From Dreamworks to Geffen to Interscope and then to Columbia, record labels couldn’t seem to grasp what it was they had in Ours.
Through all the turmoil, the band has created three critically acclaimed albums, the most compelling of which is Mercy. Each offering is a battle cry; a ballistic missile of pure drama. Gnecco seems to take the guitars’ vibrations as a personal challenge, shaking his voice until it would have to give out, but instead gives off an inextinguishable energy. The drums put exclamation points on the dynamic ups-and-downs and the keyboards gush with furor.
In the midst of Ours’ three-month U.S. tour, Gnecco spoke about the challenges of being a successful band in the MySpace era.
Was there ever an absolute low point where you really feared for your band’s survival?
What's today's date? (laughs) It's tough to keep going, especially now. Now is the hardest. We're in a business that's kind of obsolete in the CD department. Music is free for the most part. With gas prices what they are, people can't afford to come out to our shows, and we can barely afford to drive to them.
So what keeps you going?
It’s hard for me to do anything else. As burnt as I can sometimes get, I wake up and think, Well, this is who I am. Even if it's a struggle, there's nothing I can do about that struggle. It’s the only thing I do. It’s who I am.
What about your music? Are you happy with what you’re creating?
I’ve never felt better about the music that we’re playing. At times on stage, we’ve been in front of four or five thousand people and I’ve felt like, Wow, this is not working. And then there have been times in front of 10 people where it’s like, Wow, this is really working. It’s more about internally what’s going on with us and about the music that we’re working on. Right now, it’s rewarding and fulfilling for us. That’s more important than any financial reward or mass appreciation.
How long have you wanted to work with Rick Rubin, and what does it mean to have someone like that in your corner?
I’ve probably wanted to work with him since around 1996, maybe a little before. I got to know him well in 1997. He would hang out while we were rehearsing and just lie on the floor and listen to us. As far as making a record with him, that was a great thing because he gave us a lot of space, and he supported us a lot emotionally. Having him be involved with it opened up our palette financially. When you’re in his hands, he doesn’t look at numbers, he doesn’t look at budgets. It just ... it is what it is.
What do you think Rubin saw in your band?
An honesty. A passion. An intensity. It all comes down to being honest and expressive of your emotions in that moment. Without that basic core, we have nothing.
Your band’s press release says you plunged yourself into personal debt to help pay for your latest record. Are you still working your way out of it?
Yeah. But again, it all comes down to, What other choices do you have? Either you put everything into building your legacy, or you sit back and wonder.
Do you have any big plans for Ours in the near future?
I don't know. We just take it one day at a time. We don't want to think too far into the future because it’s happening right now. So let's try to be as great as we can be today.