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With 1998's Greetings from the Side, Gary Jules emerged as one of the most gifted songwriting talents to surface during the decade. The album was ultimately sunk by poor record label handling and, as a result, sadly neglected by an unknowing public. It would be three years before he resurfaced with the independently released Trading Snakeoil for Wolftickets, an album that was even more stunning and advanced on all the promises of the first.
San Diego native Gary Jules Aguirre — professionally shortened to Gary Jules to honor the Texan grandfather who called him that — first began playing acoustic guitar as a child at the instigation of his parents. Unsatisfied with lessons, he quit shortly after his first recital, only to rediscover the instrument in fifth grade on his own, this time taking up electric guitar with John Lennon as the primary catalyst. By the time high school arrived, Jules and childhood friend Michael Andrews had formed an early incarnation of the Origin. (The band eventually signed to Virgin and put out two early-'90s albums, though after Jules had left the group and moved to Los Angeles.) In 1987 he began a yearlong stint at UCLA during which he started the band Kofi. The band went on a short hiatus the following year, and Jules took the opportunity to trek around Asia, sometimes singing in the streets for his supper. When he returned to the States, Kofi resumed playing and developed a small buzz around Los Angeles, until they called it quits in 1990. Jules moved back to San Diego later that year and formed Ourtown Pansies, who put out a limited, locally released CD before disbanding in 1992, after which he took off for and settled in San Francisco, where the Origin had already relocated. When that band broke up as well, Jules and Andrews began playing and recording together again. During this period, he wrote many of the songs that would eventually form the bulk of his debut album and make volumes of demo tapes. Andrews returned to San Diego to play with the Greyboy Allstars in 1995, and Jules began making frequent sojourns to Los Angeles to shop for a record deal.
Serendipitously, one of the few people who had heard the Ourtown Pansies album was Zeke Piestrup. An old roommate of a high-school friend of Jules, Piestrup had since become a DJ at the vaunted KROQ in Los Angeles. Thanks to his considerable industry clout, Piestrup managed to sign Jules to A&M when that major bought his indie label, Metro Ride. Jules recruited Andrews to produce the album, who, in turn, corralled engineer J. Bradley Cooke, fresh from working on the Counting Crows' Recovering the Satellites. Using rented Crows equipment, they holed up in Andrews' basement studio in the spring of 1997 and recorded the superb Greetings from the Side, which was subsequently mixed by industry heavyweight Tchad Blake. Unfortunately, A&M allowed the album to languish until it was finally released in the fall of 1998. The label also neglected to release a single from the album, and it disappeared before it had a commercial chance. (The record's title song did, however, find its way into the film Digging to China.) A&M promptly dropped Jules from the label and he did not resurface until 2001, when, lessons learned from his major-label experience, he self-released Trading Snakeoil for Wolftickets. It took awhile to gain momentum, but with solid distribution in Europe and Australia and strong word of mouth domestically, Trading Snakeoil was soon on its way to being Jules' first hit album. His haunting remake of Tears for Fears' "Mad World" was issued as a single and debuted at number one in the U.K.; it eventually went gold. Jules then embarked on a tour of England and Scotland that lasted through spring 2004.