Hi Gregg and welcome to Melodic.net. How are you?
Just great, thanks, and very happy to chat with you today.
What can you tell us about yourself?
I am passionate about life, my family and friends, and my experiences living in and traveling around this vastly complex world. My music is both a personal calling and journey and an outlet to articulate my feelings and views on various issues - a highly personal way to share these with others.
Although I have been blessed with a life rich in experiences, I define myself more in terms of my passions and values than in terms of my resumé.
From Bronx, but based in Moscow and Geneva. How does that happen and why?
I am extremely proud of my Bronx heritage, as I lived the first nineteen years of my life there. That is where I developed my love of music and sports, as well as my interest in story telling… It's also where I dropped out of high school, by the way… Then I went to college in Texas - which I jokingly refer to as the first foreign country I ever visited – where I started to nurture my desire to go further and discover more of the world. I spent many years in England at Oxford University, which was a tremendous privilege.
I worked and made a home in Geneva, Switzerland, where two of my daughters were born - the other was born in Oxford. Moscow was a place I spent time in beginning in the late 1980s, for personal, academic and business reasons. Having a grandfather from Odessa and speaking Russian, I was drawn to Moscow and Saint Petersburg, which I found to be intriguing yet familiar places. My fascination with them carries on to this day. Moscow today is in flux, a city dramatically different to the one in which I first set foot over twenty years ago.
Russia and Switzerland have been important places for me on my musical journey. Geneva is where I began recording my album, and where my producer, mixing engineer, and many of the talented musicians that played on the album reside. Russian bard music has always attracted me and certainly influences my style of songwriting. We are regular concertgoers in Moscow, and it was a thrill to record the Russian vocal on my album in a studio on one of Moscow's most historic streets, the old Arbat.
What can you tell us about your music and your latest album "Everything that Matters"?
While there is a lot I can say about what I often refer to as the 'realization of a dream,' I would say simply that my music is honest and direct, and that it deals with emotive issues, such as love, loss, country, our military, and more. I try to share stories, to reflect, and to distill the difficult as well as the positive experiences in my life. Full disclosure: I am very much a 'glass half full' person and believe strongly that our trials in life can help us learn and grow to reach a better place.
I chose the title 'Everything That Matters' as it reflects the variety of topics the album deals with. The songs range from upbeat, clap-along tunes to slow ballads, with a variety of instrumentation and styles from folk-rock/Americana to Klezmer and more East European sounds. This is important as I think that songs need to sound as they were imagined and written rather than have a single style imposed on them.
What inspired the album?
I was at a juncture in my life and had time to reflect and try to come to terms with a difficult set of personal issues, surrounding a divorce and separation from my children. At the same time, I began to experience renewal and happiness through a tremendously joyful relationship - which has only gotten better over these years, by the way. My songs and this album project set me on a journey to come to terms with these issues and also find ways to transform them and communicate about them through the medium of music. This was my true inspiration, though naturally it was given validation through the positive feedback I received on demo songs – particularly from the musicians - and all the strong encouragement I received and continue to receive from family, friends and supporters.
Who/what are your biggest influences in music?
I have mentioned that my music has different styles, and my musical influences are quite varied. Growing up, I was most drawn to the band Kansas, through their lyrics and instrumentation, strings especially. I also loved Cat Stevens, Jim Croce, James Taylor, Simon and Garfunkel, and Dan Fogelberg, for their mellow, beautiful melodies, as well as Bruce Springsteen and Meatloaf from the rock and roll side for their energy and passion.
I have been greatly influenced by Russian Bard music, and have met legends in that genre including the late Bulat Okudzhava and the still active Alexander Rozenbaum. Closely related is traditional Jewish music, and Klezmer especially, which really speaks to me. I can remember many happy occasions playing Klezmer on my clarinet in my synagogue in New York.
My first love was classical music and this has clearly influenced my music and its instrumentation. I was lucky enough to pick up a clarinet in school when I was nine years old, and by twelve I was performing Mozart's famous concerto.
How long have you been recording music?
I only began writing and recording very recently, beginning in 2006, though my desire to write was present long ago. As an aside, when I was twelve, a schoolmate and I set out to write a symphony together, and while we made some progress it was abandoned (though I still remember the melodies!). In 2006, I started to write and record a few demos in New York City at the Institute for Audio Research, which was run by a friend of mine. The early songs I recorded gave me my first taste of the studio, though these were very personal songs - and I'd like to keep it that way!
Have you set any ultimate goals with your music career?
My goals are actually quite simple: to write, record, and perform more songs that I am proud of and that touch people. In doing so I hope to grow as a singer-songwriter both in terms of the direction the music takes, and the topics the songs address. I have already written my second album and perhaps part of my third, and am most delighted that the new music has taken on a fun, more playful character. "Everything that Matters" is largely a serious album but, as I mentioned, an honest one in terms of where I was mentally and emotionally.
Naturally, as I develop my music and expand my body of work, I would love to expand my fan base and reach. This is happening now, and there is nothing more joyful than learning of new fans and understanding why people like and are drawn to the music. If at the same time the critics can continue to write positive and meaningful reviews about the music, then of course that would be a huge bonus.
That is my take on this question, and as I am just launching my career as a singer-songwriter, the term "ultimate goals" sounds a bit daunting and premature. But there are certainly things I would like very much to accomplish. As a regular viewer and enormous fan of Jon Stewart, I would like to be a guest on the Daily Show. I do a pretty good Jon Stewart impersonation, by the way… To be honest, I think my songs, "Morning in America" and "Heroes" would resonate with him, especially the fundraising we are doing with "Heroes" for our veterans. There are also venues I would like to play, beginning with Montreux in Switzerland, and extending to the US, with New York being at the top of the list – it would be a sort of coming home to me…
What was, in your opinion, the best album of 2011?
Wow, that is a difficult question. Two come to mind, though I would have say Adele's 21 album takes the prize. While she clearly reinvigorated the music industry with her album, I am not talking about sales and other material measures of success. I first heard her album when I bought it for my teenage daughter, and I was taken with the passion and strong lyrics, her wonderful voice, and the raw sincerity of the music. I can remember joking with my daughter that I would name my album, "Gregg 46"….
I should also mention Paul Simon's album, "So Beautiful or So What," which I remember was also mastered by Greg Calbi at Sterling Sound. Paul Simon writes beautiful lyrics and I enjoyed how he so elegantly addresses the issue of mortality.
Is there a special song out there that you wish you had written?
Again, a difficult question, and I am sure all songwriters could list many. One that comes to mind is "Beautiful Day," by U2, and I should mention that I really like the recent recording of it by Lee DeWyze. We often listen to this song in the morning getting ready for the day as it lifts you up and gets the day going in a positive way. But more, it makes reference to the world around us and its many wonders. I love music that conveys a clear thought but that contains nuance and opens up into various directions.
I also have to mention "Dust in the Wind," by Kansas. This is a song that like a fine wine seems to get better with age, and speaks beautifully to a subject that is timeless. The use of strings and the wonderful harmonies have enabled the song to be recorded in different versions, all of which are superb.
Thank you for answering the questions. Do you have any final words for our readers?
It has been my pleasure and the questions have been great. I suppose my final word would be that music is about passion and connection, and I really hope that readers will take a look at my site and have a listen. I would love to welcome them on this journey and share new music and ideas, and of course hear and learn from them!
And for any aspiring musicians, I encourage you to follow your convictions and write the music you are passionate about and believe in.