Before the interview, Joe endured a marathon session having his full bodypaint makeup applied. During that time, we chatted about riding ferries, how hard it is to get glitter off everything (including my beard), and that one time I saw the Oscar Meyer Weiner Mobile in Anacortes. It was surreal sitting across from someone so humble and kind while they transformed into the lovechild of Aladdin Sane and Ziggy Stardust.
Following the interview, Victoria was treated to one of the best performances of the entire Rifflandia Music Festival. J GRGRY’s soulful live performance rivals that of Future Islands and left the crowd craving more dancey, dark, and moody tunes.
Tyson Elder: Welcome to Canada! Congratulations on your first ever Canadian show here in Victoria, BC.
Joe Gregory: Thank you so much!
TE: But this isn’t your first time in Canada? Before the interview you mentioned that you’d come to Victoria with your dad years ago. Did you just come up for the day?
JGRGRY: Yeah, my dad is really into British culture for some reason.
TE: You came to the right place. [chuckles] Victoria’s full of ex-pats. My grandparents and mom are English. It’s like a mini version of England.
JGRGRY: I think he really loved the trip. We had high tea and took a double decker bus tour. he loved it. It was really fun.
TE: You’re from Seattle. Have you lived there your whole life?
JGRGRY: I was born and raised there. Then . . . music kind of makes you a wanderer. I ended up in Sacramento and LA for a bit.
TE: California can be trouble. I have had several friends move down there and have had “trouble” as one does. What were the struggles like moving down there from Seattle?
JGRGRY: Coming from Seattle in the 90s was a definitely a big shift down there. I hit it full speed with alcohol and doing that whole thing to satiate my demons. Little did I know, that was not the way to do it. I just got really into that scene of drinking in the studio all day. Rehearsing, touring, and hitting the bottle hard. It wasn’t sustainable, and the music I moved there to make started taking a backseat. I really had to focus. So I ended up moving back to Seattle. That’s where I gathered camp and got sober. I wrote this record and now we are touring it.
TE: Is this the end of that West Coast tour for Gold Teeth + Glass Eyes?
JGRGRY: Yes, it is. We did Bumbershoot and a big west coast tour before that. It was great.
TE: I saw pictures of you playing in the Nordstrom store window. The miniature Seattle Centre looked so cool. They even had a little monorail train in there.
TE: How was it being Godzilla?
JGRGRY: That was super cool. It’s actually on the corner of 6th and Pike which is the heart of downtown. When we first got in there, we were a little freaked out about how much it was like a fish bowl. We thought “this is awkward,” but as soon as we started playing and people started walking by, over a hundred camera phones came out and it became surreal. They had speakers outside so it sounded really great and we got a ton of cool feedback. Lots of random tourists were like “this is what happens in Seattle. They have rock bands playing in the windows of stores!” It was a lot of fun to be part of that.
TE: That’s awesome! I wish I could have seen it. Since the Upstream Music Festival you’ve been blowing up on KEXP and 107.7 The End in Seattle. I’ve seen you all over social media for the last little while. How are dealing with the success of everything and that kind of exposure?
JGRGRY: It’s been really exciting. All the things you just listed are literally childhood dreams of mine growing up in Seattle. KEXP and The End are just so huge to everyone. Playing Upstream and huge things like Bumbershoot . . . more then anything, it’s been meeting all these people that are so cool and responsive to the record. It’s such an exciting feeling to work so hard to have people interested in what you are doing and want to talk to you. That has meant the world to me.
TE: Now talking about the record: it’s very poppy. You describe it as “dark pop.” I find with that kind of pop/electronic genre, a lot of people go for style over substance. Listening to the record over the past few days, I’ve really noticed how much work you put into the songwriting and the lyrics. There were a few songs that really stood out to me. Why do you think it’s important to focus on the songwriting over the quick and dirty electronic that you could just pump out for an easy buck?
JGRGRY: I’m not trained classically. I’ve never had a singing lesson or for any instruments that I play. It’s a real emotional thing for me. My brain squashes my emotions and it comes out in my songs. A lot of times my writing is stream of consciousness. I’ll discover what it was I was really going through months later. “Holy shit! I feel so bad for two months ago me. What was going on?” I really think that retains a level of connection with me and the songwriting. It’s really important to me, and what I’m saying is really important to me. Getting my feelings across to other people so they know they’re not the only ones feeling what they are feeling.
TE: I really caught that in the last track on the album, Floodlands. It caught me off guard. I listened it four times in a row. It was like, “Holy shit. There’s something really here in this song.” That’s what grabbed me about your songwriting and the structure of your songs. It’s quite profound.
JGRGRY: I’m so glad you keyed in on that. That’s my favourite song on the record.
TE: People have compared Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel. I heard that ’80s new wave synth rock sound in there. I really have to ask where do you fall on the Genesis side of things. Is it Phil Collins or Peter Gabriel? There is a correct answer.
JGRGRY: [Laughs] I don’t know if I know the correct answer. For me, it’s so based on the instance. There are times for me when Peter Gabriel is everything to me for Genesis and there other times when I’m like “Goddammit Phil Collins! You did it again.” [wipes a fake tear from his eye]
TE: I know exactly where you are coming from, but if you had to choose just one…
JGRGRY: I think honestly Peter Gabriel is my guy.
TE: Peter Gabriel is a lot stronger of a songwriter, I’m sure for you it’s a little easier to relate to that.
JGRGRY: I definitely relate to that part.
TE: Unfortunately, you’re heading back to Seattle first thing tomorrow. If you were staying for the festival, is there anyone you’d be really excited about seeing?
JGRGRY: There are so many bands. Zeds Dead. I actually want to try and sneak out to catch his set tonight. Obviously Bonobo and Moby. Actually our record is mixed by Mark Needham who did the last Moby record.
JGRGRY: Yeah, he did like forty or fifty songs with Moby on that. Mark is just amazing. He’s done the Killers and a bunch of other great records too.
TE: What’s next for you?
JGRGRY: I’ve actually got ten news songs written. I’m moving to LA in about a month to do the new record. After that, we’ve got a tour in December that looks like it’s going to happen. Then hit the road some more next year.
TE: Hopefully that tour brings you back to Victoria.
JGRGRY: I’d love to come back.
TE: Now the question I’m sure everyone wants to know. How long does it take to do your makeup?
JGRGRY: The makeup takes about an hour and a half to two hours to get on and usually by the time I’m done the show and in a hotel I don’t care to take it off. So it takes the matter a couple days for it all to come off.
TE: Customs will be fun for you tomorrow…
JGRGRY: Exactly. They’ll be like “…and what were you doing?” [laughs].