November 6, 2014
Grey Gordon is a busy man. He’s a manager at a local tattoo shop which in and of itself is a full time job. In addition to that, he has a solo singer/songwriter career that’s taking off. And if that weren’t enough, he also plays in three other bands in different styles of music. One is a hardcore band (Parasitic Twins), another is a black metal band (Antlers As Roots) and a third is a straightforward “grungy” rock band (Wickerwolves). “I feel like if I’m not doing too much, I’m not doing enough,” Gordon says. “Pretty much I spend all my free time writing and recording music.”
His solo work can best be described as a plaintive blend of indie rock. Listening to it, one can hear remnants of musicians that came before him, from the Replacements and Elliott Smith to Sebadoh and Hüsker Dü. But the most apt comparison may be to Yo La Tengo, whom he reflects with his eclectic approach. Live, he sometimes plays solo acoustic, sometimes with a backing band.
When you see him live, especially when he’s playing solo acoustic, expect to hear a mouthful in addition to his music. Gordon says that he enjoys a back and forth communication with his audience, and he also says that, coming from a punk rock background, he feels like someone playing just an acoustic guitar should justify him or herself.
His studio recordings feature a full band. On his earlier recordings he played everything but drums, but on his debut full length, Forget I Brought It Up, he was able to have others backing him as he sang and played guitar. The album was recently released on a California-based indie label, fittingly titled No Sleep Records.
While his solo music may lead one to expect shaggy indie rocker, Gordon looks the part of a hardcore/punk rocker – covered in tattoos. And if his videos are representative of his attire, he literally wears his influences on his sleeves, being dressed in T-shirts and hats bearing the names of his forebears.
His background is also evident in his choice of lifestyle, which is vegan and straight edge. For those who are unaware, veganism is the abstinence of consuming (or wearing) any animal byproduct, and straight edge is abstinence from intoxicants. Both have a notable number of adherents in music and punk rock circles.
It’s a shame that politics can sometimes get in the way of the music; Gordon’s stands on its own merits. But he’s proud and vocal about the lifestyle he’s chosen for himself.
“I’ve been straight edge for seven years and vegan for maybe three and was vegetarian for four before that. At one point these were things that I was extremely vocal about,” he says. “At this point they’re more just integral facets of who I am. If anyone is interested in talking, I’m always down for talking about the merits of the lifestyle. There are political reasons for that and personal reasons for that. I could write you a thesis on why I’m straight edge but suffice it to say there’s a veritable cornucopia of reasons why I made that choice.”
Another label that gets thrown at him a lot is “emo,” which is a little bit harder to fathom, His musical style doesn’t necessarily match that of prototypical emo artists (e.g., Sunny Day Real Estate) which may just mean that it’s an elastic term that’s thrown at a variety of acts. But either way, it’s not a handle Gordon chooses for himself.
“I think that it’s kind of a buzzword right now, with a lot of bands carrying the banner from that 90s emo movement. I love a lot of 90s emo. I love a lot of contemporary emo. I would not consider myself an emo musician,” he says. “The way that I perceive it is I’m just making independent music; I’m just making indie rock. Personally, I take a lot more cues from bands like the Pixies or Sebadoh than I do from bands that would be considered more traditional emo.”
Politics and stylistic points aside, Gordon’s work ethic has paid dividends in terms of the amount of music he produces and where it has taken him. In the roughly four years he’s been working solo, he released two EPs and a slew of demos prior to the release of Forget.
And, in addition to managing the tattoo shop, recording and releasing music, and playing in three different bands, he also tours, he recently returned from a month-long solo acoustic tour that took him as far away as San Antonio, Texas.
“I’ve toured quite a bit,” he says. “I’ve done little 10-day tours here and there – 10 days, two weeks. I’ve done some five-day outings. So mostly it’s like kinda shorter stretches, and then this last one I did was a month long.”
He’s also had the opportunity to tour overseas and may have more foreign tours in the future. Last November, he did an 18-day tour of Europe that included shows in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. And there have been talks of a south Asian tour on the horizon. Fortunately, Gordon’s work situation allows him the flexibility to leave town for long stretches at a time.
When asked about his career highlights, he immediately cites a show he played in Berlin while on his European tour last year. The show happened in a packed record store.
“The show was amazing. It was packed. I played to a 300-person, packed little room,” he says, “and it was such an amazing feeling to hold an acoustic guitar in front of 300 strangers in a different city and talk to them and make them laugh and feel like I was really communicating something in that moment. And getting something across to that many people simultaneously is a really powerful, empowering kind of feeling. “
Listening to Forget I Brought It Up is a worthy listen, but not just for the music. It’s the sound of a young artist just beginning to break into a bigger audience. With his work ethic and a little bit of luck, good things seem to be on the horizon for Grey Gordon.
“I’m stoked that anybody cares about me enough to want to hear what I have to say or listen to my music,” he says. “It’s a continuing privilege to make music because I never thought I would even get to put out a record.”