“Anyone in the music industry knows that success is contingent on a bit of luck,” reads the press release for Room For Gray’s fourth outing The Next Step, “but luck is useless without a burning desire to win and a relentless work ethic to back it up.” Hard to argue with any of that. However, whoever wrote the thing left out an incidental ingredient called talent. Britney Spears notwithstanding, you can have the luck of the Irish, the burning desire people in hell have for ice water, and the work ethic of a Puritan—if you ain’t got chops, you just ain’t got it. Room For Gray are a fairly good-lookin’ bunch of guys, but, no offense intended, just don’t stack up against Spears in the I-can-make-a-career-out-of-being-eye-candy department. They do, however, got chops.
Room For Gray play hard-edged soft-rock with several of the surest hands around. Luck, desire, and commitment get an able assist from solid songwriting, effective vocals, and most capable musicianship. “Over the years, through experience and continuously studying our influences, we have finally honed in on our musical identity,” says bandleader James Gray (vocals, guitar). Steadfast followers who’ve seen the group through seven years, personnel changes, and sales of more than 5,000 independently released CDs will, of course, be real interested in getting a thorough dose of that identity. Newcomers don’t need to be shy, neither. It’s pretty good stuff. Room For Gray play a release show for The Next Step on Saturday, May 16 at O’Gara’s.
Dwight Hobbes: There’s four guys pictured inside the new album’s dust jacket. Only three guys—you, bass player and backup singer Jared Hedberg, and drummer Stephen J—are listed in the credits for The Next Step. At tcMusic.net, there’s yet another lineup. How fast do you fire musicians, and exactly how difficult are you to work with?
James Gray: I wish I could say that I am difficult to work with and that is the reason. But the truth is this is one of the hardest businesses and it’s really hard to keep your head up when it seems sometimes that no one recognizes the work you are doing. This band has had its fair share of downs versus ups, but you have to keep moving forward despite all of it. Things are starting to happen for us now. I hope my bandmates stick around to see this through. This business can really burn you out sometimes. Our old drummer, who started the band with me, still fills in occasionally, which is fun; Mitch Robbins is still our acting manager and fills in on guitar.
What about The Next Step convinced you the band has arrived at its identity?
Over the years we tried so hard to be different we forgot about what makes the bands we love so great, and that is awesome songs. We really started focusing on songwriting and…hooks, instead of [on] intricate parts. This record can stand up to any of the current artists.
You and guitarist David Roo do a lot of writing together. Ever thought of having him join the band as a full-fledged member?
David Roo and I actually started the band. He is one of the most talented people I have ever known, and I am thankful that we have such a good writing relationship together. The reality is he has some issues with [performing live] in certain live situations. He and I do a lot of acoustic shows together and have a blast doing it.
How’s it feel to have lasted through four CDs—and what, precisely, are the titles of all of them?
It feels really good. You know, when we finished this last record my fiancé made me plaques of all of our CDs and hung them on the wall and it wasn’t until then that it really hit me how long and how far we have come over the years. Our first CD was simply titled EP; it had three songs plus two acoustic versions of the songs. Our next record, Room For Gray, had 14 tracks and was self-produced and -recorded. It was released in 2004. The follow-up to that was an EP entitled Moving On, with five tracks, released in 2007. We worked with Jeff Harrington on that release. And as you know, our latest is The Next Step, with ten tracks. It was recorded with World Record Productions.
Even if it wasn’t called Room For Gray, it’s clear the band is built around you. Why not just go solo?
If I were to do a solo record it would be very different from Room For Gray.
What are those influences you and the guys have been continuously studying?
My biggest influence over the years has been Bon Jovi. They are still relevant after 25 years and their formula constantly evolves. I respect that greatly. Aerosmith, Goo Goo Dolls, Matchbox Twenty, U2, Metallica. All fantastic bands who continue to be successful throughout the years.
Trocaderos on June 20th with a great lineup. The company that does our Web site, Eband Live, is hosting this show with its biggest acts: Danger Is My Middle Name, Ready Goes, Standard Thompson, Baltimore. It’s going to be a great time. We are playing with G.B. Leighton at G.B. Leighton’s Pickle Park on June 26th, which is going to be huge! We’ll try and tour as much as we can this summer and hopefully start writing again soon.
Dwight Hobbes is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the Daily Planet.
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