I enjoy meeting songwriters cold, in a place where neither of us live. So when I got an email from a publicist friend that said Jules Shear would be doing some interviews at SXSW, I got right back. I had recently received his new CD, Dreams Don't Count. It was arresting in its sureness, and had a different timbre than everything else in the stack. His tunes had the resonant sound of a person who had probably written over a thousand songs.

But the angle I wanted to know more about had to do with the marketing aspect. Jules had been signed to Mad Dragon Records, which was founded and operated by Drexel University. It was not the first student run label, but it was the first to secure a national distribution deal, with Ryko. Drexel has a Music Industry bachelor's degree program, whose course requirements would span the managing of Mad Dragon, including record production, marketing, publishing and licensing, business affairs, and sales and distribution. All without the Androcles' sword of a corporate bottom line that had everything to do with their own job security. What an interesting way to put out a record.

The man is no small legend, having come up with the idea for MTV Unplugged, and acting as its host in the early days. He has also written some very big pop hits, including "All Through The Night" for Cyndi Lauper and "If She Knows What She Wants" for The Bangles. He's done a lot of work with The Band. Records he made with his groups The Funky Kings and Jules and the Polar Bears were critically acclaimed. Then he cut five solo records before an album of duets called Between Us that included a hip Who's Who of singing partners like Patty Griffin, Carole King, Rosanne Cash, Paula Cole, and Margot Timmins of Cowboy Junkies. (But when he toured behind this record, he went out accompanied by just one female vocalist, Puremusic favorite Jenifer Jackson.)

The night before the interview, I caught a quick solo set at The Red Fez. It was not especially a good situation for him (all the other acts on the bill had a band, for example) but he pulled it off very well. I was taken aback by his unusual guitar style: he plays left-handed upside down, tunes to open tuning, and plays everything with his thumb over the neck. Wow. More than one way to skin a cat.

Jules is a soft-spoken gentleman with a dry sense of humor, a great hang in the midst of SXSW chaos--I was grateful for his company. Be sure to check out the clips on the Listen page, and pick up a copy of Dreams Don't Count.
continue to interview