The Gourds on Italian Sandwiches, Jaded Nashville and Life in a Van

The Gourds, Austin's loosest and most literate roots band, rolls into Dan Electro's Guitar Bar tonight. The occasion is the release of the band's latest album, Old Mad Joy. Produced by Bob Dylan/Levon Helm sideman Larry Campbell, the album has been getting positive reviews across country.

The band has been on a month-long tour that found them showcasing the new album in Nashville Wednesday night during the opening of the Americana Music Association annual conference in a time slot right ahead of local hero Hayes Carll. We caught up with Gourds fiddler/banjoist Max Johnston and pianist Claude Bernard just as they arrived home from Nashville.

Rocks Off: What is your favorite song on the new album?

Max Johnston: It changes, but right now I'd say "Your Benefit." And I'm really liking "Want It So Bad."

Claude Bernard: "Your Benefit."

RO: Can you think of a song that you were skeptical of that has grown on you?

MJ: "Melchert." When I first heard it I was like, 'what?' But I really enjoy Kevin's [Russell] guitar parts on that one.

CB: I've got three: "Ink and Grief," "Drop The Charges," and "Eyes of A Child." And I quite like all three of those now.

RO: Which song takes the most work on your part and why?

MJ: "Two Sparrows" definitely takes the most concentration on my part. I've got to be right there all the time. On the record, there are double fiddle parts and Larry Campbell played a lot of that in the studio. In fact, I said he should've been given a credit on that. But anyway, there are really intricate fiddle parts with a lot of potential for egregious sonic badness, so I've got to be thinking the whole time when we're doing that one.

CB: Again, "Ink and Grief." It's a groove thing, and I'm not the world's greatest piano player anyway. Sometimes I hear it differently than Keith [Langford, drummer] does. So I have to concentrate and hold myself in line.

RO: What was your favorite part of doing the record?

CB: The Italian and tuna sandwiches from this place that Larry Campbell showed us. And of course, just working with a total pro like Larry. We made up our tentative arrangements of the songs, working them up in this kitchenette thing we rented, and it was a lot of fun watching Larry sorta scratch his head and think something over and then go 'let's try this.' He's a genius.

RO: How much of the new album will be in the set list tonight?

MJ/CB: We've been starting with four or five new ones right out of the gate. And we'll probably play seven or eight of the new ones.

RO: You played Nashville last night. How was that?

MJ: I don't know if that was just a jaded crowd, like we've heard it all before, or if they were just there to see Hayes Carll and not us.

CB: We started with a bunch of our new ones and I don't think anyone got it or much liked it. Or else they weren't there to see us. Hayes Carll was on next.

RO: You guys have been riding in vans together since 1998. How do you stay sane and keep the band together?

MJ: Non-lethal weaponry. You've got to be completely malleable, you have to accept the fact you never get your way but you get enough of your way to make it work. And you also have to say to yourself this is our job and our families' livelihood, so you do what you have to do to make it work.

CB: One thing that helps is that Kevin and Keith will ride in a separate vehicle while Jimmy, Max and I pilot the party wagon. We're the late-nighters in the bunch, although not as much as we used to be. You have to have respect for each other, and I think that is something that has really grown within the band as we've gotten older. It's easy to forget you're an adult since we live in this kind of perpetually adolescent world of rock and roll. You have to step back once in a while and realize that we're all in our 40s now. Maturity is a big part of it. I think we've all learned to handle the problems and make things work. That's our job, you know?

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