Jude Gonzalez lives in what she calls "the tree house," a raised backhouse which hovers amongst the trees in the flowing-green Lakewood area. It creates a convincing optical illusion. The interior, just as idyllic, doubles as her massage studio, Reinventing You. It has the fairyland quality of a creative spirit materialized in the form of instruments, paintings, string lights and orchids perfectly planted by the windows. It's the manifestation of the inside of any manic pixie dream girl's head — and just how you'd expect a person like Gonzalez to co-habitate with her music.
Gonzalez, who fronts the band Reinventing Jude, is a singer-songwriter in the tradition of a mentally stable Fiona Apple. Her sublimely original voice crawls and runs along, with flawlessly odd phrasing, to an exploding marching band or into a dulcet break. The band's first two albums, Shoulder Season and Sundial Soliloquy, elevated her as a near maestro, scattering her moody instruments among fine words, with the simple scratch of a guitar or a sudden trombone that cheered you the hell out of left field.
These albums left a fine time-stamp of explosive emotions behind for the rare yet obsessive listener, yet only made a weak dent in the local music scene, despite the band's appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live last year (which aired state-wide) and having the attention of mostly anyone in Dallas with taste. Colossal saxophonist Shelley Carrol of the Duke Ellington Orchestra is one such fan, having once been one of the (so far 16) evolving band members in Reinventing Jude.
The daughter of a traveling, polylingual, Spaniard oilman, Gonzalez just returned to her roots via Europe, where she had no problem booking gigs in countries like Scotland and Holland — some acoustic because, "I couldn't imagine traveling around with a vibraphone." Yet, if Dallas music were explained in terms of a party, Gonzalez, despite her ever-smiling ease, would be deemed the wallflower. Really, she's the one person you should know. She accidentally earns the literary title of Jude the Obscure, and explains past mistakes in shying away from self-promotion.
"I would've done more things now. As my own manager I wasn't sure who to send it to; I really didn't do good by those two albums," she admits. "With this new EP I plan on taking a more serious stand, to say that this music is awesome and you should be dancing to it naked in your house."
Gonzalez was born in Los Angeles and spent her teenage years in Tyler. She taught herself guitar at age 11 and began taking lessons just recently. "But I'm not a lead guitarist; I'm a songwriter," she says with a laugh. She moved to Dallas with her massage license in hand, on Christmas Day of 2007, simply "because I was off that day." Her first musical achievement came when her apartment complex in Addison held a video contest for residents explaining what they loved about the place. It was a $3,000 prize, so Gonzalez got to doing what she does best and wrote an ode to Preston Green's gym and morning doughnuts. "It's completely cheesy!" she admits. "But it's everybody's favorite song off that album." It's surprisingly beautiful despite the theme, and could become a definite cult classic if she ever became famous. "We totally won," she concludes.
After what she calls "dabbling around" in the open mic scene, busking, singing backup vocals and putting together "a compilation of unfinished tunes — I don't even have copyrights on it," she met multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Jones and bassist Emsy Robinson. She showed them her new songs written after the cat she was pet-sitting died. "I thought it was so pathetic. First I showed them 'Love Is War,' which is a marching band-type ballad, and then 'Awake,' which is not much happier." They began a jam session that resulted in the first official record, and upon hearing it through Robinson, producer and musician Salim Nourallah got in touch and produced their sophomore release.
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"She's really representative of the Dallas music scene in the sense that if she lived anywhere else, she'd be super fucking famous," Nourallah says, lamenting that the city is more interested in supporting sporting events than its own musical talent. "She couldn't even get arrested in this city. If there's one artist I can single out as talented and underrated it's her. She writes her ass off, she's confident and she's not traditional in her arrangements without being atonal. She doesn't have any weaknesses."
One of the troubles Gonzalez has faced is translating such ambitious instrumentation into small venues: "I don't need to bring in extra musicians for one or two songs" she says. Sadly, as a result she steers away from performing some of her best tunes. She adds, with sincere optimism, "That's the concept of 'Reinventing' though: It's all about modification."
Her new single "Train Legs" was inspired by an incident following a long train ride in California that made her legs shake so badly upon standing that she thought she was experiencing an earthquake. It will be sold exclusively at Josey Records. As the store expands to pressing and releasing its own vinyl, the band was one of few picked to take part in its first release, a local compilation. The rest of her EP is completed, and Gonzalez awaits its release so she can stuff it into the 100 cardboard sleeves she has hand-painted.
Undiscovered as she may be, Gonzalez manages to fulfill dream indie-rock moments, like when she jammed with Sublime after the bands spontaneously collided at a record store. As a professional masseuse, she works mostly on musicians, and she tells stories of several of them tripping on acid before laying down at the table. Bartering massage services for work like video shoot recordings or photo shoots has become her biggest resource. "When I meet musicians I tell them I can pay them in massages if they're interested in session work," she says. "No happy endings, though!