This is a continuation of the conversation that I had with composer and musician Steve Greaves that was posted last week. You can find part one here if you haven't read it yet: The King of Space Age Pop A Go-Go, Part I
[Mark Ford] OK, back to your music now. So tell me a bit more about the music that you write and perform.
[Steve Greaves] That's the hard part about doing something different, it's difficult to describe. Neo-Jet Set Space Cinema Spy Surf Go-Go music. There, how's that? I just made that up but it sounds about right.
[MF] Great description and it certainly works for me! I noticed a number of influences in your music which is normal for any composer or musician. Each relies on and is influenced by those that came before them. Take your guitar styled writing and performances for instance. I hear echoes of The Ventures, The Shadows, Duane Eddy, The John Barry Seven and several other 50s and 60s musicians. Have any of those influenced you?
Absolutely yes to all of those. I often describe my "sound," as it were, as something akin to The Ventures backed by Stan Kenton's band. The result is not at all unlike early John Barry Seven and that reference gets mentioned a lot in relation to my stuff. Vic Flick is one of my favorite guitar players incidentally. [Note: Vic Flick was the lead guitar player for the John Barry Seven and is most notably famous for playing the iconic and possibly most recognized guitar riff of all time on the original recordings of the James Bond theme.]
[MF] I’m glad you mentioned Stan Kenton, a towering figure in cutting edge, modernistic Big Band sound and a favorite of mine since I was a kid. No wonder I like your stuff so much! What about other influences, especially since I really only mentioned the more guitar based groups?
[SG] Herb Alpert is someone I admire across the board. Tony Hatch, Enoch Light, Peter Thomas, Hugo Montenegro, Al Caiola, Billy Strange, Johnny Rivers, Ike Turner, Booker T and the MG's, Elvis, Charlie Rich, and that's just one sub segment. There are so many diverse things I could talk about: AC/DC, The Replacements, Van Halen, Holst, Iron Maiden, swing bands, surf bands, old rockabilly, Louis Armstrong, Ramsey Lewis, lots of crooners and jazzers, children's music I grew up on as well. I'll stop here or else this part will take all day!
[MF] Again, a pretty eclectic group that gives you a very wide range of influences. You could have gone in several different directions here so what made you decide to pursue the one you’re taking?
[SG] I don't know that I ever really decided anything, it's just the way I write music when I’m left to my own devices. I think the real answer is you just do what's true to your creative drive, and this is what I love.
[MF] I know your music echoes a lot of great music from the 50s and 60s, but what is it that you bring to the mix in your work? What is your musical signature so to speak?
[SG] Wow, these are good questions.
[MF] I didn’t want to make it too easy on you!
[SG] Since I'm a drummer, rhythm is often the cornerstone of my approach. I tend to get an idea, maybe a hook or melodic lick of some kind that is the seed of a new tune, but it's really about finding the right rhythmic foundation and building from there. I feel that melody is something you absorb in a cerebral way, but the beat is what really grabs you and hooks into you viscerally. If it doesn't make you want to move in some way it's not got enough soul. My tempos tend to be pretty fast and there's a lot happening with polyrhythms and layered elements. I like there to be surprises in a tune that make you want to hear it again right away, so I take a lot of sudden turns harmonically, yet within a hook-driven structure. Also I like to introduce well-timed stops and a bit of unexpected negative space to set stuff off. Perhaps the most obvious aspect of my sonic signature would be the combination of aggressive, driving rhythm section elements combined with the larger palette of meaty brass and orchestral size. Oh, and the fact that even though I do a lot electronically and with samples that I try to play parts and approach the production with a sense of liveness, trying to keep the arrangements and soundstage feeling more "real" than intentionally synthy or fake for the sake of something other than a plausible live performance. It's very stylized, but there's an organic quality to most of it.
[MF] I've listened to pretty much all of your stuff now. By the way, I hope you don't mind me calling it stuff, I just tend to use that term a lot! Anyway, when you sit down to tackle say a cover for instance, what's the process you go through to decide what style you want to use. Or is it just something that you do intuitively? The reason I ask is that you use surf guitar, exotica, jazz, big band, 60s rock and other styles in your music. How do you choose which one to use for a particular song?
Well, first off, I always call it "my stuff" so no I don't mind that! I would say it is intuitive. Sometimes I'll have a general idea going in, other times it all just emerges based on where the music seems to want to go. For instance, on my version of the First Contact
theme (PLAY TRACK
), I always had a notion of that gorgeous melody working well with a pseudo-spaghetti western approach. It just seemed to want it and when I started in that direction I knew immediately it would work. I think at some point most projects in any kind of art start to take on a life of their own and seem to suggest creative clues. That said, there are an infinite amount of decisions that can drive you mad when that is not the case.
[MF] I'm sure many would be interested in knowing what your studio setup is like. Can you just quickly run over what equipment you use in your recordings?
[SG] Mostly crap! I have a handful of guitars, a few are decent but none are choice, some older rack synth modules, and I run the software-based samples natively in a Powermac and also from a Gigastudio PC. I have one decent pre-amp, though pretty lame mics and A/D converters. Because of my vintage leanings people probably think I have loads of esoteric compressors and mic pres and outboard goodies, but that couldn't be further from my set up. Not that I wouldn't opt for some of that given the choice to upgrade some things. A serious audio gear head would gag at my set up! But I know how to make what I use work for what I want so that'll do.
[MF] Hey, great classical musicians use old equipment, you know like Stradivarius, so think of yours in that way too! Besides using synthesizers for a lot of your tracks, what other instruments do you play for your recordings?
[SG] Guitars, bass, sometimes live drums, and other live percussion.
[MF] You're the proverbial one-man band! OK, this is an important question, well at least to me it is. What is it that you are trying to do with your music? What I mean is, what are you trying to express through your writing and performance that reflects your musical and personal identity?
That IS a pretty heady question, let me think a minute. There are almost by default two ways to answer that. On the one hand, the music I do for film is determined by what's right for a given movie, so my own identity is not so on my sleeve in those cases. Sure, everyone has a scoring style, but the, shall we say, personal flair one might express on an album is comparatively muted. As far as The SG Sound
, I have more of a point to make there even if not overtly. The thing I like about the music of the mid-60's, whether Mancini or surf tunes or whatever, is that it's cool and rocks but it's also fun. I'm tired of all the shoe-gazing angst that has dominated just about any music with balls to it over the last 30-40 years. You can enjoy Neal Hefti's or Herb Alpert's stuff whether you're age 9 or 99. I like to see people have a good time and experiencing music is the best good time there is. As far as the space pop direction, I feel that something has been lost that was, by coincidence, also great in the early '60's and that is enthusiasm about space travel. During the first rocket boom, people were excited and it seemed that the endeavor would mean something to everyone, not just astronauts. There was a spirit of optimism and pioneering humanism that I would like to see return. If I can play any small part in that by making a record that makes people dream a little bigger and think about the promise of space exploration as fun and exuberant I'd feel really good about that.
[MF] As a dedicated space proponent myself and a one of those kids in the 60s who grew up wanting to be an astronaut, I really appreciate what you’re trying to do. That’s probably just one more reason I’m so personally drawn to your music. So what are you working on now besides the previously mentioned Mad Men trailers [from part 1]?
[SG] Just finished two good short films last month and now am starting on a World War 2 documentary that is a very heartfelt look at men of the greatest generation in their twilight years. And, of course, I'm in the home stretch of finishing Escapade Velocity.
[MF] When can we expect a release of the new album?
[SG] I'm hoping it will hit the street, so to speak, by August, possibly a little longer for iTunes and the digital download sites.
[MF] Great, can't wait! Thanks Steve for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk. I know you are working hard to meet some deadlines related to your new release.
[SG] My pleasure Mark, and thanks for keeping the space age pop flame alive in your columns.
[MF] No problem. It’s something I love too and although it may be only known to a small audience these days, I’m hoping that writing about it and giving exposure to proponents like yourself will help introduce it to a new crowd here.