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ON THE SPOT with GRAYtheband

Updated: Sep 7, 2023

Our 'ON THE SPOT ' interview series highlights individuals throughout the creative community for their contributions to art and culture. Putting these artists "on the spot" we created a space where creatives and innovators tap into the conversation to uplift and continue to inspire the creative community. Next up is...GRAYtheband.

GRAYtheband, an alternative, neo-soul, and R&B project based in Edmonton, is led by the talented multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Gray Ford. Alongside a rotating group of artists, GRAYtheband skillfully combines traditional instrumentation with modern production, resulting in a compelling interpretation of the genre. Recently, Ford has successfully concluded the recording of their highly anticipated debut album, entitled "All Done." This album explores the profound complexities of modern society, delving into themes of relationships, self-preservation, and the universal experiences of love and disparity. It promises to be a meaningfully thought-provoking musical journey that resonates with people from all walks of life, as we collectively navigate the triumphs and challenges of our world.

Photographed by Emily Welz

Take us back, do you recall the moment you told yourself "I'm going to make this my

career", describe that moment. What made you pursue this career?

I have wanted to music full-time since I became sentient. However, I have yet to make that complete transition. I appreciate the interview opportunity and its role in making that transition a reality.

How would you describe your artistic style?

Imbued with sex, love, and disparity.

Mental health is important and the life of an artist has its ups and downs. What has

been the hardest change in your life you had to go through and what helped you get

through that time?

I had to support my parents through significantly challenging times. I had to make adjustments like intermittently dropping out of university to work more and provide care. The good news is that they are increasingly thriving and doing much better. Throughout that time, I had no choice but to stay focused on providing support despite adversity. Music, bandmates, and my friends were my lifeline. I am still reeling from that time and learning how to live outside of chaos.

Are there any specific artists or movements that have influenced your work?

This question always gets me dizzy. I could go on forever. My parents have both greatly influenced my musical taste. From a young age, I was exposed to everything from reggae, punk, soul, jazz, blues and new wave to opera, rock, and old country. To be concise, my mother gave me Sade and Carole King, while my father gifted me The Clash, Otis Redding, and Prince.

Over time, what influenced me most was everything all at once. During the day, the radio was always on, everything seeped in. I could still hum a Whitesnake guitar solo, though I can’t tell you why. As a kid, I incessantly watched music videos, scrolling all the available channels furiously. First BET, Much Music (Canada), Muchmore Music, and MTV.

If you had to title this chapter in your life, what would it be?

“Butter On Toast” because I’m spread thin between full-time work, grad school, and music. I’m pleased to be busy, though grant me any reason to do this all hours of my waking life, and I’m in.

When was the last time you did something for the first time?

I finally Snowboarded in the mountains only four hours away from me. I’ve always skateboarded, and when the opportunity to snowboard locally arose, the skills translated, but I had never ridden down a mountain. That was something else.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Something like “trying and failing will only get you exactly where you are now, not trying.” It is somewhat of a platitude, though meaningful if actualized.

Has there ever been a time when you felt like giving up and starting a new path? What

keeps you focused?

The cliché thought of sitting at a bar in my later years babbling on about what could have been had I done this or that often plays through my head. Even now, I feel behind schedule with respect to my idea of where I would be, though we only get older and dreams become less vivid.

What has been the most exciting thing that has happened to you recently?

Today, I successfully had a bylaw ticket for a parking infraction withdrawn because I aptly proved that the bloody machine was out of order. Take pictures, folks!

In all seriousness, completing my first year of grad school for social work, releasing our first two singles, and our video for “All Done.”

In your opinion, whom do you consider to be a visionary? What about them do you

admire most?

Off the top of mind, Janelle Monae, Solange Knowles, Twin Shadow and David Byrne. I admire the sheer force of independence and theatre-like willingness to commit to their respective concepts, visions, and production.

How do you show up for yourself? As in, what’s self-care look like for you?

I’ve started going to therapy to unravel the chaos and embrace self-compassion. I’m desperately trying to get more sleep, albeit a challenge. I’ll sing, either acapella or to some music, while in the car or wherever. It’s self-soothing, yet it reminds me of who I am and what brings me joy. Like most vocalists, I’m singing on autopilot half the time, unaware. I’ll catch myself in the corridors and stairwells of my workplace. Here and there, I’ll be found out by an onlooker and halt my tune, somewhat embarrassed. At the same time, other staff have asked me why I’m not singing today.

Edmonton-based rapper, K-Riz, who featured on the second single, '"Bit Late."

The past years have been life-changing. What's something new you've learned or

discovered about yourself in the past 3 years? How have you applied that to your work?

That despite an air of confidence and excessive sociability, I remain tethered to some unhelpful thinking styles and insecurity. I’ve discovered this music thing requires one to be somewhat vulnerable publicly. That can be hard, though that nearly black-out rush of favorable neurotransmitters one is gifted while performing always settles the nerves.

What was the inspiration for your new project? Can you tell us more about the meaning

behind the music?

The people consistently came out to shows despite not having a lick of merchandise, including recorded music, for years. I pitched a nearly dissertation-length proposal and received funding to record our album on this premise. The draft was cutely named “An Overdue Debut.” It’s been a long time coming. On the album, there are a few tunes that some folks might be familiar with, while others are more recent and reflect the overarching meaning behind the music, one might say. As time passed while releasing singles and anticipating the album release, I developed a new understanding of the project. The album is bookended by equally outlining songs that differ somewhat sonically from our more alternative R&B sound. Some have described them as “anthemic folk.” The first track signals the acceptance and embodiment of a particularly challenging time in one’s life and offers the sentiment that it is “All Done.” At the same time, the last song is a testament to the gratitude of newfound and everlasting love. I feel there’s somewhat of a death and birth theme now, which in hindsight, reflects and storybooks my experience.

Describe the creative process. When did you know you had the final cut?

I can just hear my bandmates, our engineer, and the videography team laughing hysterically. They might say I’ll never think of something as “final.” Going into the studio and filming the videos, I’ve tried to genuinely and insightfully, however painful, embrace openness and let the process unfold through the hands of a collaborative effort. Letting insecurity dressed up in the terms “neurosis” or “quirk” has not worked to date. Other than this part, my creative process with writing has included simply me and a guitar to my new favorite, writing while producing a beat or bass line out of nothing. Bursts of creativity come and go like anything, so I regularly capture even the slightest hint of an idea on my phone to review later.

What do you feel has been your biggest growth as an artist?

Proposing for grant funding, recording the album, and beginning to film videos and performances. Actually, the most significant growth has been forging bonds and relationships with what is becoming a team. Family happens when you share this deep and intimate part of yourself with other people who are simultaneously sharing and exchanging their art and craft. Love, hope, and inspiration are all bundled up as joy with a bow on top. Incomparable.

Following your dreams comes with many ups and downs. What would say is the hardest

thing about following your dreams?

The growing disparity and inequality characteristic of our nearly globalized neoliberal project that devalues life and affects our most marginalized fellow humans. In short, our old insatiable friend capitalism - the very thing that commodifies and exploits art. Quite the paradox for musicians nowadays.

In your opinion, what do you think is not fair about today's music industry?

Fair is not a term that holds any relevance in a world where profit reigns supreme over human dignity and the health of our planet.

How do you hope your artwork resonates with viewers or impacts the world?

I can’t cut it as a protest artist. I don’t have the simultaneous nerve and cool-headedness to pull it off. For me, music is the closest thing I know as sacred and an expression of what we might call the soul. It’s nice to ooze out whatever is of mind. Or not. Many of my songs start with simple sounds and vowels, then I try to work in language. I get mainly motivated to speak on political things consuming me every so often. I carefully note not to do so in any way that pushes the listener away. Even if aligned, the forwardness can be hard to digest. I thought how cool it might be to have songs sound sexy and inviting only for the listener to share a moment of deeper reflection. Unobtrusive, approachable. Not to sound didactic, but to honor my conscious feelings while simultaneously honoring the spirit involved in writing.

What's next for you artistically?

To get back on stage. I miss that. We will release a video for “‘Bit Late,” produce a live performance film, release the album, and then play for people as much as possible. I miss you!

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