Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Interview with Leigh Gregory


I am quite pleased to be able to post this very special entry, an interview with the one and only Leigh Gregory. You might know him as the main creative force behind Mellow Drunk, but he is also quite an accomplished solo artist, focusing on performing and recording acoustic folk rock songs. Beyond that, he still finds the time to collaborate with other musicians, both onstage and on record. For those fans in the San Fransisco area, Leigh is out and about a lot, so bookmark this page, check on it often, and go see him!
Mellow Drunk makes music that I hold near and dear to my heart. I am never not in the mood for Mellow Drunk songs, and each song is its own lovely little individual gem, no song sounding like another, each song layered with lots of guitars, catchy melodies, and Leigh's distinctly breathy vocals. It's Leigh's style of singing that makes his songs so easily identifiable: at the same time cool and understated, and yet energetic enough to add the final strengthening tie to wrap each song up, the perfect little musical gift, from Leigh to us.
As a gifted songwriter and sought-after collaborator, Leigh Gregory is obviously quite busy, always, so it was a thrill for me when he graciously agreed to answer some questions. He's been interviewed many times before, so I tried to probe him with a few different questions, after I asked about his current projects and work, of course! Here they are:

You are currently finishing a solo project (which I am quite excited to hear), an album called 1973. How will this be different from other projects you have created over the years, such as Mellow Drunk albums or your two previous solo albums?

Well, the people that have heard 1973 have mentioned it has more of an Always Be Drunk vibe to it, I suppose ‘cos I played lots of the instruments on it. However, just about everyone from Mellow Drunk and the solo recordings contributed to 1973 so it’s kind of nice to have just about everyone I’ve worked with on one CD. 1973 is a full-on story CD about a boy growing up in the year 1973 so the songs are arranged for a whole band. Both Patrick Harte and Sean DeGaetano (who both played with Mellow Drunk) are playing drums on the songs, then Daniel Dietrick from Mellow Drunk is playing bass so you’ve got two of Mellow Drunk’s rhythm sections (one from Never Sleep at Night and one from One Thousand Lights) on all the tunes.

I've spoken to some musicians who tell me most of their songs just seem to write themselves. How do you go about crafting your songs?

That ‘tis true. Lots of times songs do just write themselves and that’s magical. However, that’s not always the case. Sometimes I’ll just think up titles for songs and maybe a rough lyric, then let the music reflect whatever the title suggests. 1973 was sketched out in a bar while I was having a drink before heading off to a non-alcohol vegan restaurant in San Francisco. I wrote down about twenty-five titles and then started writing songs around those titles. To advance the story along I figured the recording should ultimately have twelve songs to reflect the twelve months of the year and that the main character who is growing up in the year 1973 would go though a change into maturity by the end of the CD.
As far as the folk stuff goes the challenge for me is presenting a song in a very minimal setting (vox and guitar) that can reflect either an emotion state (melancholy to euphoria), a time of day, or maybe a season or month of the year. I remember I was lying on the couch last September, warm late afternoon sun coming in though the blinds, light reflecting off our green carpet, sounds of the outside world coming in and I just felt like I wanted to try and capture that somehow in a song. Well, I actually wrote a poem instead but that’s what I’m after in the folk recordings, if that’s possible.

Do you have a most favorite Mellow Drunk song? A most favorite Leigh Gregory song?

Well… tough one there. From a fan stand point Angela and Where the Time Goes are probably the most well-known and requested Mellow Drunk songs. Steven Cavoretto and I were doing a late night set at the Plough & the Star Pub here in SF last Wednesday and sure enough someone requested Angela right off. I haven’t played Where the Time Goes live over the past year because as a stripped back song it gets a little bit long. I guess they are also my two favorites from Always Be Drunk, though I’ve always liked Long Drawn Sunday Night (the cover of the Orchids song) and I still play that just about every time during the acoustic set. I reckon my fav song from Never Sleep at Night is Shone on Everyone. Maybe my fav song from One Thousand Lights is Everything & Nothing.
My favorite Leigh Gregory song is Rainy Season Never Ends.

What types of guitars do you play? Which one is your favorite to play?

I’m somewhere just below a guitar geek so this question could take a long time to answer!!! Briefly, live for the acoustic stuff I usually play a cutaway acoustic made by a guy named Yuris Zeltins. I bought it from my guitar teacher in 1976 and have had it ever since. It’s pretty worn in at this point so I don’t have to worry about it getting beat up. I also have a beautiful pre-war Santa Cruz OM acoustic that I record with. That guitar has become too valuable to take out live very often though, but it plays really nicely. I used my 60 Re-issue Les Paul (how else are you going to go for the Mick Ronson thing??) for most of 1973, but I always pretty much play my Telecaster for the more recent band stuff. I think a Telecaster is my fav guitar. Love them because they are so simple and if one is a singer it’s so easy to control the volume with your little finger to turn up for solos and down when one is singing. Oh, yeah, I didn’t mention that I’ve been working with a new band!!! Post-Memory’s Mystic Band… can’t say I haven’t been busy!!!

When you began making music for Mellow Drunk, did you have any goals in mind about what you wanted to achieve? Have you achieved those goals?

You know, I didn’t really have any specific goals. I’d recorded god knows how many songs on my four-track between, say 1996 and 1998, and it dawned on me that I could do a full-on CD, so I got an ADAT from my friend Rick Wilson (who was a recording engineer at Black Eyed Pig Studios) and started working up the four-track songs to eight tracks then to CD. I think it was around that time that I did a Steve Kilbey cover (Pretty Ugly, Pretty Sad) for what was suppose to be a Church covers CD and from there I really decided to do Always Be Drunk. At that point I just did a bunch of tracking at home on the ADAT, then I’d go into the studio to do the drums. My friend Jeff Crandall had moved to Minneapolis and we’d get together several times during the course of the year back then so we did the drums, cello and his backing vocals at a studio there, then I’d run the tapes to Rick Wilson and we’d combine my home tracks with the tracks we’d recorded in Minneapolis to put together the record. I’m still making music so I suppose I’ve achieved something but I’m still very much unfulfilled and would like to do much more as far as recording and touring goes.

What are some of the bands YOU listen to and enjoy today? Are there any new artists you really love, and is there anyone you feel a kinship with, music-wise?

Well, I kinda go back and forth across the musical spectrum as I feel like I’m a folk as well as alt-rock guy. Currently I’ve been trying to write a lot for the new as yet unnamed project so I haven’t been listening to as much music as I was about a month ago. That said, on the acoustic side of things I’ve been on a Wizz Jones, Mississippi John Hurt, Towns Van Zandt kick over the past few months. On the rock side I’ve been listening lots to Untitled #23, esp. since the Church are touring and we’re going to catch them a couple of times, then, probably because I’ve seen them live of late, been listening to the new Neko Case CD and the new Doves CD. Also recently saw the Walkmen and they completely blew me away. Their new CD You & Me pretty much to me achieves the nearly impossible: as a contemporary band they actually have their own unique sound. I was also diggin’ the new Peter Doherty CD but I fear I’ve mis-placed it!!!!
I really don’t know with whom I share a kinship with music-wise at this point in my life. Seriously I’ve no idea. One artist who probably isn’t that well known in the United States who really impresses me is Ned Collette, a young man from Melbourne, OZ. I’ve esp. had his CD Jokes & Trials in pretty heavy rotation for over a year now.

I know you are working on yet another project, other than Mellow Drunk or your solo music. Can you give a sneak-peak of what we can look forward to when you are ready to release that?

I did a series of concerts last year with a project called Memory’s Mystic Band, which was essentially a revolving group of friends taking some of the acoustic songs to a more electric setting. Of late I’ve been working with a four piece electric band (guitar, bass, drums and keys) and if that can get off the ground I hope to be playing out again by late August. In that band I’m much more concerned with being an electric guitarist again and trying out some more unpredictable stuff. Don’t know… maybe somewhere between Television and the early Triffids??? Leonard Cohen meets Love??

Do you have any plans for any kind of tour to support some of this new music you're creating? I'm hoping you'll come back to New York, hint hint!

O… I’d love to come back to NYC anytime to perform. I had Sean and Steve, along with Ville Vilpponen, with me last spring playing in New York and Ville (who’s playing bass in the new project along with his brother Jaakko on drums) and I were just taking the other day about what a blast it was to play NYC. I hope to be back soon – promise!!!!

And lastly, what female singer do you think you might sound great singing with?

You know thinking that one over I’d love to do a duet with Natasha Khan. Whatcha think??? Don’t know the new CD very well but saw Bat for Lashes a couple of times on their first US tour and she’s great!!!!


Leigh, I would definitely agree on that last answer! I love Natasha's voice and her creativity with her music, and I am a big fan of her second album, the new one, Two Suns. You are spot on with that thought: the two of you would make mind-blowing music.

A million thanks to Leigh Gregory for doing this interview. Time for me to go play some Mellow Drunk CDs. Never 'not in the mood' for that.

1 comment:

Nath said...

Amazing interview!As you know, I love Mellow Drunk's music but didn't know much about Leigh Gregory so I had a ball reading this entry.