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No Tears for Gary Jules

Folk singer has year's most unlikely hit

April 20, 2004 12:00 AM ET

A little more than a year ago, before a song recorded for a hundred dollars in a friend's basement changed his life, Gary Jules, 35, looked like he might meet the fate of many talented Los Angeles singer-songwriters: local success and critical acclaim, but few prospects of scoring a wider audience.

After being dropped by his label during a merger a few years ago, Jules was reduced to distributing his most recent release, the folky, pretty Trading Snakeoil for Wolftickets, from his bedroom. Then, out of nowhere, he started getting airplay on an L.A. radio station for his haunting, piano-driven cover of Tears for Fears' 1982 synth-pop ballad "Mad World," which he had recorded with longtime buddy Michael Andrews. The song, featured on the soundtrack to the 2002 cult film Donnie Darko (which Andrews scored), then took on a life of its own, hitting the top of the U.K. charts at Christmastime.

Snakeoil has now been re-released on Universal, with Michel Gondry directing a new video for "Mad World." The irony of near-instant success is not lost on Jules. The singer grew up as a surfer kid in San Diego, and after dropping out of UCLA he lived the starving artist's life while roaming the West Coast. "I didn't always have an apartment," he says. "But life in San Diego and Los Angeles is pretty easy because it's warm all the time."

Jules eventually settled in L.A., where he helped turn a coffeehouse called the Hotel Cafe into a hot venue featuring acts such as Jason Mraz, Pete Yorn and Lucinda Williams. During his lean years, he became a sharp observer of the city's low-profile residents; those thoughts are reflected throughout Snakeoil. "People move here for some crazy-ass dream that 999 times out of 1,000 doesn't work out," he says. "It's sort of what I did. But I think a lot of them decided that whether or not they got famous, they were just gonna stay and keep doing the thing they loved to do."

Jules has lined up eight stops so far for a summer tour. Dates for another nineteen cities will be announced.

Gary Jules tour dates:

5/9: Providence, RI, Century
5/10: Arlington, VA, Rams Head
5/12: Indianapolis, Birdy's
5/13: Louisville, KY, NONCOMM
5/15: Philadelphia, The Point
5/18: Boston, Paradise
5/29: Seattle, Sasquatch
6/1: Houston, Rhythm Room

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Song Stories

“Madame George”

Van Morrison | 1968

One of the first stream-of-consciousness epics to make it onto a Van Morrison record, his drawn-out farewell to the eccentric "Madame George" lasted nearly 10 minutes, combining ingredients from folk, jazz and classical music. The character that gave the song its title provoked speculation that it was about a drag queen, though Morrison denied this in Rolling Stone. "If you see it as a male or a female or whatever, it's your trip," he remarked. "I see it as a ... a Swiss cheese sandwich. Something like that."

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