Hurling Whirling 

The lyrical playfulness of Austin’s Gourds

“Lyrics really don’t mean a damn thing,” the 36-year-old Russell says from his Austin, Texas, home. “Lyrics are an afterthought. I just throw some words on it. If you get something out of it, that’s for the listener to decide. We like to get playful with the language [and] we detest confessional writing. Each stanza is its own basic structure. It’s a group of images. … a series of snapshots. I don’t want to go to obvious places.”

Russell need not worry that anyone will accuse Gourds music of going to obvious places lyrically. But if the meaning is sometimes hard to penetrate, the arrangements and melodies are carefully thought through. Russell says he was disappointed in some of the arrangements on 2002’s “Cow Fish Fowl or Pig” but lack of time and money meant the band had to keep moving. The group is currently in the middle of a new recording set for release in the summer and, this time around, there are no time constraints. That doesn’t mean recording is done conventionally. Russell explains that bandmate Jimmy Smith records his guitar and bass parts first before drummer Keith Langford lays down the drums

“That’s really ass-backwards,” Russell says with a laugh. “But it definitely gives it an interesting feel.”

The Gourds have always been more about that feel than sweating the small stuff. Now in its 10th year as a group, the boys set out from the start to blend rock, folk, Tex-Mex and Cajun sounds in a unique way. The only common thread is an acoustic sound and a dance vibe throughout.

“There were no rules as to the style of music,” Russell says of those early days. “The only one was we do them on these [acoustic] instruments and run them direct through the PA [without amplifiers]. It’s appropriate to our laziness. That was about as much as we thought about it.”

The Gourds make a rare Richmond appearance Thursday at Poe’s during a swing up the East Coast that eventually ends with the band’s first-ever show at MerleFest: An Americana Music Celebration in Wilkesboro, N.C., May 1. While there are certain staples to the live performances, Russell says the songs change nightly. And they’re as likely to perform “Ham-Fisted Box of Gloves” from “Cow” as they are to play the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You.” Good rhythm and melody are the basic requirements for Gourds music.

“It’s become quite a cool thing,” Russell concludes as he attempts to describe the Gourds’ musical mix. “It’s kind of the American Bandstand thing. It’s got to be danceable, have a cool little melody. …That’s what people want.” S

The Gourds play Poe’s Pub, Thursday, April 22, at 9 p.m. Cover is $10. Call 648-2120 for more information.

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