Since arriving on Planet Earth 33 years ago, Tony Grey has busied himself with the study of music composition and performance in a way that can only be described as obsessive! His discography ranges from John McLaughlin, Hiromi, David Fiuczynski, Industrial Zen, and Oli Rockberger to the pop group Bliss. Tony displays incredible musicianship on everything I’ve ever heard him playing on, and he places his wonderful voice (and impossibly good tone) on the electric bass guitar in the exact center of the listener’s environment! In short, Tony Grey is one of the most incredible bassists on the scene today! Ridiculous chops and compositional abilities aside… Tony is a wonderful person! I had the extreme pleasure of discussing bass, travel, and life with this World-Class musician recently. His story simply tells itself.
BAJ: Man… what wonderful music, Tony! Congratulations on “Chasing Shadows”! How did the record come together, and does it sound the way you had hoped – during the recording process? Also, can you go into more detail about your incredibly musical upbringing?
TG: Thanks a lot–glad you like it. For this CD I really wanted to explore the cross over between pop, Jazz, and world music. I’m a big fan of melodies and really want that to be the focus. My upbringing was very musical. My mother is a piano player, as is my grandmother, and my sister played piano and violin. My Uncle is John McLaughlin, and my step-dad is also a guitarist, so there’s a lot going on there. I grew up listening to a lot of pop music like Michael Jackson, Burt Bacharach, Sting, and others. But I also have this deep love for Drum and Bass, and the darker aspect of that music…and I love pads and dark chords! My goal really is to create music with a dark and interesting edge, but that’s also really acceptable to a wide audience. For Chasing Shadows, I think I achieved my goals.
BAJ: What was your primary objective for “Chasing Shadows” in comparison to your premier disc, “Moving”?
TG: I wanted the 2 CD’s to sound different… but it was important to keep my voice. For the1st CD, Moving, I wanted to make a recording of all my musical influences! I love many styles of music, from Indian Classical to Pop, Jazz, Funk, R&B, Drum and Bass…you name it! On the 2nd , I just wanted to focus more on one theme.
BAJ: Okay… So, you’re encouraged by your uncle (guitarist) John McLaughlin to attend Berklee; earned a scholarship, and graduated in ’01! Cool! When did you begin working with the right hand technique you now employ? Even though there are many videos of you playing (YouTube, and at MySpace)… how would you describe your technique to our readers?
TG: Well I developed my own technique without any thought. I thought it was just “normal”… until I started getting lot’s of questions about it! I always had a big issue of having open strings making a noise. When I listened back my notes had no real definition. I just started to practice really slowly so I could articulate the sound exactly the way I wanted to hear it.
BAJ: What are your favorite memories from your time at Berklee, and how would you encourage our readers to further their own musical knowledge?
TG: I had a great time at Berklee! It was very challenging for me in the beginning as I was very much a beginning bass player!! I found the most valuable thing at Berklee were the students from all over the world. Everybody was there to play and study music seriously, and there were really some of the greatest young musicians in the world at the time I was attending. It was very inspiring!
BAJ: Do you find time to teach? Also, what are a few things you’re building via your personal practice regiment?
TG: I do teach from time-to-time, and I do like it a lot! I am very serious about practice and I document everything I work on. I basically break things down into the most important subjects to study and create 30-minute workouts to develop my playing. I used to practice up to 12-hours per day… but over time I found myself going through the motions of practicing without really focusing on anything specific. I found if I practiced less, but really concentrated, I could really see my growth as a player. Some of the important things I work on are technique, fingerboard exercises, improvising and transcribing, and particularly ear training.
BAJ: Where do your compositions begin, and what is your process from thought to document?
TG: There are a few different ways I work. One way is to find chord voicings I like and make vamps. Then, I add melodies and build from there. Another way is to build a bass line and drum groove and work from that. Sometimes, I just write a melody and build harmony around that.
BAJ: What is your personally favorite composition to date?
TG: HMMM…. I’m not sure I was happy with “Awaken” and “White Woods” (from Moving), or “No Mans Land” and “Guiding Light” (from Chasing Shadows). It’s tough because I’m very self critical… (Laughter) People write to me saying those are their favorite tunes. I find that kind of thing very encouraging… It keeps me going!
BAJ: What are 3 points you hope to accomplish each time you take a solo?
* To keep my ideas focused so I can make a story.
* To just play without fear and without thought.
* To make something memorable.
When I love a solo, I listen to it over and over again until I have it memorized, and I find myself singing along to it! I think that’s a great achievement for any improviser!
BAJ: You have incredibly well rounded tastes, musically speaking. Would you take a moment to encourage our readers to seek a more Global oriented musical environment?
TG: I think it’s important to have a wide range of musical tastes – as it helps you sound like yourself. I was a “jazz snob”, for a minute, when I wouldn’t give other music the time of day. I thought that attitude would make me a better musician. I found myself uninspired and uncreative in that period. I shouldn’t be ashamed of liking any type of music that moves me. Also, Gregg Phillinganes (keyboardist for Michael Jackson and everyone else) told me during a clinic to respect all styles of music and to remain open-minded! You never really know from where your chance will come in this business! Once you have your foot in the door you can start moving to where you really want to be in your career.
BAJ: Tell us about your move to Yamaha from your Fodera, and please take a moment to give us your views on artist endorsements? Thanks man!
TG: I love my endorsements and it’s really an honor to represent a company I really respect and admire! I use DR strings – which have always been my first choice; Aguilar Amps – which is the first amp I played through when I moved to the US. It’s such an amazing sound!
Yamaha is huge! The very first bass my mother bought me was a 4-string Yamaha which I was so proud to have at the time! I love Fodera, and they really make the most beautiful instruments. I still play the Fodera from time to time. Yamaha have been very supportive and they want to develop their sound to fit today’s modern bass players. I have been working closely with them trying to make a great instrument.
TG: Everything (Laughter)
BAJ: What touches you most about your favorite musicians, and how do you articulate the sound in your head?
TG: Well, the thing I notice about my favorite musicians is that they really look so comfortable, and also the way that they move when they play – you can see and feel their sense of the pocket! Herbie Hancock is a good example… you can really see his groove when he plays! It’s so natural! Pat Metheny is also truly inside what he’s doing, and it’s a pure form of self-expression! These guy’s really do play what they are feeling with no compromise, and that’s my goal.
BAJ: How would you engineer you career, if you had the power to do so?
TG: All I want is to play! If that takes me around the world and makes money, then so be it!! If not… as long as I play how I dream of that’s OK! I’d also teach in a school a couple of day’s a week. I’m not sure when, or how, but I’d love to teach! I am writing an instructional book and DVD – which I’m currently finishing. So, hopefully people will dig that. I’m also in the process of writing new music for the next release. I’m going to really challenge myself with these projects, and create a “stir” that will promote my career.
BAJ: Thank you for taking a moment to join us here at Bass Musician Magazine, man! Any closing thoughts?
TG: Just keep working hard, and don’t put too much pressure on yourself musically! You are where you are (musically), and time and patience will take you to the next level. Just sit tight and enjoy the music you are making right now! Thanks so much for the encouragement and support, and it has been a pleasure to talk to you and answer these great questions! I hope to work more with you in the future, man!