Following Indiana Gregg Down The Yellow Brick Road
On the cover of her CD, Something Like Me, there's a picture of the artist, Indiana Gregg, sitting and looking back at the observer. The first things that jump out are wow, hot blonde, red dress, and thigh high white boots. Holla, another twinkie pop tart. Holla back, girl!
But then you look closer and you see that the arms are crossed, the knees are together, she's guarded. The look on her face is the opposite of the blank stare of a Britney - there is a pensiveness in her expression, and a hint of impatience, like a child who has been dressed up and posed for a picture. There is clearly more to her than meets the eye.
I noticed this about the photo just as she sang: "So when will you understand that the way look isn't who I am?" from the song "Crazy, Crazy, Crazy." This cut is her anthem, in spite of the fact it is a perky pop rock song, instead of being a bombastic power ballad. To an acoustic guitar, bass and drums-driven country rock groove, she sings: "It's all so superficial out there I need something real / So Crazy Crazy Crazy / This is how I feel / It seems to me our society / Lives within four walls of a Colored TV / Crazy Crazy Crazy / Give me something real . . ." This song, with its bursts of insight and tell-it-like-it is personal observation, has everything that classic songs have: a great tune, great hooks, and you can sing it in the shower. This CD has these qualities from end to end.
Indiana Gregg is emphatic and clear about the musical well that she draws from. "My influences are rock, gospel, jazz and SOUL! Ray Charles is at the top of my list of soul geniuses," she said. "Roberta Flack would be my favorite female soul artist. These two icons very deeply impressed my musical psyche. My favorite pop artists would be Don Henley, Prince and Madonna. Of course, everyone from my era would have to mention Janet and Michael Jackson."
View Indiana Gregg's video 'Sweet Things'
Listening to these songs, I can imagine them playing on any pop, country or rock radio station. This not to suggest that she has produced one-size-fits-all music. It's like a stew that has been cooking for a long while: well blended and tasty. Ms. Gregg has achieved a rare feat in the world of music outside of jazz: she has created something organic. And it didn't happen overnight.
[Indiana Gregg] "I became pretty shy when I went to school because I had a stutter and a speech impediment. My teacher recognized this early on and advised my parents that I see a speech therapist. I saw the therapist for 5 years twice a week. She taught me to use my hands to help me speak and encouraged singing and music as a form of expression for me as well. That's why I use my hands a lot when I perform even today. Because it was so difficult for me to speak and kids made fun of me, I started writing songs in my diary and playing them on my piano when I would get home from school. This became a kind of diary for me that I have continued into adulthood. Revisiting those songs I've written over the years helps me remember exactly what happened the day I wrote them."
"I started playing music officially at the age of six when I started taking piano lessons. Before that I would play by ear, because both of my brothers played instruments and I would mimic what they did on our old upright piano. I started learning the trumpet from age 10. I started writing songs when I was four when my cat died. I wrote a song about my cat to the tune of 'The Entertainer.'
"Later I found myself performing for nearly every event at school, my church, and the community theater. Song-writing became a diary for me and a way to express myself. I could sing in front of people, but I was embarrassed to speak as I had a stutter and a speech impediment. I was always either starting a band, or working in the summers at theme parks as a musician, or going on tour with gospel choirs. I started doing my own music live about 14 years ago. I've played in nearly every style of band you can imagine. I think with this album I've found a link to a lot of my favorite influences and a thread through the album that makes sense to me."
[Kirby] Did your family pressure you to pursue or not pursue an artistic path?
[Indiana Gregg] "My parents didn't pressure me to pursue anything. They always told me to do my best because doing your best means you will never feel ashamed. That sense of accomplishment that comes from doing your best was instilled in me early on and has become inherent in my psyche. My parents were able to instill an intrinsic sense of confidence in me and, as a result, I had a lot of freedom, academically and artistically. They said to do what you love most, so that's what I've done. Part of what I'm doing now is setting an example through music to my own three children. The song 'Kid Soldier' is about them."
All of her early experiences and loving support clearly developed her talents, but it is her song writing that sets her apart. There are many examples of singers with great pipes, but, like Darth Vader, they use their force for evil (i.e., bad, corporate, soda-selling bilge), by performing cookie-cutter songs, devoid of distinction. By contrast, Indiana Gregg's songs are chock full of distinction, so much so that you can imagine them being performed, unironically, by other artists.
Furthermore, unlike today's popular music, she has lyrics that have observations about the lives and hopes of real people. The song "Kiss Me All Night" is a power ballad all about love: "There's a moment in time / When it comes you will find / There's a mist that surrounds how your feeling / And you just wanna know, where it's all gonna go / 'Cos a heart can't take more than one beating / So just give me a sign / for my peace of mind . . . Would you kiss me all night in the moonlight . . ."
And while she has songs that touch on the troubled side of life, on the bouncy "Groovy Kind of Wonderful World" she dares to express happiness (so uncool), because, let's face it, life doesn't suck all the time: "My heart's delirious/ why get so serious / make every second count / that's what life is all about / Every day I feel lucky that I'm livin' in this groovy kind of wonderful world."
[Kirby] What type of music did you play before you settled on a soul-pop style?
[Indiana Gregg] "I played a lot of rock, even some punk, and a lot of soul. Unfortunately, because I like so many styles, I tended to merge a bit. This made things difficult at the beginning. I think that the songs on this album lean toward the soul-pop style and, to be honest, that's probably where all of my songs end up once they are broken down to the basics with an acoustic guitar or piano. In the past, I liked to play around and experiment, and I still do!"
This merging and experimenting come to an exciting fruition on this CD. On several cuts an old-fashioned orchestra (not digital, real humans) adds tasty touches, without over doing it. Check out an old Philly soul record or your parent's Al Green records and you'll know what I mean. The arrangements remind one of how the Motown Funk Brothers or Jack Nietzsche (arranger and producer of several Neil Young records) used to do it back in the day.
[Kirby] How did you snag the Irish Film Orchestra?
[Indiana Gregg] Fiachra Trench (famed Irish musician and composer who has recorded with Kate Bush, Van Morrison, Art Garfunkel and Paul McCartney, among others) has worked on several projects with my producer Ian Morrow and somehow we were able to put a budget together to get the orchestra for a day. I'll tell you, it was the most amazing experience of my life to see an entire orchestra playing my tunes. I was already in tears when I saw all of the music stands with my songs on them waiting for the musicians to come in and play them. This is really one of the most amazing thrills a songwriter could experience.
[Kirby] How did you come to do so much work in Europe?
[Indiana Gregg] "I moved to Europe and lived in Finland, Germany, the United Kingdom and the French Riviera. Because I had traveled around and lived in various places, I've had lots of opportunities to meet musicians from all walks of life. In some ways, I'm an explorer and pretty spontaneous. Many times going to a party I was networking and seeking out musicians. Within days we would form a band or organize a jam."
[Kirby] How did you hook up with a Scottish producer Ian Morrow and such a talented and recognized group of people like the musicians and Paul Wright (engineer)?
[Indiana Gregg] "I met with a lot of producers and I was really looking for the right vibe for this album. After meeting up with several, I decided to go with Ian Morrow because he seemed to have the sensibility to deal with my musical ideas and was experienced enough not to feel bombarded by them. This is probably the best decision I have ever made in my life because we work really well together (when we aren't at each other's throats, I mean). I think his experience working on projects with Seal, Wet Wet Wet, and Rod Stewart gave him the ability to understand where I come from (which is all over the place). I'm probably not an easy artist to deal with because I'm constantly dreaming up new stuff that could potentially send people off on tangents. I'm a bit crazy that way."
Yeah, crazy, crazy, crazy like a fox. She is doing what many in the music industry say not to do: blend, mix, and make something original. By being so cantankerously stubborn and confident in her musical journey, and so insistent on giving a free reign to her individualistic creativity, she has proven that the particular can have wide appeal. She is one of the only pop artists around that can exist in, and supercede, musical categories, while giving you something real. "So much of who we are depends on where we've been," she explains. "I think where we've been can be both physical, as in location, and emotional. I'd like to touch as many people as possible through this medium of music and wherever I end up, it's been a fantastic journey!"
To follow Indiana Gregg down the yellow brick road, Indiana Gregg's album, Something Like Me, is scheduled for release in the United Kingdom April 3rd, 2006, distributed via RTD/Universal. Visit her record label, Gr8Pop, Ltd, at or through her web site for more information.