Ray Greiche and J Edmund T Preview Their New Band
written by Matt Mrowicki
I want to create this entity, this band, as some kind of force ..."
Being a musician isn't an easy life. Even most successful working musicians put in countless hours of practice, traveling and preparation, for those special evening hours when the magic comes together, and the bills are paid. Ray Greiche was setting on this journey as a solo performer, earning a solid reputation in New York City venues and clubs, and issuing a solo album, Everything's Fine, in December 2000.
All of his efforts to that point, though, were merely a prologue to chapter 2. While putting together a band to support his solo efforts, he met guitarist J Edmund T. The two struck up a friendship that led to a re-shaping of both their musical paths, and the creation of a new band, Redshell, in the early part of 2002. After auditioning for additional members, the band is working on a new album of material. Greiche and J Edmund T have been playing shows as a duo, with sporadic Redshell gigs serving as a warm-up for what should be a busy and productive 2003. Currently, they are putting the finishing touches on the band's first EP. A preview copy heard by Chorus and Verse contains six tracks, and sounds almost ready to go. Fans of Greiche's earlier work should be pleased at the progression of his sound, as well as the extra touches his collaboration with J Edmund T brings to the mix.
So, Ray Greiche, New Jersey native following his musical muse into the streets of Manhattan, and J Edmund T, Berklee College alumn and multi-talented artist, have come together to see if their personal chemistry can create music for wider and more diverse audiences. They've also come together to talk about the birth of Redshell with Chorus and Verse, and give us all a preview of a band hoping to make their mark around the world's most famous island, and far beyond.
You started your career as a solo artist. You formed the Ray Greiche Band to support your first CD, but after meeting J Edmund T, switched gears and formed Redshell and started performing other gigs as a duo. What made you change direction towards a more collaborative approach, and what are you hoping to do with Redshell that you didn't previously?
Ray Greiche: I've always wanted to be in a band. Performing as a solo artist was more about having no one else to play with than by choice. I was always looking, but no combination ever lasted. I guess I met someone with whom I could collaborate with. Every musician knows it's not easy to find other people you can click with, personally and/or musically. One look through the Village Voice and you'll see hundreds of musicians searching for the right fit every week. As a singer/ songwriter, you can certainly hire your own band and tell them what and what not to play and when. As you work with people you trust, you begin to listen to what they have to offer, and that hopefully makes everything better in the end.
With Redshell, I'm hoping to get the music out there in its best form. I'm looking to make a great record, with a great band. I want to create this entity, this band, as some kind of force. Four or five people working together can play rock and roll better than one.
A couple of years ago you moved from your native New Jersey to live in New York City. Was moving into New York a career choice for you, a means of getting into a more creative environment, or was there another reason you decided to relocate?
RG: Honestly, the move was out of necessity. I grew up in a suburban town and it's safe to say there's not a lot of action. There weren't many places for live music, guitar lessons, singers, etc. I didn't think I was going to get discovered in Norwood, you know? NYC has everything to offer and then some. Plus, I really fell in love with the city. It was a no brainer.
Walking the streets is one of the best things to do. It's a good way to learn your way around when you first get here, and even now because everything is always changing. I also find walking in the city a great way to write.
Your bio talks about the chemistry between the both of you. Can you describe that chemistry in a little more detail, and where do you think that connection comes from?
RG: First, I think we both share a similar sense of humor and sense of fun. We really have a good time together on stage and it probably shows. As a teenager, you always want your best friends to be in the band. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work that way. So, we clicked on a personality level first.
Musically, I think I have more of a straightforward rock and roll/folk influence.
J Edmund T: People our age couldn't help but be affected by MTV in the eighties. I went from Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, to Parliament and James Brown, then to Prince, and eventually to free jazz, which I was playing around the city when I met Ray
RG: Is that jazz with no cover charge?
JET: No cover charge and no money to pay the band! Actually, our musical influences cross plenty, and there is chemistry that comes from there.
J Edmund T will be producing Redshell's first EP, which will feature 6 of your original songs. How will these songs differ from the material on your solo album, and what stylistic differences will his production bring to your music?
RG: Although I still wrote these songs, the Redshell record will differ in the fact that it will sound like an electric band. It'll have each member's influence. My first record, I labored over and approved each sound that is on there. I've learned to let go some of that control this time around. Last time all the ideas were mine, because they had to be. This time, for example, there are instruments J Edmund T suggested that I never would have thought to include. Yet they work. It's all a learning process, and one that I'm eager to go through. The major stylistic difference between the two will be J Edmund T's guitar playing. You'll hear it right away that this not a folk record, it is a rock record.
What are your philosophies as a producer? Do you consider your role one of capturing an artist's sound as faithfully as possible, or do you see a producer as a more active role in shaping and adding to the sound of the recording? What appeals to you about Ray's compositions and what do you feel you contribute to the music?
JET: A producer must be able to adapt to the players, the style, and the situation. Different artists require different things, and certainly different genres require specific approaches. The one thing that does not change in my approach as a producer is the understanding that a live performance and a record are two entirely disparate entities. The secret ingredient to a successful track is what I like to term 'ear candy' - what we need to do to bring a song to life, that's what we do. So my role as a producer can be anything from just making sure the band is recorded properly, to rewriting music, to writing horn arrangements, to actually engineering a recording session.
I enjoy working with Ray because he has a strong harmonic and lyrical sense. The music is very accessible which gives us a lot of options. In terms of my own contributions to Ray's work, I'd have to say that I'm able to bring outside colors and sounds within the structures Ray has created, opening up the music to a much wider audience.
How long have you known each other, and how did you first meet and become acquainted with each other's music? How long after your first meet did you begin to discuss working together and the idea to form Redshell develop?
RG: We've known each other for almost two years now. My guitar player at the time was going on tour as a guitar tech for Blues Traveler, so I needed someone to fill in. My bass player's husband had played drums with J Edmund before, so there's the connection.
JET: We just decided to make some changes in the band.
RG: Get our stuff together, get a name, solid players who we got along with, who were hard workers, who were serious. Get the website going, get an e-mail list going, develop a fan base, all the promotional efforts, etc.
What were some of the projects you were involved with prior to working with Ray? Since you attended Berklee College, I assume you always intended to have a career in music. Did you set out to be a full-time performer, or were you more interested in the production and technical side of the business?
JET: I produced and performed on a CD with John Medeski, of Medeski Martin & Wood. I did that down in Atlanta in '96 with a friend of mine Neal Fountain. We also had Apt Q-258, of Leftover Salmon and Aquarium Rescue Unit fame, and Count M'Butu, also of ARU, on that session. I wrote many of the tunes on that record. It's a jazz-fusion thing. The last big project I released was a disc entitled This is Secret Music. All of the music was improvised. There are some amazing colors on that record. I was fortunate to work with Neal Fountain again. I also was blessed to document performances with Andy Sanesi. Danny Sadownick, who plays percussion with the Screaming Headless Torsos, also played. It's a great recording.
I never set out to be a full-time performer or a producer. I've been playing music since I was three. It's just what I do.
Who are the other members of the band, and how did you go about selecting them after teaming together to form Redshell?
RG: Ben Zwerin plays bass and Patrick Carmichael plays drums. We held auditions and saw many bass players and drummers. It turns out that J E T ended up knowing Ben.
JET: I was getting together an R&B band together for some gigs at home and I asked Ben to come over and jam on the tunes. I really liked the way he played.
RG: Ben had played a lot with Patrick, so there was a familiarity between those two that pre-existed.
JET: Once we heard Patrick play, we knew we had found our drummer.
Where are some of the venues that you've played around New York City and New Jersey? Any favorite rooms or places where the fans are particularly receptive to what you're doing? Is there any place that you haven't had a chance to perform in that you're looking forward to doing so?
RG: We've played at a bunch of places here in the city such as Sidewalk, CB's Gallery, Backfence, Triad, Acme Underground. I've also played at countless bars here in town. I think the best room sound-wise is CB's Gallery.
JET: I agree. We're lucky that we seem to get a good response wherever we play.
RG: There are so many places we'd like to take the band. In the city, we'd like to play at The Bitter End, Mercury Lounge.
JET: We'd like to get out of town also and play everywhere.
Will you continue to continue performing the material off your solo album, Everything's Fine, with Redshell? Do you intend to continue solo acoustic performances, or are you strictly writing with a full band in mind these days?
RG: Definitely. Redshell has already reworked those tunes. I don't specifically write for solo or band per se, but there are certainly some songs that are more rock-based and work better with the band. Then there are some that need that quiet honesty that only a solo performance could generate. Having said that, we keep writing, creating and growing.
When it comes to solo performances, it depends on the venue. I'm really concentrating on the band right now, but it's good to know you can deliver a song solo when you need to. I enjoy both and you need to find a good balance between the two. I know sometimes I'll play solo, then when I have a gig as a duo, and I hear JET's electric, it adds so much color. Then, we'll play with the band and it adds that extra something and we look at each other and go: "So that's why we do this!"
Your solo CD was self-published, will you be doing the same with the Redshell EP? Would you like to eventually work with an indie label at some point, or continue to put out your own work?
RG: The plan now is to self-publish everything. I find it's nice having to answer to yourself, you know, be your own boss. You get out of it what you put in. It's good if you are self-motivated. On the other hand, it'd be nice to have someone else pay the bills! I would like to work with a label at some point. There's something to be said for not having to make all the phone calls all the time, have a team behind you that believes in you. It would free you up to concentrate more on the music.
Do you see the band's future as more of a full-time touring affair, or do you think there is enough widespread appeal in what you're doing to make your albums commercially successful? Are your goals centered around New York, or do you have national ambitions?
RG: We do have national ambitions, certainly. We want this record to be on the radio and we're trying to make it sound ready. We'd love to start touring and I think the music is very accessible. We just need to get heard. I know there's an audience for it. There's a lot of great music out there and if you turn on the radio, especially in this town, you hear about five percent of it.
You're going to be performing as a duo at World Hunger Year's Benefit for Hungerthon at Connolly's on November 27th. Will you be performing any of the new Redshell material at the event? Any comments that you'd like to make to fans to encourage them to come out to the show?
RG: We will be playing some of the new material. We've been doing it for a while now since we've been working on the record since the summer.
When it comes to World Hunger Year, I couldn't think of a better cause out there. We're both very proud to be involved. I still remember the day when Harry Chapin died, hearing the news on the radio, and watching his concerts on channel 13. There's still too many people going hungry out there, so everyone's got to do their part. Plus, there's always a chance J Edmund T may shave his head for the performance.
What is the schedule for the release of Redshell's EP, and how will fans be able to get a copy? What are the other goals for the band in 2003 and where would you like to be a year from now?
RG: We just gotta get some vocals done, mix and master. Not too much longer. It'll be for sale on our website, at shows, and at Tower Records uptown [in New York City].
I look for the band to take off in 2003. Hopefully a year from now we'll be playing somewhere on tour.