Singer songwriter Michael Gray of Sharon is about to release his debut CD entitled 'Too Worn to Mend' with his band Amerian Beauties on Saturday, Nov. 3, at Sally O'Brien's Pub, 335 Somerville Ave. in Somerville.
Sharon Patch interviewed Gray about his music and upcoming show.
Patch: Tell me about how American Beauties came to be?
MG: I’ve been writing music since I was 15-years-old and primarily performed solo acoustic over the years through college and up until the time I got married and began a family in the 1990s. After I finished graduate school in 2001, I decided to rededicate myself to writing and met some local musicians who introduced me to the people who played and helped me record and produce the record “Too Worn To Mend.” Prior to this project, I played in a couple of bands as a guitar player and background vocalist and in 2010 finally felt I was ready to embark on an all-original project with my solo stuff, which turned out to be American Beauties.
Patch: Why did it take you so long to release your first record?
MG: Primarily, I don’t think I was ready to make the type of record I wanted, but the people I knew would help me make it something I’d be proud of. I’ve recorded at home in my basement for years and have cassette tapes and other recordings that go back to high school. To be honest, I was never really a great musician or vocalist and it took me until now to develop the confidence to improve on those things. My daughter, Natalie, and I listened to a tape of my high school band from a very long time ago, and couldn’t stop laughing at how funny my voice sounded. I’ve worked really hard over the last 10 years to improve my singing, guitar playing, and writing and finally feel a little better about getting it out there. Always room for improvement though.
Patch: What is your process for writing and what is it that motivates you to write a new song?
MG: Typically, I just have to find some quiet time in my studio after everyone’s gone to bed, with a good frame of mind and maybe a little whiskey. Usually if a song comes to me it’s music first, lyrics second, and typically the process is finished in a matter of hours. I also try to record the song immediately after I write it so I have a reference. The songs that usually make the grade take very little tweaking, but if I have to work too hard I’ll usually shelve it. On rare occasions I’ll revisit ideas and work them into something that survives.
Patch: How do you balance your time between family, work, and music?
MG: When I decided to start writing again, my wife, Andrea, and I talked and came to an agreement that I would get one night a week to either rehearse, play shows, record, or do something else music-related. That was over ten years ago and I’ve pretty much held to that agreement with an occasional oversight. I have to hand it to her for being supportive. My kids, Colin (17) and Natalie (13), have always been the first to hear the new songs I write and record. They are typically positive about them, but if they really like a song, I know it’s probably ready for someone else to hear. They were kind of blah about the record when it came out since they had already heard all the songs so many times. My work as an environmental project manager is pretty challenging, but I’ve learned to balance that with my family, which in turn allows me to balance it with music.
Patch: What is it about "Too Worn To Mend" that you'd like people to know that they might not get from listening to the record?
MG: Although it’s not a concept album per say, the idea of “Too Worn To Mend” is that we develop these hard ideas and opinions over the years and it becomes very difficult to look at things from a different perspective. We get more stuck in our ways as we grow older and sometimes hold on to things we really need to move on from. This is true of society as well. We have this certain understanding, or complacency about our place in the world and never look to change things for better or worse. I think the more we stay the same, the more we get taken advantage of because certain people are expecting us to be a certain way. So in some aspects, we find that our relationships, our beliefs, our government, and our policies are in many ways too worn to mend.
Patch: You worked with Ducky Carlisle, who won a Grammy award for mixing Buddy Guy's "Living Proof” album in 2010, what can you tell us about that relationship?
MG: I met Ducky in 2005 when we were recording with my old band. We spent a couple days in the studio together recording some songs that I had written and creatively hit it off. When we started recording "Too Worn To Mend," he really helped me develop more confidence as an artist and pushed me (very politely) to improve my playing and singing during the sessions. He also played drums and co-produced the record among other things. We eventually reached a juncture when we knew we could put out a good record and from that point we didn’t push so hard just to get it done. Three years later we were really happy with the outcome. He occasionally plays drums at our live shows, but I also look forward to working with him in the studio again soon.
Patch: You have a CD release show coming up on Saturday. What can people expect?
MG: The show is at Sally O’Brien’s Bar in Somerville and starts at 9 p.m. We have our regular live band with Jonas Kahn on guitar, Justin Kolack on bass, and Jeff Allison on drums. These guys are great friends of mine and really great players. We also have Amber Casares singing background vocals, which she sang on the record, and Ducky will join us on drums for a few songs as well. We plan to play all eleven songs off Too Worn To Mend for our first set, then our friends The Big Lonesome will come up and play a set of their original music, and American Beauties will finish the night with a final set of originals. There’s no cover and the people who come will get a free copy of the CD. We love to play the songs live and hope people will come check us out.