INTERVIEW: Ben Gregg "Radio Waves"

Ben Gregg was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest and grew up in a musical family where he was inspired early by his mother’s musicianship and sang in quartets with his twin brother and sisters for many years. Ben first moved to Nashville in 1995 but moved back to Washington, broke and not wanting to grow old trying to make it in music without a backup plan. Recently, he decided to cut a CD simply for himself, and to have a part of him to share with future generations, however as luck would have it, the project has taken on a life of its own. Ben and I visited about all the things that have led up to this, the present and the future. Ben has just released his debut single, "Radio Waves," from his forthcoming self-titled CD slated to hit store shelves early in 2010.

Bev: Tell me about yourself, I understand you got started with this project by just wanting to do something for yourself?
Ben Gregg: You know, it’s strange, the older you get the more wisdom takes over and you don’t have the impulses of youth. I’ve been trying to do this music thing forever. The thing with the music business is in the numbers and the odds of people making it in entertainment business are not the highest. Not really knowing the odds was a good thing for me because it kept me trying. After so many years, I thought to myself you know, I have a family and I’ve got to do something. I didn’t want to be waiting tables at fifty-eight, trying to get into the business and become a writer. It was a hard decision but I had basically given up on continuing to pursue music for a career about ninety-nine percent. I put it in the back of my mind and accepted that if I never did it, it was okay. I just continued to do my Sunday thing with my mom, brothers and sisters and that was fine. I was fortunate anyway. So I got into the business world with insurance and mortgages. I had made business my focus and then after having some success I thought well let’s just go to Nashville and do a fun CD. I simply wanted to have something for the great-grand-kids. I just came in here to do that and I did not know a lot about Cupit Records, but I did it. It has been a great journey so far. I’m giving it all I have and I know the realism of it this time around. I’m not going to be dissatisfied if things don’t go exactly the way I envision it. I’m going to be thankful for every measure of success along the way and leave it at that. Not that I do not expect great things but you have to be realistic and just enjoy the process every day as it goes.
Bev: Knowing that you are happy with both lives does that help take some of the pressure off and you are able to enjoy it more?
Ben Gregg:. That’s true, having a successful business career does lessen the pressure on me about the music career. I enjoy the business aspect of my life, but obviously music is what I enjoy the most, but not everybody can do that and make a living at it as quickly as one hopes to do. I am giving it everything I’ve got. When I can, I write and play almost every day. I keep honing my skills and planning for the next stage and promoting the single we have out now. I’m glad I do not have all the eggs in one basket. I spent a couple years in L.A. and I would see gals waiting tables at 45, not that 45 is old, but when you’re a gal and you’ve had no success yet and your starting out, in music especially, it is not fair but it is apparent that guys seem to have an extra advantage by having more time to get their music careers going when it comes to age. I didn’t want to find myself at that age still waiting tables. I had to have something for the kids and posterity. I had to know when to say when and I am really glad I did. Signing a record deal with Cupit Records has been a great, unexpected, turn of events for me, which I certainly appreciate.
Bev: Have you relocated to Nashville or are you splitting time back-and-forth?
Ben Gregg: I put in a lot of travel. I love it down here in Nashville. As a matter of fact, I lived back here in 1993, 1995 and 1996. I was born and raised in Washington, but the problem is you have all your family there, both sides, and nobody moved away. It is just unbelievable. It was like a hundred people within twenty miles of each other. I am really trying hard to get down here. I was looking at houses here two months ago when I was down here and I almost pulled the trigger. I feel like things are going well even without living here, but I feel that I need to be here. I‘ve always wanted to retire here anyway when I was old enough. It’s a great part of the country. I just love it!
Bev: As far as promoting, you put the single out on the radio. What are you doing for promotions? How are you trying to get the word out on that?
Ben Gregg: The promotion team is diligently going after it. August 10th was the radio release with the music compilation discs and we’re happy to see strong initial success of the single being downloaded. Now it is a matter of staying on top of it to gain as many radio adds as possible to support growth of the debut single. I’m looking forward to possibly going on a radio tour soon to meet everyone out there working so hard at radio to support my music and keep the momentum going. It is a tough business and I want to personally thank everyone at radio for giving me a chance.
Bev: You are on RFD-TV’s “Music & Motors” television series, tell me about how this came to be.
Ben Gregg: I do not know how Jerry (Cupit) did it. A lot of well-known people have been on that show or want to get on that show, host it, or be a part of it and when he said I was going to be a featured artist, I was ecstatic. That was a great experience; meeting Gary Baker and going to see what NASCAR is all about. It really got me interested in the sport and I watch it on the weekends now. I never watched it that much before. I thought to myself what’s so exciting about watching a bunch of cars go around-and-around in a circle other than the crashes? Once I learned more about NASCAR, I got into it and it is really interesting to follow now. Supposedly, there are approximately one hundred million viewers a week on that show. It was a fun way to get my name out there about the new music and CD in the works which helps with the launch of my music.
Bev: Do you think you are going to try and do some more of that kind of out-of-the box types of promoting versus just the typical way that has been done in the past?
Ben Gregg: Yes, because radio is still so important, but there are other important outlets that people are using to find new music these days. I mean this internet thing has taken everything to a new level, especially with our youth. A CD can sell 1,000,000 units today and that’s a lot! We are all over the internet and working with the digital technology, the web pages, Myspace, as they are all part of the whole puzzle. I believe that you have to think a little outside the box these days. You have to know how to wisely spend your marketing dollars to get the best sales and exposure for your money.
Bev: Do you have a CD out right now or just the single?
Ben Gregg: We just put out the debut single, “Radio Waves,” from the forthcoming CD which we just finished and are waiting for the final artwork to be completed. Hopefully this single will build a high demand for the CD. I know that hearing my song being played on the radio is really something.
Bev: Are you also utilizing i-tunes and similar media formats as well?
Ben Gregg: Yeah, that is all important.
Bev: Digital access is pretty much prevalent right now. People have it on their computer, their i-pod, on their phone etc.
Ben Gregg: Yes, digital access is prevalent and makes it so easy to download music quickly! I sure would be awesome if we can sell a bunch of units from people downloading the new music. I’ve purchased music downloads myself, but sometimes I just like to go out and buy the CD because it is a physical, material piece of product actually in my possession that I can hold in my hands to look through the CD booklet, read the liner notes, and get to know more about the artist and the players. It isn’t just an electronic thing. It is kind of like a personalized object that you can have, like a piece of that artist. It is a whole creative thing that they have there and it is nice to have it.
Bev: As far as the songs on the CD, did you write all the songs?
Ben Gregg: There are thirteen songs and I wrote nine of them. Three of them were just me and another six were co-written with Jerry. I enjoy writing songs and am pleased that a lot of my songs made the final selection for the CD, but I also am very aware that there are so many amazing songwriters out there and that’s why I’m always open to listen to outside material. I wanted to make sure to include something for everyone on the CD and not get locked into a certain type of style, but have something that sounds fresh. We have one cover tune, an old Elvis song and also included three songs from other writers.
Bev: What process did you use to select the songs?
Ben Gregg: We have a song called “Rainy Days” which wasn’t a favorite of mine at first, but the more I listened to it, the more it grew on me and now I really like it. Jim Reynolds wrote the song and it was a lot of fun to sing especially being from Seattle. Jerry came back from vacation where he wrote the song “Radio Waves”. I thought that it had something to it and got right to the point about making song dedications via the radio waves. I think it is a fun, rocking song that radio can have fun with.
Bev: Do you have a certain kind of message you like to sing about? Are you that kind of singer that you like to live your songs? Or do you like to sing whatever and it does not necessarily have to be you?
Ben Gregg: As writer it took me a while to be objective about my own songs and I am my own worst critic. I’ll write a song and think “that was bad”. I would go out to writer’s nights and hear people say that they just write from the heart, and that’s great. As a singer/songwriter, I find myself not only writing from the heart, but also striving to write songs that have commercial appeal and something catchy about it that people can latch onto. Now, a lot of my ideas don’t come from personal experiences; but from what I see from other people’s experiences or events. A song does not necessarily have to represent everything that you’ve personally been through. I believe that even if one believes they live an average life, there is always something to sing about.
Bev: Do you like story telling songs?
Ben Gregg: I do like story-telling songs. It was not until country music came into my life that I really started to appreciate lyrics. When you live through the eighties; lyrics are the last thing you talk about. I thought some of those songs were great, but when you start adding gut-wrenching lyrics to the perfect melody - that is a song. You add that eerie music to the right lyric - that is the fun part. I am probably an average lyricist at this point. I’m really trying to better that and I have improved quite a bit. My forte is music and 99% of the time, that comes first for me. Then I will try to find a topic that the song sounds like.
Bev: So when you start writing, the music comes to you first?
Ben Gregg: Oh yeah, when I start writing, the music (melody) comes to me first. As I grew up I had seen my mom play, all hours of the night. There are always little hooks and motifs going through my head. You just grab one and see what you can make out of it. I am not saying lyrics aren’t important, they are important, they’re critical. That is why I have six musical songs complete now that I don’t have lyrics for yet. I know what it sounds like it should be about, but it is an art form. I have to put the right lyric to the music and it has to be composed in an original way.
Bev: As far as the business side what is the least favorite thing you have to deal with?
Ben Gregg: When you first get in the music business, it is all just great. There are some tedious moments when you are in the studio and you are trying to get the proper sound from the bass drum for example, and they are playing it over and over again, that, I guess is my least favorite thing. There are very few songs that you can play and sing over and over again and never lose the love of it. When you are in the studio getting the tuning or phrasing just right, not just singing it, but playing it over and over again is my least favorite part.
Bev: How many instruments do you play?
Ben Gregg: I play the piano and guitar.
Bev: Speaking of performing, what is your favorite experience performing live?
Ben Gregg: I really enjoy performing at the CMA Music Festival by far! I really like talking and engaging in conversation with the audience. Since I have an interest in geography, I like to ask the fans where they are from and hear them share about their hometowns. The autograph signing is a blast and what an ego builder! They are so kind and make me feel so important. Then I go home to mow the grass, take out the trash and return to reality. Performing at CMA Music Festival really is a kick!
Bev: I know you said you like talking with fans, have you made vow to always be approachable? Is that something you always want to be and have fans come up to you?
Ben Gregg: I really enjoy it when fans approach me for autographs and say hello. I ran for a public office a while back and I had to meet hundreds of people, shake hands and make conversation just to keep it going. I enjoy learning where people are from. Some were from England, Scotland and Germany. That was just so fascinating to me and I since I know a bit about Geography, many times I knew where they were from and could share something about their city with them. They just ate that up!
Bev: Are you good at remembering names?
Ben Gregg: I am pretty good about remembering names but, I keep practicing. You know, the older you get, the memory goes. I have hundreds of phone numbers I try to keep track of so I keep the names and numbers in my cell phone. Not for gloating just to keep that memory strong.
Bev: What is the favorite thing about the whole big picture? Or something that you are looking forward to.
Ben Gregg: I looking forward to getting on a tour with some really great performers like Brad Paisley and George Strait even if I was the first one of many opening acts. I saw Kenny Chesney up in Seattle and he had five opening acts, one was Blaine Larson, and he is from my hometown. Then they followed up with Dierks Bentley, Big and Rich, Gretchen [Wilson] and then him. It was quite the line up. It is probably a little too optimistic for me to think of that, but that would be something I look forward to. Hopefully with some strong radio airplay, we will be able to get over that next hurdle. It is kind of a Catch 22 – it is difficult to have one without the other. It seems to happen simultaneously and you have to just stay focused and keep working hard. I am so happy to be where I am. I can keep touring the Northwest, but I don’t want to be only going to the bars and playing in front of small audiences. My dream is to perform my music for as many people as I can.
Bev: Are you playing anywhere now or are you focusing on getting the radio airplay?
Ben Gregg: Right now, we are focusing on getting some radio play and when we achieve some measure of success from that, we can get a band put together and do some touring. I’ve learned that I don’t want to rush anything. It is so important to surround myself with good people who believe in me and my music. I’ve found that at Cupit Records and I want to make sure to take the time to find the best fit as we add other team players to support the music and any tour. I mean the education curve on this business is phenomenal. Artists will come into town, “Oh, it is all about the music” and it is about the music, but I know that learning the business side of things is just as important.
Bev: Ben, I believe you have a great song with “Radio Waves” and I am really looking forward to hearing more of the album. Thank you for sharing this time with me and I hope to see you again and hear you play live on stage.
Ben Gregg: Thank you very much, it has been my pleasure and I will let you know when we have a show date so you can come out.

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