Artist Q & A – Blair Gilley

Posted: March 2, 2014 in Indie Pop Music
Tags: , , , , , ,

TuneTraveller continues a segment where featured artists answer some questions that provide insight into their creative process, their recent activities and life outside of music.  If you’ve ever found yourself wondering how artists come up with ideas for songs, what they may be hard at work on or whether there’s any chance you’ll run across them while mountain-climbing or deep-sea diving, then this segment attempts to keep you informed.  Hope you enjoy it!

This Artist Q & A segment is with Blair Gilley, a Nashville, TN-based singer-songwriter and guitarist.  Be sure to check out TuneTraveller’s September 12, 2013 post containing details about Blair and a review of his song “What You Do to Yourself.”

TT:  How did you get your start in music?

BG:  I honestly knew what I wanted to do since I was about 5 years old.  Cliche answer, but true.  When I would go to the store with my Mom, I would ask for tapes and CDs instead of toys.  My older cousins grew up on a lot of the 80s rock and I just thought that they and the music they listened to were the coolest things ever.  Then my older brother got a guitar and that’s where it all started.  He would lock it in his room when he left and I would pick the lock and go play it.  I just thought it was magical and since I wasn’t supposed to be doing it, it made me want to play it even more.  Ha-ha!!  Then, I finally got my own guitar and within a few years, I had my first band in 8th grade with a bunch of sophomores in high school.  It was really cool hanging out with the older kids and getting the attention from high school girls.  That was great, but it was the music and the hours spent in my room playing it that really mattered to me.  Then I started my own band when I got to high school and made a record and toured a bit.  In college, I joined a fairly popular band at the time in my home town of Baton Rouge, LA.  It was a full-time gig and paid all of my bills and paved the way for me making a living playing music.  I’ve been doing it ever since.  Dax, the singer of that band, and I moved to Atlanta to start what would eventually be Goodnight City.  That was my first real band that had national exposure and a nice-sized fan base.  The saga continues from there.

TT:  What is your approach to songwriting, e.g., lyrics or melody first or just the germ of an idea?  What are your most and least favorite parts of the creative process?  You typically write from a biographical perspective, but do you find that limiting in any way, like something interesting has to happen in real life before you can write a song?  Maybe you’ve written and discarded lots of fictional songs because they seemed impersonal.  What’s the thinking behind biographical vs fictional song-writing?

BG:  My approach to writing is all over the place.  There’s no set formula with me.  The answer to your question is whatever hits me at that moment.  I usually start with a germ of an idea lyrically or musically in my head and then go from there.  A lot of times it’s in the middle of the night when I’m sleeping and my brain is supposed to be shut off.  The good stuff rarely comes out when I sit down and try to “write a song.”  My brain prefers to work on an idea a little here and a little there while I’m sleeping (as mentioned), driving, running, riding, whatever.  The chorus of “My Communication” was running through my head when I was in the shower one day and I jumped out, grabbed an acoustic and wrote the song right there.  Then there are songs like Moores Lane” and Diamond Ring” on the latest EP that I had the basic components of and changed and worked on them slowly over the next few months.  Sitting down to write a song from start to finish is a big challenge for me and probably my least favorite part.  It hits me when I get inspired.  I’m not the Nashville formula guy.  I can’t meet in a room at noon and come out with a full song at three.  Well, on second thought, I could, but it just wouldn’t be very good and it wouldn’t be me.  But my hat’s off to those that can.

On biographical vs. fictional songwriting:

It’s funny you mentioned that about something interesting having to happen in real life before being inspired to write.  My life is dramatically different now than it was a few years ago when I wrote most of this material.  Now that my daughter is here and has brought me so much joy, I joked with Robin the other day that something bad needed to happen so I could write more.  BUT………. That was simply a joke.  I’m finding inspiration in many areas these days.

Back in the day I actually wrote more from a fictional viewpoint. I used to think my life was not worthy of a song for some silly reason, then I started looking at it from a different perspective and realized my life had a million stories to tell and songs to write.  Biographical vs. fiction as far as these two EPs go is simple.  Real life is inspiring to me.  I had to write those songs to save and make sense of my life at that time.  In the span of about a year-and-a-half, I experienced the loss of my father, divorce and the demise of my band at the time after signing a promising record deal.  Writing those songs was my way of dealing with all of it and my medicine.  They actually helped heal and help me make sense of all of that craziness in a short span of time.  It was definitely a season of change and I had to document it in song.  It’s kind of dorky, but I can document/catalogue all the major events in my life in my mind by a particular song or which band I was in at the time.  That’s how life works for me.

Although personal, Hopelessly” was written about three other people I know and not from my perspective.  And surprisingly, “Kid in My House” is actually a fictional story loosely based on someone I know and was written before Olivia was even conceived.  Maybe the title was a bit prophetic, but if you listen to the song, it has nothing to do with her.  It’s about a guy who comes home one day and is freaked out about the life he has and just jets and starts over.  Maybe an early mid-life crisis for the main character if you will.

I think a person’s writing style is ever-changing and ever-evolving and one seeks inspiration from what is simply “inspiring” or driving at the time.  After putting so much of myself out there in these tunes, the idea of more fictional-based songs is actually appealing and refreshing.  I’ve been writing a mixture of both lately.  At the end of the day though, there’s always got to be at least a little bit of me and my perspective in each thing I write and do creatively.

TT:  Recently, you released a video for the song “What You Do to Yourself,” which has been widely praised for its fun and interesting storyline and concept.  What can you tell us about the song, the video and the response to both?

BG:  Ironically, it was actually never meant to be recorded.  It was a song that I demoed at home a few years back simply for my self-gratification.  I’m in love with the late 50s and early 60s and I just thought it was a cool tune but didn’t plan on doing anything with it at all.  I honestly didn’t think anyone would really like it other than me.  But then I showed it to Tommy Dickinson, who I do most of my recording with, and he said that we absolutely had to do it.  I laughed and said “Sure, I’d love to.”  Then…… I never intended it to be a single, but I simply wanted to film a video for it so that I could re-create that time period and live out a fantasy, so to speak.  I threw that shoot together in a week-and-a-half and had some amazing people come in to make it all happen.

That’s the greatest thing about where I am with my music today and why I do it.  I was in a signed band that had a genre specific “sound” with a target demographic and a marketing plan, three managers, lawyers, accountant, roadies, etc., etc., etc. and it all fell apart.  After that experience, and everything else that I experienced around that time, I developed a very bad taste in my mouth for the music business and found myself wanting to have nothing to do with it.  But………. I found myself wanting to make music more than ever.  I started writing for me and not even thinking about the rest of the world or demographics or genre or song formula or anything like that.  I started making music that I loved and didn’t care about any rules or the industry.  It was the most amazing and freeing thing I’ve ever done musically and as I mentioned before, it literally saved me at that time.

So the point of all of this is to say that I’m making music now for myself and the fans and friends that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting along the way in my somewhat lengthy music career.  With that comes freedom and liberation.  I’m just putting material out there that makes me happy and if I want to make a video for my silly little Fifties song, even if I don’t view it as a “single” (whatever that is), then that’s exactly what I’m going to do.  And as you mentioned, the reaction has been way greater than I expected.  I think people young and old feel a connection to what was perceived as a simpler time in life.  It was a blast to film and I’m proud to have it out there.  My silly little piece of pop real-estate.

TT:  You also recently released your second EP, Moores Lane, which reinforces “the Blair Gilley sound” as a follow-up to your first EP, About Home.  How do you feel about the songs that came out of that process and what’s the fan reaction been like?

BG:  I released a 3-song EP because it seems like that’s where we are in music now.  Artists are releasing music as it’s created to keep the fans’ attention and keep things rolling along in this competitive media onslaught that we are in.  I still very much believe in the album concept, but I see where things are headed and I wanted to get that material out to the people that wanted to hear it and were asking for it.  I didn’t want to sit on it until the Fall when I release a full length.  I also released it in honor of the amazing people that contributed to my Kickstarter campaign that I completed and fully funded last April just as my daughter was born.  Kickstarter is a whole other story for another time.  The contributors actually received a digital download of Moores Lane two months before it was released on iTunes.

I’m very happy with how the songs came out and I feel each one has its own unique sound.  They’re all very different, but as you stated, they all have “my sound.”  Melodic, a little quirky and goofy, but hard-hitting and honest.  I’m still building my sound and I have songs in the catalogue that are so different and may be viewed as somewhat of a departure, but they are all part of the wall of sound in my head.  It goes back to what I said earlier about having no bounds or limits and simply just enjoying writing and recording what I hear and feel.  Although I’m an album guy, that’s the cool thing about the EP format.  You can group 3-6 songs together that have a cohesive sound and vision and then move on to the next EP with a different theme.  I’m excited about bringing to life the backlog of yet-to-be-recorded material and new songs that are brewing in my head.  The only problem is what to work on next.  I’ve slowly been building my home studio and I now have most of the gear that was used to record the 2 EPs.  So, the next batch of songs are all gonna be done here at the house by yours truly.  I’ve always been the guy standing behind the board “producing” as the engineers “engineer,” so doing everything on my own is quite the challenge and learning curve.  But, so far so good.  I’ll get them as close as I can to sounding great and then I’ll probably still send them to Tommy for a “final mix.”

The fans’ reaction has been great, but I’m confusing the hell out of them.  I’m doing things in a marketing manner that would have been a cardinal sin in my previous bands.  I released the video for “What You Do to Yourself” (off of the first EP) right around the same time I released the Moores Lane EP to the public.  Who does that?  The way I see it though is that I’m building content and an internet presence little by little for when the album is released.  Then, when people hear the album or discover the band, they can go on line and already see a good bit of media and back story.  As we all know, content is key in the musical landscape of today.  I’d actually love to have the budget to have a video for every song.  I thought about that years ago and know bigger acts on major labels are doing that.

TT:  You’ve been fortunate enough to have spent most of your adult life as a successful, working musician in various bands.  It’s probably no secret that you have aspirations to step out on your own.  What would it take to make that happen and for you to feel equally successful?

BG:  After Flight Case For Sushi broke up, I set out to do my own thing.  While working on the first EP, I started working with a bass player who was also in another band.  He told me his band was having auditions for guitar players and wanted me to try out.  I was in this new phase in life where I was up for pursuing anything that came my way.  I went for the audition with low expectations and ended up getting it.  It was a chance for me to simply show up and play music, which was a feeling I never had experienced before.  I managed all my previous bands up until that point, with the exception of Flight Case for a brief moment in time, and literally did everything that needed to be done, including stepping on stage and playing guitar.  Now I was given an opportunity to be handed a schedule and just go play and enjoy the experience.  It was a very attractive offer to me at that point in my life.  Also, diversifying was very important to me at the time.  I was re-learning and re-discovering my self in my “new life” and wanted to take advantage of everything that came my way to learn and grow from it and gain different perspectives on life and music.  I am still currently with the band and it’s a full time gig.

What I’m most interested in now is writing, recording and building a catalogue of great music to then go play live.  I’m very fortunate and thankful that I’m in a great position where I’m involved in two very different yet satisfying projects, both of which have many good things on the horizon.  I have a few gigs coming up, but will be touring more once the album is released in the Fall.  I’m such a live guy, so I’m super excited when we get to that point.  This thing will breath air for sure.

TT:  A subject near and dear to your heart is your love of the 50s and 60s.  What’s the attraction?  Is it the music, the culture or, maybe, a perceived simpler time?

BG:  All of the above my friend.  You really nailed it with those three.  I have always been a fan of things that came before me.  There’s something about it.  You can go back and view it and reference things through books and TV and especially Youtube, but you can never truly know what it was like to be there and there is something magical and mystical in that to me.  I had a Chuck Berry tape growing up and that thing spoke to my soul in a big way.  I can’t explain it, but it was an instant connection.  I understood his songs and the hidden references wrapped up in pretty little packages.  Let’s be honest, “My Ding-a-ling” is absolute genius as far as pop songwriting goes.  I was also into Elvis and Buddy Holly.  Ritchie Valens reached my core.  Then I found my Dad’s Beatles records and I was like “WHAT!!!?!?!?!?!”

TT:  Based on your personal experiences, what advice would you give to musicians just starting out and trying to make it in today’s music business?

BG:  Do what you believe in and don’t try to chase what other people are doing.  Spend your time learning your craft.  We are told in this day and age that we have to MARKET, MARKET, MARKET.  But the problem is, so many people get caught up in that belief, that they feel that’s what they have to do and the result is they are spending more time promoting sub-par material than they are working on and developing their craft.  Putting the cart before the horse.  I should know, I’ve been a victim of that paradigm.

With that being said, self-promotion is extremely important, but after, and only after, you have created something you believe in whole-heartedly.  Then it’s time to go to work on marketing.  We live in a time where there is so much media out there, to simply put your music on line is not enough.  This is something I struggle with.  I juggle so many things in life that finding time for promotion is tough.  But I clearly see the result and the views and plays spike when I do put the work in.

And also, probably very contradictory to what I have explained with where I am in my career, if you are very serious and trying to break into commercial music, treat it like and understand that it is a business. To be successful and move forward in anything in life, you need to be able to make a living at it.  You need to be smart and put a plan together to make that happen and see it through.  Set goals and put the work in to make a sustainable career out of it.  And, most importantly, pursue music only because you love it and doing anything else would be sub-par.  Making serious money in music is hard to find these days, but it’s out there.  Don’t have unrealistic financial expectations.  Make a choice and find a way to live your dreams and live your life the way you want to.  My Dad always said it’s not work if you love what you do.

TT:  What do you enjoy doing outside of writing/recording/performing and raising a family?

BG:  The family part is all brand new for this guy, but I’m loving every second of it.  My life is pretty much all about taking care of Olivia and music, but in the little spare time I do have, I enjoy being outdoors.  I like to go biking a lot in the Summertime.  It’s a great workout, and honestly, it’s my favorite time to listen to studio mixes, critique and come up with new ideas.  I’m a big multi-tasker and always seem to fit in work with whatever I’m doing.  So I’ll bike a trail in Nashville and get exercise, tanning and work all in at the same time.  You can’t beat that!  I also do a lot of video editing.  It’s kind of a second passion for me and great supplemental income while I’m home.  It kind of goes along with the territory and hand-in-hand with music and recording.  It’s pretty much the same concept of laying out an idea from beginning to end on a grid.  The only difference is one is audio and the other is visual.  It’s a great outlet for me.  I do all my videos and most of my promotional materials.  Sometimes, I’d love to hand it off, but if I’m coming up with the concept and directing it, why not edit it?  I just know what I want and see it in my head and how to go about getting the results I want.  I do, however, believe in collaboration and much prefer that, but at the end of the day, the old adage comes to play…if you want anything done right, you better do it yourself.  I’m actually working on letting go of control.  I know that only good things can come from it.  Mic Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac had a great quote in the Dave Grohl documentary Sound City.  He said “Just because you can record by yourself doesn’t necessarily make it a great idea.”

TT:  What do you know now that you wish you had known much sooner?

BG:  Again, do what you believe in and don’t try to chase what other people are doing or what you think you are supposed to do to “make it.”  I don’t even really know what that means anymore.  As I stated, my music saved me and kept me in the game on a passion level.  The music I write is for me and those who choose to listen to it and love and/or connect with it.  I have no delusions about what I’m doing.  I know it’s not for everyone.  I know it’s not the next Rihanna hit and I’m pretty sure it’s not going to get me any meetings with Bono and the Pope to change the face of the Earth, but for me, it’s everything.  It’s my legacy.  It’s my stamp and take on this place we call Earth.  These songs are my documentation of life.  My photo books.  My memoirs.

  1. Art says:

    Good Stuff, great artist. Im into this. Just downloaded his music.

    • Denise says:

      Awesome interview with a spectacular artist. He puts his heart and soul
      Into his music! I have been listening for some time and there is nothing that doesn’t rock! Spend the time getting to know him and his lyrics!

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