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

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

Music Main Next
Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.


We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

Song Stories

“American Girl”

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers | 1976

It turns out that a single with "American" in its title--recorded on the Fourth of July during the nation's Bicentennial, no less--can actually sell better in Britain. Coupled with the Heartbreakers' flair for Byrds jangle and Animals hooks, though, is Tom Petty's native-Florida drawl that keeps this classic grounded at home. Petty dispelled rumors that the song was about a suicidal student, explaining that the inspiration came from when he was 25 and used to salute the highway traffic outside his apartment window. "It sounded like the ocean to me," he recalled. "That was my ocean. My Malibu. Where I heard the waves crash, but it was just the cars going by."

More Song Stories entries »