Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Troy Gregory - 3 / 14 - Magic Stick

Make Death Be Outta Breath:
Troy Greogry

(words: milo)

"There’s a certain resonance that just made me feel that it was time to move on…," Troy Gregory says in his characteristic swiftly-ranted speak, "…time to burn the other books and write a new one…out of your own blood."

Whenever I run into Troy it seems he’s working on a minimum of 5 different things.
Over the last few years, he’s balanced songwriting for three different bands, writing screenplays, and editing/distributing his latest film (World War Love). He’s had to whether the back-for-a-week/gone-for-months give and take of preparing for tours, as a hired gun for one of his many friend’s bands, (recently as bassist for the Dirtbombs). Also, he’s been teaching music at the School of Rock in St. Clair Shores – reminding the kids there that he’s not a babysitter, a parent, or a teacher, he’s a fucking musician.

But all this running, (around the world, around town, in and out of different recording/rehearsal spaces,) began to grow ever more ludicrous – and frankly, counterproductive to some of the other projects he’d left on shelves over the years, (specifically screenwriting, filming, and stripped down acoustic-based songwriting). Troy points to two things that inspired his retreat, regroup and rebirth. "The straw that broke the camel and all that noise," Troy said, was losing his treasured worldly possession (his rickenbacker bass that he’s had since age 13) through eastern European airlines and having to spend his 10th wedding anniversary away from his beloved Laura.

But other things in life were jostling the often-clad-in-black songwriter: his recent electro/rock group The Stepsisters came to an all-too-early end and his long-helmed, beloved goth-punk/brit-pop collective The Witches drifted into uncertain hiatus.

So, Troy decided to close some doors, block out the noisy mess and settle back into his local base and work on what he wanted – to embrace what could be the freest moment in his life in more than 5 years.

"I don’t wanna be corny, but there’s almost this metaphysical, spiritual thing that’s making me go on my own, in a way. Maybe you could call it biological, but, just working on things yourself…it’s alchemic in a way. You’re deconstructing yourself and putting yourself back together and whether it’s a combination of memories, or things invented, or things happening in the moment…"

For Troy, the loss of revered soul/blues singer Nathaniel Mayer last year got him thinking deeply about life, about how artists are remembered, about his own work – the wheels of his heart and mind started spinning. Troy, along with childhood friend Matthew Smith, recorded and toured with Mayer through 07-08 for his final album, before passing away after a stroke in 2008.

Troy has been playing music for more than 30 years. He’s been in bands since he was a teenager, jammed with Metallica at age 19, went through the metal scene out west in the early 90’s, rode through the garage rock explosion in the late 90’s and he’s toured the world with the Dirtbombs.
Yet, he valued his time with Mayer as a particularly inspirational experience, saying that it reminded him that, in music, "there was always still something to learn…"

"I cannot count the amount of people I’ve probably sat down and played with and the amount of songs I’ve played on," said Troy. "Every day of my life it’s been my music. It’s not like one day I just don’t think about it, you don’t clock out." Inspiringly, he rambles about the metaphoric image of the champion boxer in some old grainy 30’s studio film. "He was the underdog to begin with. He’s on the ground and his eye’s half-open. He sees the kid in the stands shouting to him, ‘Get up champ!’ And the woman he loves, she’s all ‘Oh no!’ And the shady mob guys that were betting him to do the fall are grinning in his face, and the asshole he’s fighting is having the same look. And it’s one of those things, is he gonna stay down? And he jumps back up and he knocks the sucker down…"

"Especially this winter," says Troy. "It’s been such a shitty winter for everybody…It just makes you work! It just makes you try harder. It’s instinctual, because it’s like you could be a victim, eat or be eaten and that type of thing, make death have to run after you. Why make it any easier, make death be out of breath when he has to take yours…"

So over the last two years, (in between tours, mostly) Troy’s been cataloging demos onto his iTunes; songs he’d been writing in cars, bedrooms and basements. "Every time I write a song I put it into my iTunes – and when it got to 100 songs, I said it was time to concentrate on my stuff. Maybe I’m a boring person. I don’t wanna do so much of anything else. What are my activities?" He repeats the question to his wife, Laura, whose seated beside him and she shakes her head with a knowing chuckle. "Music and film" comes the response.

"It’s not difficult to get me to be a mercenary," he says, referencing his sit-ins with friends like Outrageous Cherry or The Volebeats. He hints that he may not want to join another band, ever again – but quickly clarifies that he could never turn down helping a friend…that things change…
But at the same time he’s enjoying freedom. To be able to just sit down and play (some of these new songs on) acoustic guitar, or maybe conjure an army of synthesizers, or maybe conduct his own ragtag spook-fest orchestra – whatever, wherever, however, man – it’s going to happen, cuz Troy’s got the songs. And, for once, he’s got some time.

His first major full length film, World War Love is completed. It tells a tale of pain in suffering, pain in hate, pain in love and love in pain…the mystic, mad world of music…with a cast that includes Nathaniel Mayer, Kim Fowley, members of Electric Six, 3-D Invisibles and Outrageous Cherry. At print, Troy is working on a DVD release as well as a world premier on the horizon – "hopefully in Detroit and New York. I just wanna start working on another one, there’s a bunch of other scripts. I loved doing [World War Love], it drove me crazy too because I edited the whole freaking thing, and scored it, as well as wrote it. My brother Todd shot it, helped out with some of the script. It’s great cuz there’s tons of people in it…(some) that got it at the last minute…" (full disclosure: this writer, included).

On March 14th, Troy returns his solo work to the stage, at the Magic Stick with Circus Boy and Marco Polio and the New Vaccines. He’ll perform material from 2002’s Sybil and 2004’s Laura. The 100+ songs he’s catalogued will now be organized into four full length albums: Gretyl, Agatha, Dorothy & Tammy, telling "a compelling tale of laughter, joy and loneliness…" -hopefully released in successive seasons throughout the coming year. In the meantime, he’s prepared a new single (the Double Bubble 7") featuring "Cinderella on Ice" and "Heartache Miserable Heartbreak."

Troy will be joined by a cast of friends and musicians that may or may not shift for each local performance. Joining him the 14th: Scott Michalski, Mary Alice, Jackson Smith, George Jacobson and Scotty Hagen.

" ‘What do you mean you wrote 100 songs?’" Troy mocks/repeats reactions of those he encounters. "Well, what did you do last night?" he quips. "It’s something you just do, it just comes out. It’s nt like a habit, it’s not even like I’m forced to…you (just) find yourself doing it, you rush to do it."

He chides "guys my age, who go, ‘I’m too old to do rock n roll.’ Well, that sucks for you, fortunately I’ve never thought to redeem myself is always to have a teen audience. If anything I never write for people in my own age group, at whatever age I’m at…I never wanted to be a teen star anyway. I always thought that, even as a kid, the older artists had a little more something to say, because they lived through something." He references, again, his friend Mayer.

"If I wanted to make a million in this industry, I would go about things a completely different way."

I tell him he’d have to compromise a lot more and he submits that that is precisely the point. But, just for fun, what would be Troy’s formula for million-dollar success in the mainstream music world of 2009? "I know exactly what I’d do: I’d put a house/dance beat to Bachman Turner Overdrive’s ‘Takin Care of Business,’ I’d get some girls singing it through a little girl voice and do a hot video for it…"

Troy looks to tour this summer: be it solo, be it with Laura, be it with a band… as the Devo song goes: Freedom of choice…is what he’s got.

3 – 14 – Magic Stick – with Circus Boy and Marco Polio and the New Vaccines

1 comment:

Christopher said...

Great write up, Troy is a genius in the truest sense - Wacky , knowledgeable about his loves , and damn talented. Anyone who's ever had the pleasure to work with him knows it. I started following his jams in the metal days...and got to meet him during the "garage" days. That said, he has the chops to be everything Kenneth Anger is and more. Kudos/ hope to see a DVD release of this film !