Tony Grey: Stepping out of the Shadows
AAJ: Do you think of yourself as a composer first or as a bass guitarist first, and has that balance shifted in your own mind since recording your first and second solo albums?
TG: Well, I love composing and I wish I had opportunity to do it more, but it's interesting because I never really chose to be a bassist; it was an instrument that was given to me and I didn't know what a bass was when I started.
I always played what I loved, which was playing along with melodies. I never really played along with bass lines. Even at Berklee they were teaching you how to solo before they were teaching you how to play bass. When I practice, I am obsessed with harmony and how it works. It's just like a big puzzle to me. It's very logical but at the same time it's very random.
I just see myself as being a musician and I want to understand and create as many ways as possible of playing, whether that's with bass lines or melodies, solos or whatever. I love chords; I love to just play with the piano. I guess that's where the compositions come from. Just finding strange or really beautiful chordsthat's my biggest passion.
AAJ: Along the way, you've had two of the greatest guitarists as teachers in John McLaughlin and Mike Stern. It seems almost odd that you ended up playing the bass and not the electric guitar.
TG: Yeah, definitely.
AAJ: John McLaughlin is your uncle. What kind of an influence he has been on you?
TG: He's been a huge influence. His music was always around the house when I was a kid, and my mum was always playing his records. I started playing music when I was 19 or 20 years old, which was late on. There were always guitars around the house because my stepdad played. I remember John gave my mum or somebody a guitar when I was really young, so there was one of his guitars lying around the house.
But because I never really played it, I think my stepdad thought I had no real interest in it, and after I broke my back in a car accident, my step dad bought me a bass to see if I was into thatto play along with him, I guess. When I picked up the bass, the first music that was around and that was interesting to me was John's music.
Tony Grey (l) and Martin Valihora (r)
AAJ: When John McLaughlin would come around to your house and pick up a guitar, did he play Burt Bacharach tunes for you or Bitches Brew?
TG: I don't really remember, but he was in Shakti when I was growing up. He took me to a few of their concerts when I was a little kid. When I was a kid, I didn't care; I was just into football and had no interest in it at all.
When I started getting into him, my dad said I should make a little tape of me playing and send it to him. So I remember I learned how to play a Charlie Parker song which I taped and sent to him, and he invited me down to his house in the south of France and I stayed with him a bit, and that helped prepare me to become a professional musician.
AAJ: Chasing Shadows has a kind of Pat Metheny vibe, particularly in the melodic nature of the tunes. This seems to have something to do with Oli Rockberger's contribution to the album, and Greg Maret as well. Is Pat Metheny an influence on you?
TG: Yeah, I love Pat Metheny; he's a beautiful musician and a beautiful soloist. The thing I love about Pat Metheny is when he solos, the melody is there all the time. He's a strong influence for sure, and it comes through, especially with Oli (Rockberger) and Gregoire (Maret)that's their school, totally. It's kind of inevitable really.
AAJ: Your early career began as a pop star in Japan. How formative an experience was that, in terms of the music you write today?
TG: I guess quite a lot, actually, because at that time I'd been at Berklee for about a year, maybe a year and a half, and I went to an audition because a drummer friend of mine who was in his last semester was looking for a gig, so I went along with him and they ended up offering me the gig.
Against the advice of my uncle, my family, I took it. I kind of just wanted to go along for the ride. I was still learning the bass. I'd only been playing a couple of years at that point and I thought it would be good experience. It was a great opportunity.
One of the first things I had to do was learn about seventy pop songs, because the band had this hotel gig first just to get used to playing with each other and the label really wanted us to be performers. So they put us in a hotel in the middle of nowhere in Thailand for fifteen weeks or something like that. I think learning all those tunes and then playing them for all those weeks helped me to really learn how to play the bass. The things I learned on that gig were invaluable.
AAJ: That's a good example of the importance of listening to your own voicedoing what is right for you.
TG: I think you have to. I'd rather make a mistake on my own than just play it safe because someone else has been there and done itthat's how you build your character. I had the craziest time in Southeast Asia, met amazing people and was exposed to a culture I don't think I would ever have seen. It's one of the biggest things in my life, the culture; I love it. It's in my heart and it's in my music. I'm glad I did it and I would do it again in a minute.