Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, Gray Gurkin began his musical journey at an early age. Writing and performing songs in local coffeehouses at the age of 16 gave him the opportunity to build his audience. During the 90’s, Gurkin performed with his band “Hubcap Fetish” in Austin, Texas. Later, Gurkin returned to Richmond and further built his songwriting platform in 2002. He commuted back and forth from his home base to Nashville, penning for the country music scene there. In 2007, Gray Gurkin returned to his roots and released his album, “Horseshoes”. Now, he has a new album to share called “Signs of Hope”, out on iTunes. I talk to Gray about what drew him to music, his shift from indie rock to country, and the differences between the music scene of the 90’s and today.
1) I was impressed to learn that you began songwriting and performing in coffeehouses at 16! What gravitated you to music?
Ha, a dysfunctional family, a little truth there. Music is a great outlet to escape to a happy place or just release built up emotion. It still works!
2) What is your songwriting process? Has the process changed over the years?
I always try to write from the heart. When I learned the Nashville rules I followed them for a bit but reverted back to being me & honest. Stay true but appreciate everyone’s way of writing. My process is when it hits me I roll with it that includes staying up all night if it’s a strong idea that I’m feeling. The main change I’ve made over the years is editing (i.e. listening back over and over) so it’s a better song when it’s almost there. It’s the difference between a good song and a great one.
3) What inspired you to shift from indie rock to country?
I traded in my Doc’s for kicker boots. Steve Earle, BR549, Dwight Yoakham caught my ear. I hooked up a U-Haul trailer to the back of my Chrysler LeBaron and drove from VA Beach to Austin Texas. But hey that was Texas; they had cool country influence but not “industry country music”. True Business Country Music hit me when I lived in Nashville for a brief bit as a songwriter. I was there for song writing appointments and music business exclusively. It was cool but different. I commuted back and forth from my main base of Richmond, VA to Nashville for almost 2 years. The inspiration in country music is a great honest story.
4) You performed in rock bands in the 90’s and early 2000’s. How does being in a band vs. being a solo artist differ for you? What do you prefer?
I love them both, and they are two different beasts for sure. The big sound of a band is more rewarding but a lot of work goes into it (rehearsals, drama, expectations, smoke machines, etc.). My solo acoustic shows are much more intimate. I can prepare for shows on my time and the shows usually start earlier, which is nice. I tell a lot more jokes at my solo gigs. Ha ha.
5) What made you decide to be a solo artist?
Well, I started off as a solo artist at 16 playing the Main Street Grill in Richmond, Virginia. So that’s why that will always be in my blood. Over the years I’ve had several band projects but it does always seem to swing back to me being solo. When it’s just me I know what my expectations are and I don’t have to figure that out with other musicians. It’s much more flexible. However, at the end of the day my goal is moving my songwriting forward. If it’s in one of my band projects, me solo or even another artist recording my song I’m happy if the song is getting out there and being represented in a good light.
6) In 2007, you worked on your musical projects “Glitter Boot” and then “Lost Souls”. How did it feel to hear the songs you’ve written come to life onstage?
Big Sound! I am fortunate to have had and continue to have a talented group of musicians around me as I continue down this music road. I love the big stage with these talented folks sharing the dream! There is nothing like playing a big venue with a nice crowd listening. It’s the Rock Star dream.
7) Tell us more “Signs of Hope”. It’s an interesting title for your album. What messages do you hope the public will take from your album?
A positive message, we all need a little hope! I use the line Signs of Hope in the track Miracle on the CD. It’s an inspirational song and I’m glad I got to show that side of me. Most of the songs I had written for country demo’s and they were being pitched in Nashville. I wanted to record the songs in my voice and style. It was a real bare bones approach and I cut all my initial vocals and acoustic guitar tracks live at Snake Oil studios here in Richmond. I had a few good friends come in add a little bit of gloss on a few tracks but by it was the song doing the work. No drums were used on the CD so it’s very close to what you will hear if you see be perform as a solo or duo.
8) Who are your biggest musical influences?
That’s a big list. I worked at Peaches Music when I was in college and it changed my life. I was into just Rock but by working there I learned to appreciate all types of music. A few I have to mention would be Steve Earle, The Rolling Stones, Dobie Gray, The Gin Blossoms, AC/DC and KISS.
9) You’ve traveled and lived in North Carolina, Austin, Texas and Richmond, Virginia. What has been your favorite city and music scene to perform in?
Each town is special and unique. On the Outer Banks of NC I lived and played right on the beach 5 nights a week. I was young, foot loose and fancy free. In Austin my favorite place to play was at Lucy’s retired surfers bar on Sixth Street. There was a cool alt country scene I was involved in at that time. The band Reckless Kelly had the most commercial success out of everyone coming out of that scene. I also had a music production company there called Pickle Productions. I really was starting to figure out the business side of things there. It was a great experience in Austin. Richmond is my hometown so it’s always nice to see family and friends at the shows. Other cities I loved to play in were Atlanta and Athens, GA.
10) You began singing/songwriting professionally in the 90’s. With the explosion of social media and iTunes today, how has your career changed?
It’s exciting stuff. There are some pro and cons. The good news is you can reach a ton of people via the web / Facebook and other music sites. The days of hey sign my mailing list are over. The downside is the floodgates opened. There are so many people that say they are a serious band but I do question how serious they really are. If you want to set up a band profile you can. I do love interacting with folks.
11) What upcoming projects can we expect for 2013?
I’m totally excited about my new band project, BEFORE FALLING! It’s a four-piece rock project based out of RVA (Richmond, VA). We are all a bunch of creative’s that love to rock. It feels great to put back on my electric guitar and rock out.
12) What advice would you like to give to other aspiring artists out there who would like to pursue a career in music?
There are a lot of avenues in this business. I respect wedding bands as much as I do original artist/bands. Choose a path that fit’s you and your life. Know who you are and be true and professional. If you go the cover route do a killer version of Billie Jean. If you go the original route have a big wallet and lots of passion!
Gray Gurkin’s album “Signs of Hope” is out now on iTunes and Amazon.com. To learn more about Gray Gurkin, go to graygurkin.com