Born in England, raised in Australia, and now a recent transplant to the Black Hills, acoustic-pop artist Richard Grewar fuses rock, pop and acoustic elements to create epic soundscapes bursting with bright textures and rhythmic intensity, yet feeling intensely personal, as the listener floats on. Grewar has had the honors of premiering the first ever Life Is Beautiful Festival in Downtown Las Vegas, featuring top-notch headliners like The Killers, Kings of Leon and Imagine Dragons, and in 2014 played a musical showcase at SXSW V2V alongside Morgan Kibby of White Sea.
Grewar’s second studio album is slated for release next month in March – his first record since 2011’s Ghosts, which caught praise as “phenomenally catchy” from Reverb Magazine and “a masterpiece” from the AU Review.
So with that in mind, we are lucky to have had a chance to pick the guitarist’s brain – keep reading below for Grewar’s thoughts on South Dakota, his musical influences, advice for up-and-coming musicians, and a free download from his forthcoming album release!
Of all the places you’ve been and could be in the world, what brings you to South Dakota?
The Black Hills are like this American hidden gem. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who hadn’t heard of Mount Rushmore, but I’m constantly surprised by how many people I’ve met in the US, who don’t know where Mount Rushmore is, or know much about the area. It’s like all the locals know the secret and we’re lucky enough to have been let in on it.
To take a step back – when I first moved to the US, I lived in Las Vegas for 2 years, then San Diego for close to 2 years, so moving to South Dakota has been a breath of fresh air, literally. My wife’s family are from the Black Hills – in actual fact, her great-great-grandfather, John Brennan, was one of the founders of Rapid City, so there’s a pretty special tie for us living here now.
We’re both creative people, so apart from moving from California to be close to family, have our own family and start that next chapter of our lives, this is a place we can have the space to create and be surrounded by mother nature. It’s incredibly motivating and inspirational.
What was the reason behind picking up a musical instrument? How did growing up in Australia influence your music?
From as far back as I can remember, I was always fascinated with music. As a kid living in England before moving to Australia when I was 9, I can remember air-guitaring with a broken tennis racquet, or whatever was laying around, and singing along to my favorite albums in the family lounge room.
When we moved to Australia, my parents worked incredibly in jobs that I now know weren’t their ultimate choice for themselves, but they did it for love and the benefit of our little family. We didn’t go out much and were really happy making our fun at home. Every night during dinner, the record player was spinning. My Dad had questionable taste, or at least as a pre-teen know-it-all, that’s what I thought; listening to Waylon Jennings, Kenny Loggins and Scottish folk music most of the time. My Mum’s musical tastes (Led Zeppelin, The Byrds) however had a huge positive influence on me, and the catalyst for picking up a guitar in a serious sense came from her showing me the talk box guitar solo breakdown on Peter Frampton’s live version of “Do You Feel Like We Do”. Hearing him make his guitar talk through a set of headphones blew my 12 year old mind wide open, and from that moment on, I was hooked.
Playing guitar was, and always has been, a sort of therapy for me. As a teenager, and then young adult, in Australia, music – specifically the ability to transpose emotion from my head and heart to the guitar – has pulled me through so many hard times, like my parents splitting up, Dad passing away and of course the odd relationship break-up, or two, of my own. These experiences aren’t unique to being in Australia, but that’s where the experiences unfolded so my connection with the country is enhanced because of them.
Also, congratulations on your new album, which is slated for release next month! Can you describe what you were going through while you were recording this body of work?
Thank you! It’s taken a long time to get here, and I’m excited to share the album, finally, in March. All the songs were recorded several years ago, whilst I was still living in Australia. I’d released my first album “Ghosts” in 2011, and had been touring around the place pretty consistently on my own, then touring with a band. The songs on “Ghosts” were predominantly just my ideas, fleshed out in the studio a couple of weeks prior to recording. On this second album (I’m still working on the title – either “Cold Feet” or “Patchwork” – we’ll see), the influence and dynamic of playing in a band really shines through. I miss that in my life now. Most of these new songs are a collaborative effort, fleshed out in rehearsal rooms and at gigs, over time. The songs wouldn’t have the personas they have without the guys in the band – Paul Durham, Dave Hyde, Matt Ooi and producer Caleb James.
The reason why the album is only seeing the light of day now, is because…well…life happened. I met a girl, a wonderful American girl (who I’m lucky enough to now call my wife, Amy) and was left with a choice – do I stay in Australia and never find out what could be for us, or do I take a leap of faith, move to America and see where this new love takes us. I chose to leap, and I’m grateful every day for making that decision. Two songs on the album, “One City” and “Deep Breath On Three”, sum that entire experience up perfectly.
Late last year I reached back out to Caleb (James – producer, musical genius and nicest guy on the planet). He got the ball rolling on remixing the 10 songs, and after nearly 4 years of stalling, the album was finished in less than a month.
For anyone who isn’t familiar with your style of music, what can new fans expect to hear from you?
From a call-it-what-it-is standpoint, a new listener can expect to hear a mixture of alternative acoustic rock, with pop, folk and electronic elements. Lots of depth and layers. I like to think there’s a song on the album for all musical tastes. My musical influences and tastes range anywhere from Radiohead, Jeff Buckley, At the Drive-In, Tool and Soundgarden to Michael Jackson and Coldplay, if that’s of any help? Ha. Speaking from the perspective of my heart, you can expect to hear honesty; stories from a time in my life that was filled with happiness, love, joy, depression, soul searching and tough life choices.
During your live shows, you create music in real-time by looping layers upon layers of sound from your acoustic guitar. Sounds like it requires some serious skill! Can you share a bit about your process with us?
Absolutely! I first started to mess around with looping probably around 2010/11, really out of necessity whilst touring on my own, more than anything. I’m obsessed with layers and creating stacked melodies – basically making as much noise as possible – but you can’t do that traditionally without a bunch of band members. Don’t get me wrong, a loop pedal is not a replacement for the energy a connected group of people can create in the moment. It’s a different beast altogether, a constant challenge for the performer and incredibly interesting to watch from an audience’s point of view. Looping is a lot more common now, and not considered gimmicky, although you can still see audience members turn their heads wanting to know where all the noise is coming from.
The process itself is a lot of trial, error and practice. Lot’s of practice. Did I mention, practice?! It’s not something you master, rather something you keep working at and pushing through boundaries as your skills expand. Even a split second of hesitation or cockiness can throw you out of whack. There’s been plenty of occasions at shows where I’ve been maybe 6 or 7 minutes deep into a song, created a ton of layers, in no position to turn back, then mess up a new layer and the entire piece is thrown into chaos. Sounds pretty dramatic doesn’t it? Ha. Well, at the time, it is. That’s what I love so much about it.
What are you enjoying most about South Dakota so far? And just because: how are you getting along through your first winter here? 🙂
Winter? What do you mean? I hadn’t noticed. Haha. Maybe we are still in our honeymoon period. Winter has been incredible in Hill City. In general, the access to Mother Nature that we have in SD, whether that be snowboarding at Terry Peak or simply throwing the ball around with our dog outside in the yard, is a very special part of the Black Hills. That inherent peaceful energy of the mountains, trails and farm lands, rubs off on the people here. It’s liberating. I challenge anyone to find another area in the US that is filled with as many genuine and salt-of-the-earth human beings as the Black Hills. I haven’t explored much of the rest of the state yet, and am excited to do that this year. I’m also excited to meet a lot more creative folks, and Arts Rapid City members, in the area.
Finally, do you have any pieces of advice for young musicians looking to find their way – like utilizing free resources such as ArtsRapidCity.org – and sustain a career playing music?
I preface my answer with, this is solely my opinion. If you’re reading this – take what you need from whatever resonates with you, and ignore what doesn’t. If you want to talk more with me about anything here, let me know.
First and foremost I’d say understand your personal mission, your purpose, your personal goals and define what success looks like for you. Then work backwards from that goal to determine what you need to be doing, what help you need, who you should connect with etc. to get there. Have a plan and don’t rely on anyone to achieve your goals for you. You have to take action for yourself.
Over time your goals, definition of success and your plan tactics may change, and that’s ok, but sticking to your mission and purpose is paramount for a healthy and prosperous time in the industry. This is an ever-evolving process (I’m still learning), so commit with your whole self, commit to being yourself no matter what, play full-out and don’t take short cuts. There’s a difference between applying a valuable lesson, and a short cut.
Although the music industry has never been more competitive and as “noisy” as it is now, we’re also living in a time where access to fans, and the ability to connect the virtual world with the physical world, is an equal opportunity space. Geographical boundaries aren’t as restrictive as they once were. Seeking out, and collaborating with, like-minded people, and organizations like ArtsRapidCity.org is a non-negotiable in terms of your planning and strategy. Understand and use leverage – what can you offer someone in exchange for what you need? There is a lot of help out in the world, and people who have already paved the trail before you. Find those trailblazers and don’t be afraid to reach out to them. Learn from their lessons, wins and mistakes. Knowledge is key, and your ability to continue your personal evolution will only enhance your career. Tactically, you have to incorporate a robust email and social media strategy as well.
Also, diversify. Having a long term career in music is absolutely possible. You don’t have to be just one type of musician – playing gigs in cafes etc. and struggling financially. You have to do that for your own growth, it doesn’t have to be all you do though. Double as a songwriter and write for other people, learn about the process of sync, licensing, music publishing and writing for commercial outlets, produce and record other artists. Explore business ideas around music; is there a problem you can solve using your musical skills? Further to that, it’s ok to have a “normal” job to supplement your creative goals. It’s noble to quit your job and focus on music full time, but if you can’t afford to buy new strings or put food on the table to begin with, how is that lifestyle going to bring you happiness and keep your mind healthy enough to keep going? Music is a universal language, and your big break on a TV singing competition is not the only path to sustainable musical success for you.
The superstars of today are in fact a very small percentage of the working musicians in the world, and for the most part, they’ve spent many MANY years and thousands of hours honing their craft, hearing NO’s, and getting back on the horse to get where they are – couple all those factors with an element of luck.
Spend the time honing your craft, because ultimately you have to be well-rounded – you need business acumen, knowledge, thick skin, drive and your art (whether that’s songs or production skills, soundtracks, etc.) has to the absolute best it can be to connect with people. There is an audience for everyone. Stay focused, understand your goals, push yourself, don’t take criticism personally, ask for help and anything is possible for you. ●
So there you have it – we can’t thank Richard enough for his deliberate, thoughtful responses. And to celebrate the release of his new album next month, he is offering a special gift available to Arts Rapid City followers – a FREE download of “One City” – the first track from the upcoming album. Stream or download it now for free!
Follow the musician elsewhere on the Internet for updates on his new music or give him a shout out via the links below!
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