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652 Songs and Counting
Sounds of Greg D
25 years of writing like this and it seems to be the most consistent relationship that continues over a good part of my life. This and long-distance running. Love has come and gone, people have laughed, lived, then died. The weather changes and so do the amount of fillings in your mouth. However, my songwriting relationship has remained healthy and in-balance. - Greg Di Gesu
by Matt Mrowicki
Sounds of Greg D outside of the new Luna Lounge in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY
Sounds of Greg D outside of the new Luna Lounge in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY
(Photo Credit: Christina LaRocca)

Sounds of Greg D marks the latest project from the prolific New York-based singer and songwriter who has been a long-time regular on the New York and New Jersey music scenes. The force behind Speedsters and Dopers, Fishermen's Stew and The Wooden Soldiers, Greg Di Gesu's latest project, which makes its debut with My Little Monkey Got Caught, consists of four other performing veterans. Combining his stellar songwriting chops with as solid a live band as you're likely to see on stage at any of the venues at which they perform, results in a debut album that feels much more polished and capable than the collective group's short time together.

Di Gesu has taken several paths throughout his musical journey. His first band, The Wooden Soldiers, was a favorite on the New Brunswick, NJ scene, which surrounds the huge campus of Rutgers University. Concurrently, he began his career as a studio engineer, recording with numerous national artists and scoring platinum records for Lenny Kravitz's "Are You Gonna Go My Way" and John Mayer's "Room For Squares"

In 2000, Di Gesu took on the New York City music scene with Speedsters and Dopers. If the New Brunswick scene is more punk and sweat, New York City is polish and style, and Di Gesu's project fit in perfectly, enjoying a successful run and pushing both his performance and songwriting forward.

Now enjoying airplay up and down and East Coast and a growing performance schedule, Sounds of Greg D takes several further steps ahead. As someone who has been able to balance different styles, different scenes and the vinyl and digital ages, Di Gesu still holds promise with each new project. Chorus and Verse caught up with him in the middle of several Brooklyn-area gigs to talk about the new album and everything that went into creating this latest effort.

Let's start with the shows you've been performing. Like at the new Luna Lounge in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Talk about the performers who you brought together for that evening.

That was a great night. I'd say that March 24th, 2007 stands as probably the best Sounds of Greg D performance to date. The band would agree. However, our performance in Falls Church, VA opening for Gene Ween was also very, very good. Nothing like an old theater and lots of people to get you going. Come to think of it, that short six-song set at MoPitkin's recently was pretty happening too! Me thinks we're on a roll.

Ok, back on track. The billing at Luna Lounge flowed nicely. Crescent Moon kicked off the night, featuring Dave Dreiwitz (bass player, Ween) and Eric Slick (Adrian Belew's drummer, new amazing kid on the block!). Half Cleveland followed, which is made up of members of Tin Huey and Chi-Pig. Their most publicly-known member is Chris Butler of The Waitresses. He penned "I Know What Boys Like" and "Christmas Wrapping". Two songs that rightfully have outlived the 80's. Brooklyn-based Kapow! followed us on the bill. A totally upbeat seven-piece band that rocks. Two male lead singers, who just sing! Not the usual kind of line-up, and all the better for it. TK Webb was the night's closer. A heavy three-piece, lead by TK on guitar, vocals, and songs. A very absorbing and overtaking performance. There's a reason why people have heard of him.

Sounds of Greg D performs at the Luna Lounge
Sounds of Greg D performs at the Luna Lounge
(Photo Credit: Christina LaRocca)

Speaking of the Luna Lounge, what do you think about the new venue? What is the new space like for you as a performer and how does it compare with their previous digs?

The new Luna Lounge is completely different from the old venue on Ludlow St. The old club was very special for its small size and location, and the new version is equally special but for its big size and new location! It sounds great for the audience and it sounds great on the stage. There's a backstage area with finished private rooms, refrigerators and all. It's a big venue already attracting national acts and building a local following, located right in the heart of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Hats off to owner Rob Sacher for taking this plunge and venturing further into the world of NYC venues. Looks like a good future ahead. [Visit www.lunalounge.com  for more.]

Switching to your current project, Sounds of Greg D is the latest in a series of bands that you've performed with. Does this project represent any sort of evolution from The Wooden Soldiers or Speedsters and Dopers or is each band an effort to scrap everything and start over?

I would say each band is an evolution. My writing style is basically the same, and the songs are consistently good. I surprise myself sometimes, honestly. But I have been writing the same way since I was 17. Lyrics and music are born together very quickly. A song usually takes about 7-15 minutes to write. There isn't a lot of deliberation, just a whole lot of inspiration.

Your latest album, "My Little Monkey Got Caught" is listed as being "performed live in the studio" over two days in May 2006. Can you elaborate on the recording process? Did you have the album laid out and ready to go in your mind before you started the recording process, or was it a case of spending 48 hours working on ideas and sounds and then putting the best material on the album once it was over?

Really not much working on ideas or sounds and all that. It's always a fairly straightforward process when I record, and in this case when we recorded this debut. The songs were written, the chords were learned. We could then focus on performance. This was the first time since Wooden Soldiers "Roses of Steel" (1991) that I turned over the engineering responsibilities to another for a scheduled release. Usually I'm the recording engineer. It was Adam Lasus then, and in this case, Tim Hatfield. We recorded at his studio, Cowboy Technical Recording in Brooklyn (www.cowboytechnical.com) and boy are we glad we did!

You have a great deal of experience in the recording studio, having worked as a producer and engineer. Should it surprise people that someone so accomplished in the studio would chose to a do what's essentially a live recording? Can you talk about how you set everything up technically to achieve such a warm, polished sound?

The organizing behind these sessions was more outside the music. We were already on the same page musically and personally. It was a very intense time in my life. I had just spent some days with the person who inspired this album. I'm certain that if I didn't spend those days with ‘she from across the sea,' those recordings would be different. Also, I made sure we had a nice array of organic food at the studio as well as the finest beer and the finest smoke. This to me is such an important part of making a record. Humans graze in between takes for food and drink and whatnot. We are animals. Waiting for the five o'clock pizza doesn't cut it. People in a creative process are much like a wolf on a long day's journey. Sustenance in the form of food is a necessity.

Technically speaking, we set up our amps and drums and the rest was up to Tim. I stayed out of the way. It freed me up. I can say however, that a good contribution to the warmth of our sound has been my continued insistence of recording to tape. It's a practice of mine that has become a habit. A 16-track 2" machine, the absolute best format.

Recording live has been going on for me since the first recording of The Wooden Soldiers on October 25th, 1985. Whether it be the Soldiers, Fishermen's Stew, or Speedsters and Dopers, all were cut live. The first Fishermen's Stew release, "Letter To Norway" was me overdubbing with some musical guests. My homemade recordings also are live song performances completed by my own overdubbing. But with a band, I want it live. I want interaction and a moment in time. Give me Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited" or Velvet Underground records, old country and jazz, early Beatles and old Soul, traditional blues, traditional music from other cultures. Music of days gone by, shared in common a supposed limited recording technology. The results are living recordings fingerprinted in time by live performance. It's all there. Just listen.

Does the fact that you were able to produce the album in a couple of days show that most people spend too much time in the studio, or that paying a lot of money for professional studio time is overrated? What would be your advice to a band looking to make their first record and wanting something professional-sounding without spending everything they have?

There are many roads to anywhere and many roads to making a great record. It starts with the song and the performance. Whether it's on a digital hand held recorder or wax cylinder, in a major recording studio or in your own laundry room. The vibe of the song and performance has to be there. The old blues players sounded amazing on scratchy acetates and they would have sounded equally amazing on Pro Tools. Same with swing jazz on 78s. My advice is to record any which way you can. Every time you go through the process, you progress. Even spending lots of money you don't have and realizing you could have done it equally well in your drummer's basement, is a form of progression. Keep recording. It's a document of your life, of your music. Hence, the first half of the word "recording"…record… a record… something to keep track with, a form of documentation and preservation. These days so many have access to expression by the accessibility of technology. Also, digital audio has enabled the term "professional sounding" to enter a person's home studio.

My advice in recording is to dispel with the idea of a demo. At this point, things can sound like album-quality in a closet in Lexington, Kentucky. Or on a laptop in the back of a car pulled over on Rt. 66 in a thunderstorm. Hit the record button, or hover the mouse over your virtual record button and click. If your run-throughs sound bad on playback, don't record the song. Don't give it away! It should only come once, and when it does, you benefit in having confidant-sounding audio to capture that performance.

You have a reputation as a prolific songwriter. Can you share some insight into your creative process? Were all of the sounds on this album written specifically for this project? Do you tend to get an idea for a song, work it through until it's complete and then move on, or are you continually playing with lots of ideas simultaneously?

Good questions. Nice to be asked these things. As far as being a prolific songwriter, I suppose I am. To date there are 662 completed songs and countless other scraps never completed nor listened to again. I still don't think it's enough songs when you do the math. However, I follow a very natural writing process. I don't sit down to write. I sit down to play and sometimes will write. It comes on fast and then there's a new song. 25 years of writing like this and it seems to be the most consistent relationship that continues over a good part of my life. This and long-distance running. Love has come and gone, people have laughed, lived, then died. The weather changes and so do the amount of fillings in your mouth. However, my songwriting relationship has remained healthy and in-balance. It's a special talent and I value it with great appreciation. Yet, there is no god I am writing for or who is writing through me. These are my songs, my influences, and my personal inspiration that puts the log on the fire. No puppet, no puppeteer.

Sounds of Greg D has a very accomplished group of musicians performing with you. Can you talk about how this group was put together and how you know everyone in the band?

The idea for this band really came as a permanent working name. I set up my website, www.gregsounds.com  This enabled me to have an umbrella for which different musical projects of mine could associate. Like "Fishermen's Stew" was a revolving door of musicians; the "catch of the day". Now it's whatever falls under gregsounds, and in this case, the first idea was Sounds of Greg D.

We are all old friends connected through New Brunswick, NJ in past years. Drummer Ryan Thornton is the exception. He's our newest friend and musical comrade. Hailing from Princeton, NJ. Lots of good ones have come through there. Chris Harford, The Saras, Albert Einstein… good stock. Plays in the up- and-coming band, Sam Champion.

Dave and I used to live and work together for years. We went to Rutgers together. He was a student of jazz bass, me a sociology major, our rock bands overlapped: Tiny Lights & The Wooden Soldiers. Good times. He and I had Fishermen's Stew, traveled to Berlin to play, and performed more Border's bookstore gigs than anyone else. I consider him one my closest.

Arne Wendt used to be in The Mothersound, a later wave of New Brunswick young-uns following in the footsteps of our aging Court Tavern generation. There's always been a continuum of music in that town. The Hub City. He plays keys with all kinds of talented people including Como Drive, Phedonia, and Soul Project.

Dan Green has been subbing for Dave on a few gigs. He was the bassist in Speedsters and Dopers as well as the short-lived, The Forget Me Not Four. Yet another New Brunswick alumni. One thing leads to another; Dan's main band is with his beautiful cohort, Kilsy. The band is also called Kilsy. She sings and writes, and just honored me greatly by performing seven of my songs at Freddy's Backroom in Brooklyn on April 10th. I was, and am, floored! The group was a four-piece band featuring Arne on keys, Alice Bierhorst on drums, Dan on bass, and Kilsy (www.myspace.com/kilsy) singing and transforming my music into something sultry and alluring. The white suburban boy silenced by Dominican magic.

Greg Di Gesu
Greg Di Gesu
(Photo Credit: Christina LaRocca)

You have been involved with the New Brunswick, Brooklyn, and Manhattan music scenes throughout your career. How do you see the state of the live music scene in each of those areas and how do you see the health of live music in general around here these days?

All cultural, artistic, and economical scenes are subject to ebb and flow. NYC went through a great deal of venue closings only to be followed last year with many club openings. Seems like there are more and more places to play. From a regular club to a café room on Delancey Street. Although with the trend of real estate being so high, it's very difficult for venues to stay open.

We've been received nicely in Asbury Park for instance. Thanks to the gigs there and to someone like Gary Wien. He started Upstage Radio (www.upstageradio.com) and Upstage Magazine, which streams music and supports local music in that scene. That town is seeing major transformation along the waterfront. The same is starting with Coney Island. What kind of transformation shall be seen. Music and art will always prevail though.

We have all seen and felt different music scenes ebb and flow. So it exists and is natural everywhere. It happens in all places. Different dynamics of people and musicians involved, coupled with proper venues in accessible locations, with good advertising, and quality bands at any cross-section of time. So many factors must exist for a living cultural, artistic, or economic scene to exist and thrive healthily.

One thing is certain. There are a lot more musicians in the world now. Kids have the option to join a band versus summer camp, and can become recording engineers due to their early comfort with technology. I'm all for it. The more a person gets to express oneself, the healthier our society will be. However, coming from a time period in the '80s when you were one of the few bands to actually go to a recording studio and manufacture LPs for distribution, it can be overwhelming the amount of musical output there is in today's world. The Internet is a whole other thesis! A wonderful place for connection, dissemination, and acquisition of music in just a few clicks. I devour this option and still spin LPs. My ears hold no discrimination. Just musical desire. I embrace it all and make sure not to lose the music in the process.

Talk about your plans for Sounds of Greg D and "My Little Monkey Got Caught" over the next year? What sort of touring plans do you have and how do you expect to continue to promote the album? Are there any other projects that you would like your fans to be on the lookout for?

To keep promoting the album. Send it around, sell some, give some away. It's important to plant the seeds of these songs. We all stand very much behind this record. Five of us as the recording band, and Tim as the engineer. We all honestly dig it.

I want to add that Jack Petruzzelli is our invisible fifth member. He is on "My Little Monkey Got Caught," yet for him to play live with us is a rarity. He is currently preparing to tour again with Rufus Wainwright, as well as being a member of The Fab Faux. Jack also continues to play with Joan Osborne and recently recorded with The Patti Smith Group on their newest release, "Twelve". Jack and I have been recording as a duo out in the Poconos. We are getting some really great vibes on our recordings. Five completed songs thus far. I'm thinking of releasing these recordings prior to the next Sounds of Greg D album. I'm starting to itch, which means the follow-up will happen in the not too distant future. Bringing this band to other geographical places is also a strong goal. It's still the most viable and enduring way to get the music out there. Troubadorism is alive & well!

The Lone Orchestra and The Lone Howdys are two other bands I have been playing with over the past few years. These bands are arranged around the songs of Arlan Feiles (www.arlanfeiles.com). I love playing his songs. These groups give me a chance to step aside as a songwriter and to step up as a guitar player. And most recently I have been asked to play in a long-standing New Brunswick group called Lunar Ensemble (www.myspace.com/lunarensemble). The current line-up features John Lunar Richey, Tom DiEllo, Slugger, and Chris McKenna. We all go back a long way together in the Court Tavern-New Brunswick scene.

Also, two songs from Speedsters and Dopers' "9 o'clock in the Afternoon" are part of the soundtrack in the film "I'm Reed Fish". It will be in theaters in "select cities" on June 1st. Last year I had the pleasure of attending its premiere at The Tribeca Film Festival.

There are plenty of upcoming shows with more on the way. I highly recommend our May 5th show at 58 Gallery in Jersey City. It's a great bill featuring double-breasted (harp, cello, & drums... feminine energy prevailing), Sounds of Greg D and Chris Harford and the Band of Changes, legendary songwriter and legendary friend. Paul Rieder will be joining Sounds of Greg D on mandolin. 58 Gallery (www.fifty8.com) is a very cool space that always has interesting art installations as well as constant events. Orlando Reyes is resident artist and gallery curator. His most recent work, Solace, will be on exhibit.

So many good things with more to follow. Keep your ears open!

Friday June 29th
@ Luna Lounge 361 Metropolitan Ave Brooklyn, NY
lunalounge.com
$7 admission // 21+
The performers:
7:30 - Kilsy (myspace.com/kilsy) (CD Release)
8:30 - Emergency Party (myspace.com/emergencypartyny)
9:30 - Sounds of Greg D (myspace.com/gregsounds)
10:30 - American Watercolor Movement (myspace.com/americanwatercolormovement)

Sounds of Greg D's "My Little Monkey Got Caught" can be ordered at:
www.gregsounds.com
www.myspace.com/gregsounds

[ Website: www.gregsounds.com ]

Matt Mrowicki
Matt Mrowicki [[email protected]], is an Internet entrepreneur and owner of Chorus and Verse. In 2002, he founded Impression Technologies LLC (www.imprtech.com) a digital design company offering website development, graphic design, online marketing, social media and technology consulting. He has been interviewed on topics ranging from how bands can best use their websites for promoting their music to current trends in social media. He has successfully launched over 100 websites and branding projects for clients and continues to develop new online opportunities and promote effective uses of technology and online media.
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