A life less ordinary, that’s for damn sure! – Grego
“I always had my ‘go-to’ anchor. That anchor for me was always music”– Grego
Being of Irish descent, I’ve always had a soft spot for the lucht siúil, or ‘walking people’. Though the majority of ‘gorgers’ in the UK may not share the same degree of affection… think Mickey O’Neil from Guy Ritchie’s cult movie, Snatch. Whilst I don’t profess to have great knowledge of the traveling lifestyle, I do find it interesting. There’s an old crusty poster nailed to a wooden board, dead centre of Middle-Somewhere, Nowheresville that reads: “Come! There’s a place for you anywhere. Live the nomadic lifestyle; free to roam and fill your soul”. It’s fluttered around my mind on occasion before being tossed out as an unrealistic endeavor because the truth of it is; the closest I’ve come to embracing nomadism would be the time I ran away from home at fifteen. I returned after a few days; hungry and relishing the prospect of cradling my ‘not-ready-for-independence-hood‘ in clean underwear.
But here’s a man who knows all about venture and adventure having lived his school life as the perpetual new-kid, and has more pins in his travel map than Marie Laveau’s favourite voodoo doll. Toronto-born singer-songwriter, Grego, plays acoustic guitar, finger-picking style, accompanied by a warm yet forlorn vocal.
He has the ability to make a happy song sound sad, in the most positive of ways and it is his outpouring of emotion, his adeptness with the guitar, and the mellow, melancholic, honest vocal that, for me, makes Grego’s music so pleasurable to listen to.
‘Easy listening’ is meant to be something you have on in the background when you’re doing something else, yet everything tends to stop when playing Grego’s tracks… it’s taken me about four hours to write up this introduction and had to break off to give him that feedback; to let him know the effect it has. And during our exchange, my memory jogged back to when I was a kid. I told Grego that I remembered watching my dad listening to music with his headphones on in the evenings, the cigar hanging out of his mouth. He’d have his eyes closed, motionless… I never understood it back then. Yet at this precise moment, I’m my father’s son, sans cigar. Greg replied, “You make sounds and arrangements that at that moment encapsulate some emotion or story you wanted to tell. Through instruments or through words. When someone gets it, well, that it. Everything. In a nutshell. It’s why we do it.”
So… let’s get into it and hear from the man himself…
Hi Greg, thanks for taking the time to talk with us, we really appreciate it! So… Born in Toronto, grew up an explorer, and I believe, now settled in Chile? Do you want to tell us a bit about that?
Well, due to a family breakup at a young age I ended up living like a gypsy for the better part of my youth and it stuck with me throughout my adult life. I went to at least ten different elementary schools in ten different towns and attended at least 3 or 4 high schools, consequently never really establishing any “roots” in the traditional sense of the word. I have lived all over the world and visited over 22 countries and over 80 different cities. (I only know these numbers because I pinned it on a travel map once).
There are certainly some miles traveled there Greg! Which countries have you lived in, and of those, which did you enjoy the most?
I’ve lived in Canada, the USA, Central America, South America, and Europe. Although a lot of the time that was in big cities, I’m a small-town boy at heart. During my nomadic days as a child, I lived in towns as small as 1,500 people. I love the farm, open space, and nature. If I had to pick a major city that I liked most, Amsterdam would certainly stick out as a place I really enjoyed. Toronto would be a very close runner-up. Presently I live in Santiago, Chile and for a city of 7 million, it also has its nice points.
I imagine it must’ve been a really challenging time for you all, initially at least, given the circumstances. How did you adapt to that kind of lifestyle, and how has it impacted you in later life?
Having no fear of drastic change and completely new environments essentially stuck with me through my adult years, and I always had my “go-to” anchor. That anchor for me was always music. I really believe that this crazy, wild and borderless life I’ve had (although initially provoked by some unfortunate circumstances) has provided me with an incredible and rich pallet of colors and emotions that I most certainly would not have experienced any other way. I am the father of six boys from 17 months to 32 years old and have settled down a bit and now with my beautiful wife Ximena and the 3 smallest boys. At some point, ya gotta give in!!
When you say music is your ‘anchor’, can you remember when you first felt the weight of it?
My first interest in music was stimulated by my mother. My father left her with five kids when we were pretty small and she had to find a way to make a living. She had never worked in her life and in those days it was not very traditional for a woman to work out of the house. So, she had to get several jobs to make ends meet. She sung in professional choirs while she was married and had a beautiful voice, so she picked up a guitar one day and learned to play with relatively little effort. Before long she was playing in a band and that was our sole source of family income (aside from us kids delivering newspapers and shoveling driveways in the wonderful Canadian winters). As a result, music became an integral part of our lives as children.
That’s quite an achievement for your mother, learning to play guitar and generate an income with the band!! Can you remember what kind of music she played?
It was predominantly country, but also some folk and pop from time to time. The bands she played in practiced at our house quite frequently and I was always fascinated with the guitar players that came over and jammed. Occasionally she would sneak me into the bars where they played (with the owner’s permission) and, much to my chagrin, invite me up to play on stage with them now and then, sometimes on songs I had never played before. This occurred between 11 and 14 years old, so I was still learning a lot.
Quite nerve-wracking I expect, but also pretty cool to experience something like that. It didn’t put you off obviously!
I was still finding my way around the guitar, but I loved to play. The band members were very kind to me and taught me a lot of cool licks and chord progressions, and they seemed to enjoy sharing their craft with me which of course, made me feel very special at that age, and encouraged me to continue playing.
And so you did… where did those early experiences lead you?
I kept on playing! Mostly folk at first, but in my late teens played lead guitar for a couple years in a heavy rock/pop band, an experience I will never forget and always relish. We had way too much fun (and many fringe benefits). I put music aside for way too long while I chased the mighty dollar, and of course changing responsibilities demanded my full attention.
I can relate to ‘chasing the mighty dollar’, it felt like the right thing to do when I was making those critical life choices as a young adult too. I imagined living my life as a painter in a little studio somewhere but it wasn’t to be. Do you think putting music aside was a good call for you?
Probably the worst mistake of my life. If I could give anyone any advice at a young age, it would be never to give up your passion for art or music … But now I am happy to say I am back in full force and to hell with the responsibilities… they can take a back seat as my music did!
Good advice! Where were you when I needed you!!? Anyway… now you’re back to it, anchor dropped and fully docked, which must feel like a homecoming for you. What was it that brought you back to music?
I picked up a new guitar in January and started mucking about again. In May I think, or late April, I was looking for an online DAW, and just coincidentally Googling brought me to Bandlab. I haven’t looked back since. Five new guitars later and a slew of songs posted. I’m having a blast. I am so pleased with my experience on the BandLab platform. I can honestly say that I have never met so many fantastic and wonderful people nor heard such incredible talent making beautiful art. It’s truly amazing the support that the community gives to its fellow users and musicians. I’m just so pleased!! Thanks so much, BandLab and IAMUR for doing such a great job!
Absolutely! The opportunities for musicians today using platforms like BandLab are pretty incredible. We get to enjoy so much music from people we’d probably never otherwise cross paths with. It’s really thanks to BandLab for enabling us to hear your work! For those that haven’t yet stumbled on your page, how would you describe your style and the type of music you create?
Too easy. Usually sad or melancholic. Love, heartbreak, etc. seems to draw me in during the creative process. I am a half-decent acoustic guitar player I suppose, but I must admit I am a bit lazy for learning difficult progressions and fingerpicking styles. I get by, and most of the music I enjoy playing or want to play is within my current abilities. I am a huge fan of folk, but I like any genre when it is done well.
I want to ask you about your guitar playing, and the lovely collection you’ve pulled together. Are you self-taught or have you taken lessons over the years?
The only lessons I took were when I was about eight years old. The instructor taught me Little Brown Jug, Yankee Doodle, and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and I wanted to learn Crimson and Clover (Tommy James & The Shondells) so bad I could taste it! So I decided (probably erroneously) that lessons weren’t for me. I started a band in grade 4 with two friends and I’ve never taken a lesson since. I would say (modestly) that yes, I had a natural knack for music in general, and the important presence of music in my life via my Mom was what kept me going.
I often look back and wish I’d taken lessons, but I didn’t have the inclination back then. The finger-picking style that you execute so beautifully is a pipe dream for me, I just don’t have that skill-set. What is it about that style of playing that appeals to you?
Well, that certainly is a nice observation because I have always felt I am not a very good “finger-picker”, but it was by accident more than anything. I lost my pick one day and didn’t have another one and didn’t buy another one, haha!! That’s the long and short of it. True story, but seriously, I find that for most folk songs it allows one to accentuate different notes that coincide with the lyrics, melody, and feeling of the song. I rarely use a pick anymore except on songs that require a powerful acoustic “punchy” sound and rhythm, like Jolene for example by Ray Lamontagne, where to get that feel a pick (and the amplification it provides) is essential.
Tell us about those guitars. What’s the one in the photo where you’re sitting on the couch outside with your shades and leather jacket on?
That guitar is a fairly rare guitar and is by far my favorite of the bunch. I heard about it from a friend in Canada and when I started my search for one there were only 3 available for sale in the world, and by fortunate coincidence one of the three was in Chile. It is a Martin HD-16R Adirondack. What makes it special, and better than their flagship D-28, is the Adirondack Spruce top (normally reserved for the most expensive guitars), which gives it incredible resonance and it has scalloped bracing which adds to the great sound. I love that guitar! And it has a lot of aesthetic detail also only found on their most expensive models. It was an anomaly for Martin. That guitar was a very special purchase for me.
It does look absolutely beautiful. What are the other guitars in the second image?
I bought 3 Martins, a Taylor, and a Fender Telecaster (I started with an Ibanez solid mahogany). By far my favorite is the Martin HD-16R Adirondack, but I think what is cool is that they all sound so distinctively different. When I want a very kinda tinny bluegrass sound I use the Little Martin, If I want a punchy low end I use the Martin D10e Road Series, the Taylor I use for adds in a song like a bit of additional picking accompaniment or some background strumming. It’s a very warm-sounding guitar, but I will generally record most songs with the HD-16R.
Sounds like you get a lot of enjoyment from those instruments and love the detail! What gives you the most enjoyment when making music Greg, and what is it about the ‘infinite sadness‘ that draws you in?
I guess just wanting to tell stories that will provoke different emotions in people is my biggest motivation. When people are sad, they like to hear a sad story so they can flush it out. When people are in love, they want to hear other great love stories and so on. I think it’s important as an artist to have experienced or felt extreme emotions in your life, sadness, love, happiness… at some point at least. This allows you to interpret different stories and experiences and deliver them with notes and melodies from the heart and the gut.
Is there a typical approach you take when writing a new song? What’s the process you tend to go through, Greg?
I am generally motivated by a particular event, or story, or in some cases just an idea I suppose, (not very original in that sense I guess). I typically start with the chorus because if that doesn’t work, your song probably won’t work. A good chorus sums up your story, while the verses give the details. Once I’ve gotten through the chorus and verses and I am happy with the story I am telling and the accompanying notes, I will generally try to decide whether or not a bridge or pre-chorus is necessary based on whether or not the addition of it would help drive home a climactic part of the song or build into the chorus, etc, etc. Not certain (frankly doubt) there is anything unique I am doing when compared to any other songwriter. I know we are talking about writing music, so sorry if I digress, but I think covers are also important and there is creativity around a good cover. I never start out with the aim of sounding like the cover and in most cases aim to tell the same story, but my way.
I have noticed that you tend to put your own stamp on covers that you play. When it comes to your preferences and influences, which artists would you say have had the biggest impact on you?
My favorite artists and influencers are James Talyor, Ray LaMontagne, Jim Croce, Cat Stevens, and a whole slew of guitar players of whom there are far too many to mention.
What’s next Greg? What can we expect to hear from you next?
I am working on putting together an album, but on the Bandlab platform, I have mostly posted covers so I have a few originals in the works which I would like to finish before putting the album together. I have posted a few originals on BL and it appears folks think they’re decent so I’ll keep plugging away.
Let’s hope so!! Ok, let’s get into your music. You’d sent in a few tracks, so I took the liberty to put them into a conveniently packaged playlist for our readers to play through. Hope that’s ok! It’s been an absolute pleasure Greg. Thanks for sharing your stories with us, and thank you for the music!