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Californian singer/songwriter Gary Jules had just flown in from the Quart Festival in Kristiansand, Norway, to play to an audience of 50 in an Oslo cinema when I hooked up with him. The occasion? The cult classic “Donnie Darko” was to be shown for the first time on Norwegian screens, and to celebrate this we got the voice behind the cover of Tears For Fears’ “Mad World” to do a couple of numbers before the movie. Gary and his sidekick Al impressed the curious and surprised audience with a live show, consisting of only guitars and a set of drums.

Starting off with “Something Else” and “Broke Window”, he rounded off with the song that gave him a No. 1 on his professional resume. Despite the fact Jules’s version of “Mad World” is to be played on keyboards – by long term mate Michael Andrews – Gary’s keyboard was allegedly stolen on tour in the US by a ‘gang of hooligans’. However, short of instrument or not, Gary promised to make it ‘as depressing as possible anyway’, being accompanied by his pal Al. And depressing it was. Depressing, emotional but most of all this man’s vocal abilities makes you want to thank someone for his existence.

In a world where most songs consist of ten words; about what a member of the opposite sex can do with one of the singer’s chosen body parts and how to shake it, baby; so-called artists who can’t sing live to save their lives; after the music scene is being dominated by this phenomenon it’s truly refreshing to have the opportunity to be reminded that true talent does occur once in a blue moon.

I, as so many others, remember watching “Donnie Darko” a couple of years ago on DVD and though the movie struck a nerve, it was the song that rounded off the madness perfectly that caught my attention. Again I, like ‘everyone else’, got it off the Internet and the rest is history, as they say. Having admired the voice for years already, giving a countless amount of friends a ‘you gotta listen to this’, I got the chance to spend a couple of minutes with the man behind the talent. Ladies and gentlemen: Gary Jules.

Musician Gary Jules was a short while ago your regular Joe, despite having won critical acclaim for his previous album, “Greetings From The Side”, he had not yet become a household name. It was when “Donnie Darko” came in 2002 that he slowly crept into the hearts of music lovers around the world with a cover of Tears for Fears’ 1982 song “Mad World”. However, despite being downloaded in incredible numbers online for nearly two years, it wasn’t until Christmas 2003 that it eventually hit the No. 1 position in the UK. Now he’s releasing yet another single, “Broke Window”.

When I hooked up with Gary, straight after I’d been dragged into the mad, mad world of troubled teenager Donnie Darko, he was on his way to the airport. I recalled the title of the album, “Trading Snakeoil For Wolftickets”, and had to ask: How did that title come about?

- It’s kind of a long story, he laughs. – But snakeoil is a colloquialism. People in the Wild West used to go around selling, for instance things like this, he says, looks around the bar we’re sitting at and grabs a camel beanie baby and shakes it. I look at the stuffed animal in disbelief and he grins lightly.

– Yeah, or bottles with liquid saying, “Whatever you have, this will cure you”, whether it be headache, insomnia etc. It would be whatever you believed it to be, but of course, it was just bullshit. Selling wolftickets is basically making promises you can’t keep, so the title is… [he looks around the crowd, leans over and whispers:] there aren’t any kids around, is there? It basically means trading bullshit for bullshit.

The album in question is Hollywood/LA themed, with titles such as “DTLA” (Downtown Los Angeles) and “The Princess of Hollywood Way”. Again, I wonder why.

- I’m from Northern California but had to move to LA to play music. Now I’ve lived there for about 17 years and have become fascinated with the place. LA is very much like where I’m from, it’s a place where people move to when they’re on their way to someplace else, and because nobody expect to stick around they don’t preserve it for those coming after them. So basically there’s no culture left. People don’t move there to try and struggle, but to struggle to get what they want. Obviously, many want to become actors or models, and those who fail mostly fuck off but some stick around and become interested – and eventually start caring.

Talking to Gary Jules, I can’t possibly get around the subject of “Mad World”, even though I’m fully aware that asking him about this song is like asking Elton John about “Candle In The Wind”. Basically, Gary’s mate Michael Andrews was hired to do the movie score for “Donnie Darko” and I wanted to know how Gary ended up getting involved.

- I was writing and recording my album and was just about to finish it on my own when Mike [Andrews] invited me around to his house. He told me he was doing a cover song for the ending of a movie and asked if I wanted to sing on Tears For Fears’ “Mad World”. The funny thing is, he beams, when we were kids we used to muck about with our favourite songs and give them different arrangements, and “Mad World” was one of those songs we did way back then.

- When the movie was out, nobody really thought the movie nor the song was going to be a hit, so none of the record companies bothered to put out a soundtrack. In retrospect I guess many of them look back on it and wish they had got it together. The song became popular around the time the DVD came out, people downloaded it off the internet, it was played on late night cult shows, and eventually people started requesting it on the radio, DJs played it, so really, it built by itself!

We’re interrupted by a couple of fans who shyly come up to him and ask him to sign their newly purchased CD. Taking their names, getting the spelling right even, he looks genuinely excited about their positive comments on the show, his voice, his album and everything. Along the way he sends me a couple of sorry-to-keep-you-waiting looks. I don’t mind, not at all, as this way I get to see the other side of him. Some artists have one way of dealing with the press and another to deal with the fans, but Gary’s just being himself, a proper geezer who’s just glad to touch people with the music that means the world to him.

I take this opportunity to get away from the “Mad World” theme, and recall having heard of his trouble with his previous record company when releasing his first album, “Greetings From The Side”.

- I was a victim of bad timing. The record company was sold to another company and didn’t tell anyone, he laughs. – So as the record company folded into another they took my album with them, and I couldn’t even get copies to go on the road with. It happens all the time to hundreds and hundreds of people, and understandably, when you get into this kind of situation it’s easy to just give up. I’m just lucky to have been able to live through it to talk, you know.

Either Gary Jules or Michael Andrews have got neither a formal musical education nor a musical background. Their talent is basically a result of a passion for music. Gary plays the guitar, piano and drums while Mike is a well-regarded guitarist in the US of A. I’m curious though, how does he write his songs?

- I just go and write, he states matter-of-factly. – I work on everything in my head; the lyrics; patterns and rhythms; get into the studio and fool around with the guitar. It’s just the way I’ve always done it.

- What’s next?

- Let me see, what’s next, he repeats, scratching his goatee. – In a few hours I’m going home to LA to my wife, she’s giving birth in about a month, so I’m going to fix up the new house we just bought to make it baby proof, he grins, the excitement and expectations in his eyes is not to be mistaken with anything than that of a father-to-be.

– Oh, and I'll start recording a new album in September that will hopefully be done by the end of the year.

Gary Jules’ album “Trading Snakeoil For Wolftickets” is available on Sanctuary Records.