Former dada front man Michael Gurley and drummer Phil Leavitt are back, this time as the nucleus of a new group that's as audaciously modern as it is shamelessly nostalgic. Specializing in soulful neo-psychedelia, BUTTERFLY JONES arrives on the complacent pop scene like some illicit, mind-altering new drug. The band's Vanguard Records debut album, NAPALM SPRINGS, is an addictive m�lange of hallucinogenic Brit-rock melodies, resolute rock rhythms and introspective lyrics that explore the wondrous complexities of the human condition. The album features 14 original compositions, written by or co-written by Michael Gurley, including the incredibly catchy first single, "Anywhere But Now."
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The group's auspicious debut is highlighted by a bevy of strong guest performances. Napalm Springs features Mark de Gli Antoni of Soul Coughing on samples and keyboards and former Mary's Danish vocalist Julie Ritter on "The Systematic Dumbing Down of Terry Constance Jones." World champion surfer Kelly Slater offers supporting vocals on "Alright," former dada band mate Joie Calio sings background on "Sophie," while the bass playing was ably handled by Mark Harris, who has toured with the band Venice.These inspired contributions help make Napalm Springs the absorbing sort of album fans have come to expect from singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Michael Gurley. As a founding member of the lamented Los Angeles rock trio dada, Gurley and comrades Phil Leavitt and bassist Joie Calio recorded four critically-acclaimed albums and cultivated a devout fan base. Widely known for their 1993 modern rock hit "Dizz Knee Land," dada delivered catchy pop melodies and insightful lyrics with a genuine rock 'n' roll conviction.
Now with Butterfly Jones, Gurley and Leavitt bring their pure pop sensibilities to bear on a new millennium. Foregoing fashionable irony, Napalm Springs is suffused with hope, light and genuine introspection. Tracks like "The Systematic Dumbing Down of Terry Constance Jones" and "When People Are Mean" are intelligent social commentaries sung from engagingly personal perspectives. "It's a pretty hopeful album," Gurley says of Napalm Springs. "For example, 'Alright' was written in the wake of some pretty heavy personal stuff. There's a lot of reflection on this record about difficult times and coming out on the other side of it. Don't worry though, there's plenty of twisted sarcasm and cynicism on there, too, but overall it's a more upbeat record than I've ever made."
It's probing lyrics notwithstanding, Napalm Springs is also a musical bonanza. The title track opens with vertigo-inducing guitar and builds to a hard-rocking chorus. The heartrending "Sophie" triumphantly combines Indian percussion, festive sleigh bells and luxuriant Mellotron keyboard swashes. A baroque string section offsets the contemplative sentiments featured on "Wonder." With its yearnful lyric and glimmering harmonies, "Please" recalls the singer-songwriter sounds of Simon & Garfunkel and Harry Nielsen. "It's a contemporary rock album, but it definitely has a lot of different flavors," Gurley says of Napalm Springs. "We pooled from all our influences. There's Led Zeppelin and the Beatles, but there's also little homages to Cole Porter and more modern groups like Nirvana. To me, 'Sunshine and Ecstasy' sounds like the Association meets the Who at a Las Vegas rave. It's just a really eclectic record."
Yet for all its high-flying experimentalism and diversity, Napalm Springs is a remarkably consistent record. "Phil and I have been playing together for 11 years, and that results in a definite sound. Every time we get into the same room, we instantly lock into a simpatico groove. Also, there's a lot of harmony on this record, which was always one of dada's strongest points. It was challenging but surprisingly enjoyable to do most of the harmonies myself."
Gurley's freewheeling musical approach is clearly evident on "Anywhere But Now," the first single culled from Napalm Springs. A masterpiece of rock conceptuality, the track commences in a blurry haze of skittering rhythm and slowly clarifies as the song progresses. It's a metaphoric device that underscores the song's lyrical message about the debilitating effects of depression and the clarity contemplation can bring. As Gurley explains, the song was inspired by a friend who just got pink-slipped by his girlfriend. "At least once in their lives, everybody gets dumped and wonders 'what the hell just happened?'," Gurley says. "You don't think you'll ever feel better again, no matter what anyone says or how encouraging people are. When my friend got his papers, it transported me to that time in college when I got dumped by the pretty co-ed. That's why 'Anywhere But Now' came together in 10 minutes. You just don't forget a feeling like that." For Gurley and Leavitt, Butterfly Jones is a heartfelt labor of love. Anxious following the breakup of dada, the duo began recording songs with close friend, producer Scott Gordon. A tape fell into the hands of manager Michael Scurlock, who was so impressed he agreed to shop Gurley's new songs around. When the smoke cleared, Vanguard Records got the nod. "I got the feeling that the people at Vanguard really got what we were doing," Gurley says. "They trusted us completely and let us do what we wanted to do creatively."
Though recording Napalm Springs proved delightfully easy, naming Gurley and Leavitt's new band was more problematic. "The new songs weren't dada, and I didn't want to call it the Michael Gurley Project or anything like that, because this isn't a solo record," Gurley states. "So we began throwing around the concept of cocoons and butterflies. In the wake of dada, Phil and I really did experience a metamorphosis with this new group. The name Butterfly Jones had a little bit of nature; a little bit of that Sixties rock 'n' roll vibe. It almost sounds like you're jonesing for something simple and beautiful."
True to Gurley's intentions, Butterfly Jones has morphed into thing of rare beauty - a rock band that courageously traffics in hope, happiness and thought-provoking cynicism. Napalm Springs is the sort of album that restores one's faith in the transcendent powers of rock 'n' roll. It's contemporary yet retro, innocent yet intelligently sarcastic. It's dreamy, funky and - dare we say? - groovy. "This record stems from the very innocent process of putting tracks together and not really knowing why," Gurley says with a laugh. "We weren't writing these songs to get signed. There weren't any egos involved at all in the making of this album. It was just a bunch of friends making a record and having a blast."
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