Exclusive Interview with talented Kev Gray about his latest project and much more!

Kev Gray's new single, "Time to Live Again," is a release you cannot miss!

The past couple of years have been tough on everyone, and for artists, this was a good chance to make an introspective and inspirational journey into their artistry and passion, discovering new soundscapes still unexplored. Joined by a team of incredible artists, Kev Gray turned the events of the past years into a positive and unifying project enriched by great music and an injection of hope for the future!

Today, at Planet Singer, we have the great pleasure of discovering more about the music and the artistic journey of Kev Gray and The Gravy Train!

Hi Kev, thanks a lot for being here at Planet Singer today. Your latest single is out and sings a fundamental chapter in your career, anticipating more single releases that will be part of your next full-length album. We are thrilled to know more about your artistic journey, so let’s start from the beginning. When did you discover your passion for music?

I was a late bloomer. It took me a long time. If you have a natural talent for something, it is hard to see, as it is just that, natural. You don’t notice it. So when people say you are good at singing or writing songs, it’s like saying you are good at eating or walking: Hey you should be a professional walker!  So I never really thought about it.  But I helped a Canadian friend, Steve Kovacs, finish a song once and he encouraged me to play live. I then started writing wedding songs as presents and my friends encouraged me to do more.  I then went to NYC to play for 3 months and test myself, and came back thinking, yeah maybe I can do this. Eventually, a good friend brought a music producer to a gig in a total dive and he agreed I had potential for singing and song-writing. I got a sponsorship deal and started the Gravy Train rolling. I guess it wasn’t until I started playing in a full band until it got me hooked though. Playing solo, bearing your soul, hearing everyone go silent when they hear your voice is a really powerful experience, but playing with 6-7 people in a packed house, sax, keyboards, triple harmonies, three guitars, is something else, especially with your own songs.  Same same but different. You feel connected to life.

“Time to Live Again” is such a great track! The 80s vibes and the fresh arrangement make the song captivating and intriguing! Can you tell us more about this track and the whole project behind the release?

Thank you! Yeah, this one was my all-time favourites to work on, partly due to the vibe and energy that Thomas brought music-wise, but also because of the story behind it. Last March, I was very happily stuck in lockdown on the Full Moon Party Island of Ko Phangan in Thailand. I was writing and recording deep house music with a Russian DJ, Pasha Vakabular of Hollystone Records, so in a creative zone already. Thomas then sent this banging new track asking for a melody and lyrics as he was stuck at home, too. It immediately took me back to the 80s, growing up as a kid and being free when anything was possible, and being so excited about the future, which contrasted with the world of fear we were now living in. So it inspired me to write a feel-good anthem to help people stay positive and reclaim that excitement for life for a brighter future.

Then somehow, we got John “JR” Robinson involved. Billed as the most recorded drummer of all-time, working with names such as Michael Jackson, Eric Clapton, Lady Gaga, we felt we had a good one when someone of that level and experience agreed to work with us. Thomas had been in contact with John about drum lessons and said, by the way, as you are in lockdown as well, “What do you think of our song? … If you think it’s good enough, then how about some drums … ”. John listened and said, I am in! So naturally, we were elated when he joined the project, especially as he added some real punch to it. So that’s another great lockdown story and evidence of creative people not letting anything get in the way of their passion.

The video was another mountain to climb. I had story-boarded the video idea of a man in the park day-dreaming of life before Covid, where he is successful and with his sweetheart… it then breaks to the new reality where he is homeless, surrounded by cheap booze and sees her walk past with a suave new hunk of man love. As he searches for remnants of booze, a fairy godmother-type figure appears and wags her finger, says – It’s Time To Live Again – and waves the wand turning him into John Travolta. People dance in the park, and life starts again. Sadly, we couldn’t shoot it due to the pandemic restrictions, and then when they were lifted, I severely dislocated my collar bone, and that was that. We did end up with a great video, but it got banned for sexual content – a girl with a sexy top on. The horror … the horror. However, this means we are officially Rock and Roll now, so I am planning to throw a TV out a hotel window and become a junkie in order to play my long-awaited part in the circus.

New singles will follow, shaping the full-length that is expected to be out this year. Will the next singles follow the same vibes, or will each song has its own dimension?

We prioritized a more artistic approach over the commercial, which has its pros and cons. Traditionally, you stick to one genre or don’t stray outside your pigeon-hole too far. The risk is that you won’t be able to own or join a genre and will be hard to market. This is why most bands have to stay in their allotted box purely to make them easy to follow and make money. And this system works, but it is creatively restrictive in some ways.
The benefits are it gives us more artistic freedom and allows us to show our love of all music, both time-wise and with genres. So far, we have had 80s Pop Rock, Tex-Mex Blues, Folk Blues, Country, and Deep House, and have Bossa, Funk, and even Yacht Rock on the way. It’s our own interpretation of a 20th-century Songbook, but with our songs and 2020 themes. One aim is to reintroduce these classic genres by writing about modern themes that people can relate to – such as dealing with Fakebook or modern social issues – which will hopefully open up these vintage periods of music to a modern audience. I mean, just look at all the young kids listening to old 1940s music because they were in a computer game they played every day. They just needed an opportunity. Some people might say, well “, Why don’t I just listen to the original stuff?” but our point is they could only have two topics back then: you love me, or you don’t love me. We have free rein with lyrics these days, whereas they didn’t back then.

We are doing singles as it doesn’t make sense to release a couple of singles than an album anymore. That system is essentially dead. Nobody runs down to the shop anymore on the day of release – holds the LP or CD and runs home to play it 100x. That excitement has all gone.

So we think if each song is different, then eventually listeners will see the binding thread in our songs – a love of expression, a love of lyrics, and a desire to tell stories and messages through music. It’s a big ask and a huge risk, but you have to push boundaries, and it also makes me feel like a real artist – poor but proud haha!

Where do you find your inspiration?

The lyrics are usually stories from everyday people I meet. I have a blues song called Working to Make a Dime about a great friend of mine who was married three times before 30, so he was always working 24/7 to pay for his wives. ( He has been married six times now, so need to update it LoL). I wrote another about a friend who came to Tokyo and went to a kinky club with a surprise ending. Sometimes about my own life: The Mountain is about the subject of karma after I pulled a guy off the railroad track, and my Bossa-Nova song Dirty Downward Dog is about guys who go to yoga for dubious reasons other than fitness. Sometimes, it is just from the news or stories I hear – I wrote Letters From Tijuana about a chronically ill man who sent his girlfriend to Mexico to buy him a ton of cheap medication and she never came back. They are pretty esoteric, but the latter got me my last sponsorship for that exact reason.

Musically, all my inspiration comes from the old days as they were just pure musicians back then as all they did was play music all day trying to make the best music possible, 

which is why it is better. Can we say that about modern music? The old singers had no autotune and banged out masterpieces in one take, my favourite example being Gladys Knight’s, Neither One of Us, where she came in late night, did it once, and that was it. It’s flawless. If you listen to the way the Byrds, Beach Boys and The Beatles talk about each other, they were in awe of each other’s music, and it took them higher. I can’t remember listening to anyone new in the last 20 years that has truly inspired me apart from Eminem, just for his intelligence and use of wordplay and lyrical metre. I mean, when was the last great new genre of music – the 90s? Britpop, Grunge? 

So for me, the singing was better; the musicians were better, and the songwriting and lyrics were better, and this period of brilliance inspires me to try to get close to that.

In your album, you have been joined by talented musicians such as Thomas Hilse (Synths and also co-writer, arranger, and producer of the single), Giacomo Pasquali (Guitar), Oliver Frerichmann (Bass), John Robinson (Drums), Larry Salzman (Percussion), and Sanna Hartfield (Backing Vocals). This international collaboration brought incredible value to this excellent song. How was it to work with such excellent talents?

For me, it proves music is magic. How is it possible? How does it work? Someone sends me an instrumental from the other side of the world. I add a melody and lyrics, and it gets sent to someone else on the other side of the world, who independently adds to it, improves it. The producer then adds it all together and then Ta-dah: The Prestige. A lot of the great musicians – most notably Paul Macartney – says humans are just conduits or vessel for music. I see it like this: we think we use instruments to make music, but ultimately music uses us as instruments to make music. It’s magic. I have no musical training and know zero about theory, and I don’t want to. I don’t the trick revealed.

Working together with a bunch of strangers based in 30 countries solely online also shows the power of music to unite people for a common good. That is magic, too.

What’s your creative process, especially during the pandemic? How did you guys work on this single?

I usually record the first melody and lyrics that come out naturally. This may seem primitive but also the most instinctive and gives a solid guide for the real lyrics to build around. I see it as making a trail through a forest. Your first trail is what seems natural at the time, finding the best route. After a few times, you might alter the route slightly, but after a while you have paved the best way through. 

I usually write a song on guitar or sing a melody into my phone and it develops from there. I bring ideas and jam it out with others or give them what is in my head. However, pandemic recordings are all online so the music has to come solo from one to the next, so each track is the individual interpretation of each musician. Often it does not work, and we have to try different musicians, instruments or request new takes until we are happy. Then the mixing, which again would usually be done together, is again online and takes ages compared to a studio. Everyone has a different taste, different ears, so there is a lot of back and forth. It is a very long process, but when it is finally done, the hard work is worth it. Changing Lanes, for example, is just an incredible piece of production. Thankfully, Time To Live Again was almost ready to go when the instrumental was sent to me, but JR’s years of experience at the highest level really did give it an extra punch to it. I recorded the vocals as a guide in Hollystone Records in Thailand, and we tried doing them again to see if I could do even better, but the feel of the beach and the situation I was in wasn’t there the second time. I think you can really feel I am stuck on an island singing from my soul in that one.

When will we have the pleasure of seeing you live or on a live stream?

I am in Phoenix, Arizona, now, trying to salvage the Time To Live Again Tour to promote the new songs. I can’t very well tell people to do it if I am sitting at home watching garbage TV and getting fat. I feel a responsibility to get out there, get trashed, and rock and roll all night, kind of every night. It’s a tough burden, but I feel I have to try. Man must suffer for his art.

We were supposed to do a transatlantic tour from the UK to the US, but with the travel bans, that got nixed. I wasn’t even sure if I would get into the US. We were looking at LA, Phoenix, Las Vegas San Francisco, Seattle, and maybe New York and Denver. But with the Delta variant and some states putting in vaccine passports, it is getting harder to keep this project going. So we will see what happens. If not, then I can chill out, play locally, and write some songs I owe from crowdfunding commissions.

My next live stream will probably be ad hoc, maybe from the desert, a cave, a house party. They are easy to set up, so stay tuned and subscribe to our channels and sites!

When you were a kid and said your father when you grew up you wanted to be a musician, he said, “Well, you can’t do both.” If you could travel back in time and meet your younger self, making the first steps in the music industry, what advice would you give him?

I could probably write a book about all the mistakes I’ve made and learned from. First, I would say put yourself in a creative environment where you can develop your talent and blossom more quickly. If you plant something in the desert in infertile ground with no water, then it may grow but very slowly, plus it is really hard work to constantly water that plant day after day. If you plant in fertile land with plenty of natural water, it will bloom more quickly. You have to feed your talent and put it in a place it can grow. Plus, good energy creates more good energy. Surround yourself with like-minded people with similar ambitions and drive, and dreams.
If you are not in a happening place, then don’t give up; you just have to make your scene and opportunities yourself.
You also have to be able to see and take opportunities and help when they come. I turned down a lot of help, mainly out of courtesy. Nowadays, I jump on them.

If you are a singer, I would also say find your own voice. In my earliest recordings, I was unintentionally mimicking my favourite singers. Eventually, my own voice came through. I see so many performers just copying the latest trend as they want the same success, so they pretty much all sound the same, and it sounds kind of fake. It is totally understandable, but authenticity and ownership of your own sound is really important but it tales time and awareness. You have to sound like you not someone else.

Finally, I would say try to see the value in what you do in more than just money/fame. When I first started out, I was playing dives. I would never have imagined I would be traveling the globe, playing festivals, high profile venues, constantly seeing new places, and meeting great people from all over the world. For me, the latter is probably the thing I love about being a musician now. While not mega-rich or mega-famous, for me, I am already living a dream lifestyle.

What are your plans for the future?

We finished over 20 songs, so they will be releasing more singles every couple of months and aim to have an album launch early next year, followed by a second album launch later on that year. So exciting times for us. Our next release is a Progressive House version of Time To Live Again, out on Aug 26 with a club-style video. We want people to dance. The followed by a happy “yacht rock” summer ukelele and brass track called Mine Til Morning.

In winter, I plan to rebuild the Igloo Livehouse and Bar, just bigger and better. I was quarantined in a hotel in the Olympic ski resort of Hakuba, Japan, last year. So with my friends, Conor and Kat, we built an igloo on the hotel roof, put a bar in there, and live-streamed shows. This time it will be higher and wider so more people can enter. It is going to be amazing!

Next year, I will hopefully be able to do a tour of Europe and the US to promote the second album, but we will see what happens.

Kev, it was such a pleasure having you with us today! Your music is inspiring, and we cannot wait for the next release! Is there anything you would like to say to our readers?

I have a wonderful photo of my Dad when he was in the Navy, going through the Suez Canal. He was wearing a fez and was laughing with his friends. He sent it to my Mother with a simple message to cheer her up while he was gone. The message was pretty simple: Keep Smiling.

So when times are tough, I Keep Smiling. I hope you all can, too! It really is Time To Live Again.

Check the links below, discover more about Kev Gray and his music, and don’t forget to add his tracks to your favorite playlists!

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