AMN Interviews: Devin Gray

bio-page-picDevin Gray is a New York based drummer and composer who is carving out his own path through that city’s rich creative music scene. He has performed and recorded with innovative musicians of contrasting styles and backgrounds such as: Tony Malaby, Gary Thomas, Ingrid Jensen, Dave Burrell, Dave Ballou, Michael Formanek, Nate Wooley, Stephan Crump, George Garzone, Chris Speed, Drew Gress, Sam Rivers, Ralph Alessi, John O’Gallagher, Ellery Eskelin, Kris Davis, Ted Rosenthal, Uri Caine, Dave Liebman, Andrew D’Angelo, Vardan Ovsepian, Bill McHenry as well as many others.

In 2012 he released his first album as a leader, Dirigo Rataplan, and on June 9th, his second offering, RelativE ResonancE, hits the shelves.

Read our review of RelativE ResonancE.

What were your formative years like? How did they lead to your current endeavors?

I have been very fortunate to have somehow ended up in some really inspiring places and situations in the last ten years or so. When I was just starting high school I was exposed to great musicians (and New York City based) teachers at the Maine Jazz Camp. That inspiration lead to me going to undergraduate music school at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, where I was also very lucky to be around great musicians and teachers, and to create some strong lasting musical relationships. I then decided to continue to study in the masters program at Manhattan School of Music. Directly after that I moved to Brooklyn in search for the musical communities I’d been craving. Since then I’ve just kept working on playing, composing, and experiencing music as much as possible.

RelativE ResonancE is different in many ways from Dirigo Rataplan. Can you explain the different approaches undertaken for each of these recordings?

Dirigo Rataplan was like here is some music I wrote and spent some serious time working on, let me bring it to these amazing players, not say too much, and let’s just make music. Though I did have certain compositional ideas and events that I wanted to have happen. I also felt comfortable enough in knowing how to approach those guys in a way that I felt was responsible and honest to the integrity of the music. That idea plus some life experiences is Dirigo Rataplan to me. I am endlessly grateful to those guys and for that situation.

RelativE ResonancE is a slightly different zone for me although it’s coming from a similar space as Dirigo. This recording has more composition than Dirigo and even more structure to it. I’m always thinking about what will be fun for me, the music, and the players. What is it that I really like to do? I like studying combinations of music, compositions, styles, energies, attitudes, and personalities. I like thinking ahead about certain things with my music, and I like to dream of situations and reactions. It’s kind of like inspiration musical day dreaming for me.

Much of RelativE ResonancE has to do with me wanting to create situations for people, ideas, and platforms for expression. I’ve been writing music with this group in mind on and off for around four years now. I kept experimenting and finally came up with these concepts which I felt strongly about. It definitely took some time for me to be comfortable (musically speaking) with realizing what I had to throw myself into with this project. I’m always pushing myself to be a better player and bandleader, and some of the pieces on the record are more challenging for me as a drummer.

In my mind this record has more compositional “styles” going on then Dirigo. Three of the pieces are a little more “normal” functioning (City Nothing City, In the Cut, RealtivE ResonancE (for Tadd Dameron), and the other five pieces (Notester, Jungle Design (for Hannah Shaw), Transatlantic Transitions, Search it up, and Undo the Redo) are closer to the way I like to hear and try to express myself through music. The first of those five pieces (Search it up) was originally inspired by a piece of Iannis Xenakis, which the Dirigo band played on some gigs. I later adapted it for this group because there was something about it that was pulling me quite strongly in a direction that my ears and heart likes. The other pieces have numerous sources of inspiration within the compositions, and to me the results are kind of like free improvisation but somehow more centered.

Are there any unique aspects of being both a drummer and composer that have informed your works?

I’m always thinking about this…it really started when I took up playing / practicing and trying to perform on vibraphone years ago in college. Being in a group and getting to play melodies, and taking melodic solos? that was very different, exciting, and informative for me. But the most important thing I learned form that, or the thing that flipped my switch for the first time was hearing drums, and playing with different drummers but as another instrumentalist… That was kind of mind blowing for a while…really hearing what drummers would/could do from another position in the room/on stage…wow. It gave me and still does SO much more perspective on what drums can / could / “should” / maybe / sometimes sound or feel like. I learned much more about musical energies that way… Having that experience and carrying that information around with me changed the way I hear things as a drummer and composer very much still to this day.

That being said, I am more aware of what I do as a drummer that can fit or go against musical ideas, I feel comfortable knowing when I want to experiment in certain ways or not with out (hopefully) crashing something. But even as I write this I find me not agreeing with myself…its more like I still need much more experience doing all of this, and I do feel lucky that I hope to have MANY more chances and trying to be responsible with music.

Over the years the more I compose music, the faster at relating to it I’ve gotten. Certain parts of my process has sped up, and I view it like practicing and gaining more experiences and knowledge which in return pushes me into new spaces. I also feel slightly more informed when I’m improvising and composing what I like and dislike and want more or less of, I think in the end hopefully you get better at making decisions in music…

For RelativE ResonancE, I composed drum parts! Five out of the eight pieces have drum parts! This is kind of new to me, and I’m still not sure how I feel about it honesty. But it was fun, and a lot of them I composed on the kit, and edited later.

When (if?) you have any free time, what do you listen to?

I just bought Guerrilla Toss, and Karlheinz Stockhausen (studies I / studie II/ gersang der Junglinge / Zyklus Ffur zwei Schlagzeungernon on vinyl. I’ve only listened to one so far, and can’t wait for more time to investigate more deeply.

I like listening to recordings people give me when I’m traveling. It’s always fun and inspiring to come back and have a piles of people you got to meet and hang with and know first, and then get to check out more of what they’re up to.

Is there anyone in New York (or elsewhere) that you’d really like to play or record with?

In New York, Anthony Braxton
In Berlin, Alexander Von Schlippenbach
In Paris, Eve Risser
In Stockholm, Bobo Stenson

I’ve done some recent trio playing with Joachim Badenhorst and Kris Davis, Richard Bonnet and Tony Malaby, Andrea Parkins and Frank Gratkowski, Dave Ballou and John Dieker, Drew Gress and Kris Davis. Those were all different and really inspirational, and I’d love get those captured at some point.

Tell us about what you’ve got coming up in 2015 with respect to releases and performances, including but not limited to the CD release performances for RelativE ResonancE.

I am very excited to play at Greenwich House Music again on June 13th. It’s becoming a home for me and my music. I love what Bradley Bambarger is doing for the music community in New York with his Sound it Out series. This will be the series’ 100th show and I am honored to be apart of it! I’m hearing that the new CD will be basically free if you come to the concert. I am also very excited that it will be a double bill show with Matt Mitchells group with Speed, Tordini, and Dan Weiss!

As for 2015 and 2016 there are some exciting things in the works. There are some more TBA RelativE ResonancE gigs, some performances at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival this summer, some hopeful Dirigo Rataplan gigs in Europe, a gig with Dave Liebman, in NYC I’m playing at Jazz in Central Park and the Bluenote in July. More gigs in Berlin with many different groups and more TBA august Europe dates in August. Spring has another Europe tour with VAX, new trio gigs and tours in France, sideman gigs in Germany in the fall, and NYC projects and gigs with old and new friends. Things are moving forward and gaining traction and I’m feeling good about all of it. In the end, I’d say, please just connect with me and say hi!

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