(N): Music is considered by most people to be a universal language. If you believe in the truth of that statement what is it that you are trying to communicate with your songs that you cannot communicate in other ways?
(J.G.): I wholeheartedly agree with that. They have done experiments with tribes that have had zero contact with music outside of their local village. They played records for them and asked them to pick the picture of a person’s face that represented the musical emotion to them. No matter where you go in the world people perceive Mozart as happy and Rachmaninoff as brooding. It is definitely a universal language.
What I’m trying to communicate is really what I feel I can’t express adequately in any other way. These are the things that, if spoken, put stones in our throats. The things that keep me up at night. A lot of it tends to be on the sadder side of things. It’s just part of my nature. I focus on the sadder things. They tug at my heart-strings and by writing about them I can free myself from them.
(N): In the past you have said that “You can always make more money by sucking a little soul out of a song and patching it with bubblegum.” What is the soul in your music that you would not compromise no matter what?
(J.G.): It’s the unfiltered aspect. I first learned this in high school. We had a “dead poets society” and it was a bunch of literary geeks that loved Shakespeare and poetry. I was the only person that, when it came time to read something, read what I wrote. The reactions I got from my being honest about the feelings I had really stuck with me. Every one else read other poets’ work. It wasn’t until years later that I realized it had more to do with fear of exposing yourself in an intimate way than lack of trying on their part that they didn’t read their own work. I have never liked to do covers of music. I would much rather write about my own experience and feelings so that is what I choose to write about. If you are hearing a song of mine, it’s very likely a real event I’ve lived or influenced by someone else close to me. I don’t write about things I don’t know or haven’t felt first hand. That to me is the soul of music. You can’t fake having lived it yourself. The bubble gum is what gets you on the radio. It’s appealing to the masses by constraining yourself into a box of previously agreed upon standards. I’ve never felt like that was even possible for me.
(N): Let’s talk about the music industry. Considering what you’ve said so far I am guessing you are no big fan of the radio. Listening to your complaints about it, I wanted to ask you “do you think that it is the medium that is at fault? Or is it the way that people sell and buy music that has lessened the honesty of it?”
(J.G.): Here is an analogy for you. When you see food in the grocery store that’s labeled as “spicy” how hot is it really? It’s at most MEDIUM heat wise… Which is to say, the average person’s perception of heat. Music on the radio is very medium, very middle of the road, very average. It’s what’s expected. Radio has so many specific format types and they often play the same top 10 songs a dozen times a day. 25 years ago Djs actually picked every single song on their show. They almost never played the same song twice in one day. Now they get a print out of what’s in the top 40 and that’s their road map. Djs have lost their biggest asset which was their taste in music. You would listen to a Dj’s show not just because you liked their voice or thought they were funny. You listened to Dj because he had awesome taste in music! That is what used to make them successful. I have friends that are radio Djs and I’ve heard this straight from their lips. Now there is truly very little work involved in picking the music. Tom Petty got a lot of grief from radio stations because of his song “The Last Dj” only because that song is so true. Things like Pandora and Spotify are really interesting, but they aren’t that great. They become really repetitive rather quickly. I discover more awesome music by happenstance on youtube than I do anywhere else. That and friends sharing their favorite songs with me (usually links to youtube).
(N): You are currently publishing your work without the help of a label. You also trust potential and existing fans enough to let them decide if and what they will pay you. How easy is it to survive and establish your name under such conditions?
(J.G.): I have been 100% on my own since day 1 really. I have had 2 different record labels in the past as Warmer, ‘Flexible Records’ and then ‘3am Devices,’ but they were more vanity labels than anything. There wasn’t any financial backing or funding pushed my way. It was more of a collection of artists under a name. It gave us the power of collective exposure, but it certainly wasn’t a label in the true sense.
As far as trust goes. I have had a lot of people question my sanity by my desire to release my music as “pay what you want” I have two major reasons for this.
First: I’m a product of the internet age. I realize If someone doesn’t want to pay me for my music they will just torrent it and I will have no chance to connect with them because they are just sucking up megabytes with no interaction between them and me. By providing my music for free if they so choose I am enabling anyone to get it and the price is simply an email address. Out of the thousands of people who have downloaded my albums for free all of them have given me real emails addresses. This lets me contact them in the future if something big is coming up and I really enjoy having that ability. Can I survive under these means financially? I’m not currently. I go to my day job tomorrow at 6am.
Second: it gives people freedom to show me their appreciation for what I’m offering in a way that fits them. I have had plenty of people tell me, “I can’t pay you right now, but I will when I can.” and they do. Which to me is incredible, because I’m not going to hunt them down and they know that. I feel that by offering that up to people you immediately build a level of trust with them and they view you as a person and not just a musician looking to make money. I make a point to thank every single person that buys my music personally. They really appreciate it. Often they can’t believe I did that because no one else does. I’ve had people thank me in sincerely written letters that literally make me tear up reading them because they couldn’t pay me but they were so grateful to have it. That alone is worth more than any amount of money they could have payed me for my music.
As far as establishing a name for myself, I think it can only help to have my music in more ears. This is one way I do that. I don’t discourage people from putting my music on youtube or making videos for them so long as they link my youtube channel and my bandcamp page.