|After three albums fronting alternative rock band Ours, Jimmy Gnecco has recently made the most personal and affecting album of his career. Self-produced and titled The Heart,' it's a watershed work which sees Jimmy drop his guard and raise the bar. The prevailing mood is one of beautiful melancholy, but The Heart' has dignity and integrity in spades. We all have to reckon with loss and the events that have shaped us sooner or later, and this record is Jimmy Gnecco's compelling attempt to do just that. Its elegant, elegiac songs are slow-growers that get right under the skin.|
Guitar, bass, keyboards, drums – on The Heart,' Jimmy proves more than capable on these and other instruments. It's his adroit and soulful voice that takes centre stage, however, his perfectly controlled falsetto on "Rest Your Soul" establishes a potent sense of intimacy that's sustained for the record's duration.
"As I was making the album and my mom was dying, I tried to be completely true to my feelings", says Jimmy. "Hopefully you can hear that on songs like Rest Your Soul' and Bring You Home'. With Ours, a lot of the time I was singing about certain frustrations I had with the world and my upbringing, but a lot of this record is about me embracing my past and finding peace with it."
Jimmy Gnecco was born in Teaneck, New Jersey. He stayed fairly local, growing up in Ridgefield Park. A small, skinny white kid with three elder sisters and two younger brothers, he was partly raised on soul music. His parents loved Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye, and records by Teaneck's local heroes The Isley Brothers were also popular in the Gnecco household. "The other guy I remember having an early kinship with is Elvis", says Jimmy. "My mom loved his records and everything around our house was Elvis this or Elvis that."
Carefree as Jimmy's childhood might at first sound, his parents were also strict but loving disciplinarians. They instilled self-reliance and a fierce work ethic in him from a very early age. For many years, sports not music, was the focus of his efforts. Jimmy began practicing gymnastics at the age of four. He soon won a number of gold medals as he and his parents travelled to competitions around the United States.
At seven years old he began racing BMX bicycles, and so began a long and intense engagement with the sport. "It's hard to even explain, but BMX ruled my existence", says Jimmy. "We went hard at it all the time."
More than that, Jimmy gained sponsorship and eventually went on to race and beat the World BMX Champion; but by 15, his legs hurt every day and he felt completely burnt out. His telling farewell to the world of competitive bike riding came the day the Gnecco's rented a garbage disposal van and parked it outside the family home. Down from the attic came the thousands of BMX trophies that Jimmy had won over the years. "We crushed them for scrap metal", he says.
All through his formative years, music had been intensely important to Jimmy. On those blessed rainy days that ruled out BMX training, he'd take off to the roller rink with his headphones. Once there, he'd skate and listen to music until nightfall: Marvin's What's Going On;' John Lennon's Double Fantasy' album. "Starting Over was one of the first songs I remember hitting me in a place that was almost painful. I loved it, though. It opened up something inside me," Jimmy explains.
His starting to play guitar had overlapped with the tail end of his BMX career, but he was just that: a guitarist in a local band rather than a singer. He'd been recording himself singing into a boom box for years, but he didn't really like what he heard back. What he did know was that he could communicate raw emotion effectively, and when he began unlocking his extraordinary vocal technique the die was cast.
It was with shape-shifting alternative rock band Ours that Jimmy first made a name for himself. A dynamic and urgent outfit that would later draw comparisons with Radiohead, they soon caught the attention of various U.S. record companies.
One complication, though, was that Ours were slightly ahead of their time and didn't fit any of the existing models that record companies knew how to sell. "It created a lot of confusion", Jimmy recalls. "People were like, who is this little skinny guy singing falsetto over raging rock music? He's not a metal guy, but he's got all these tattoos; sometimes he sings like an angel and sometimes he's a fire-breathing dragon – what's going on?'"
Next came a period of quiet reflection, and in the spring of 1994, Jimmy took a break to re-think his musical future while travelling around the U.S. This juncture coincided with the emergence of one Jeff Buckley, whose debut album Grace' was released that August. Much has been written about Jimmy and Jeff, some of it untrue and grossly unfair. It's important that we set the record straight here once and for all.
"Jeff and I became friends because we were cut from the same cloth", says Jimmy. "People who knew us both thought we should meet. I hung out with him in New York towards the end of his life. We had this real special connection, and then he was gone."
When Jeff Buckley died on Thursday, May 29, 1997, Jimmy took the Friday off work. Monday he quit his job, Tuesday he played a gig in New York City, and on the Wednesday morning he received his first contract offer, a proposal from Warner Brothers. The sad passing of Jeff Buckley, a friend whose talent Jimmy greatly respected was clearly opening doors. The cruel and frustratingly pervasive lie that later emerged in the press, however, was that Jimmy had copped Jeff's act while working as his guitar roadie. "It hurt and it couldn't be further from the truth", says Jimmy today. "I'd been out there doing my own thing for years."
Jimmy signed to DreamWorks records under the Ours moniker in 1997, and his band's debut album Distorted Lullabies' was released in 2001.The critically acclaimed records Precious' and Mercy' (the latter handled by friend, production genius and long-term Jimmy Gnecco fan Rick Rubin) followed in 2002 and 2008, respectively.
If you've read this far, you will understand why Jimmy Gnecco has been able to pour so much of himself into his first proper solo record, The Heart.' Out on Bright Antenna records Summer 2010, it's a sterling achievement; graceful, almost hymnal songs such as "Mystery" and "Take A Chance" channel a formidable talent.
The Heart' is a poignant, if ultimately positive work, and when quizzed about the power and purpose of beautiful melancholy, Jimmy has this to say: "There's enough pain out there without you going looking for it, but certain combinations of notes and chords can bring out compassion and a sense of connection in people. I love happy music, too, and when we were on the road with Ours, I was always saying to them, Tears of joy, man, tears of joy – that's going to be the next record!' Happy or sad, I want to make music that makes my heart feel."
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