Growing up in a suburban town in Massachusetts, I was raised on country music and musical theatre. As I've grown, my relationship to country has become more distant than it once was- but I always appreciate when I hear such a specific country style of songwriting and the old time vocals of Johnny Cash or Patsy Cline. A genre that has the ability to take you to a specific time and place is a special one.
A few months back, I walked into Iconica Social Club in Northampton to see my friend Carson of Lonely Whale perform, she was opening for local country musician Greg Hall. I stayed for the whole line up, it was also the night that I discovered another one of my favorite locals- Lady Jane. The valley is full of unique artists and performers, and Greg Hall was no different. His experienced twang and inviting presence made me lean in and listen up. He sang of heartbreak but still found a way to exude warmth. Shortly after that night, I looked deeper into his music, I was extremely pleased to find that in addition to being a great musician he has a devotion to supporting this local music scene, which was made clear when I discovered his "Greg Hall Interviews..." series on YouTube. I looked forward to learning more, and I can excitedly say that this September 9th, Gateway City Arts is lucky to host Greg's release of his upcoming live recorded album, "Live at The Barnhouse". Greg recently took some time to let us in on his inspirations and talk to us a bit about his upcoming album.
Why don’t you start by telling us a little about your music, You have said that your sound “lives somewhere between the classic country tradition of Johnny Cash, and modern singer-songwriters like Josh Ritter”. Can you tell us more about your influences and how your sound has come about?
I love the forms and tradition of classic country music; the simple stories that effortlessly cut straight to the listener’s heart. Modern folk songwriters like Josh Ritter achieve a similar result. Sure, they may use more metaphor and fancier language but at the root of any great song is a great story, whether real or not. I have nothing against a song with a lot of chords and words, but I prefer to showcase the feeling of a song instead of adding complexity for complexities sake.
What got you started as a musician? Have you always had a love for country music?
I have always loved country music, even if I didn’t realize it. I grew up on a horse farm in Northern Connecticut and the cowboy life was my family’s reality, 90’s country was the soundtrack. I believe Randy Travis has the best voice ever and he was always my favorite growing up. When I started playing guitar in the early 2000’s, I was really into pop-punk (Blink-182 is still very important to me), but I started getting back into country, folk and, bluegrass music in my late teens. Ever since then, my affection and love for that music has intensified and I've sort of returned to that old soundtrack with my playing, but in a new way.
Your show here on September 9th is an album release for your “Live at the Barnhouse” recording, what was it like recording a live album?
Recording a live album is an unbelievably rewarding and nerve-wrecking endeavor. We tracked at Barnhouse Recording to an intimate crowd of 35. The performance that night was high-energy and intense and the crowd was with us at every turn, which definitely shows on the recording! I am grateful that the players in my band are some of the best in The Pioneer Valley (Reed Sutherland bass, Zack Cross keys, Lexi Weege vocals, Patrick Brown drums, Miguel Santiago harmonica). Honestly, I could not be more happy with how we all played on “Live at The Barnhouse”!
Is this album all new music or has any of it been previously released?
8 of the 10 songs have appeared on the past albums “Railroad Song EP” and “Mountain Glow.” We've played these songs together for years and naturally the songs have evolved. All these older songs have new arrangements, so even if some listeners are familiar with these tracks, they’ll discover something new. I did write two new songs for the album, “Diamond of The Valley” and “Get Lost a Lot”. You can receive an instant download of “Diamond of The Valley” if you pre-order the album through greghallband.com
What was the concept behind this album? I know you often write about identity and aging, are there particular themes we can expect to hear in your writing for this album?
There wasn’t much of a concept to the album other than the desire to take our favorite songs and put them on a live record. I tend to write personal songs so the themes of love, heartbreak and being a mid 20 year old songwriter definitely show up often. I also tend to write about The Valley a lot, I have lived here for six years now and can’t get enough of its charm. The song “Diamond of The Valley” hits on all of my favorite themes.
I am a huge lover of local music, this amazing scene fills many of my playlists. I was really impressed about 6 months ago when I stumbled upon your interview sessions with some local musicians- such as Old Flame, Mtali Banda, Mammal Dap, Lexi Weege, and more. What inspired you to start a platform that supports local musicians? Can we expect to see more of these interviews?
There is an amazing podcast called The Working Songwriter, where Joe Pug interviews other nationally touring artists (my favorite interview from that series is with Brandon Flowers of The Killers). I realized with my friends Vassilios Karsaliakos and Patrick Brown that a local version of this model could be great!
There is so much great music in The Valley that deserves to be heard and doing a YouTube series instead of a podcast was intended to give the listener the chance to put a face to the name. I passionately believe that a local music scene only works if everyone is working together and I hope that this can be my small contribution in addition to my music. We have been on hiatus from the series for a while, but you can definitely expect some new episodes in Fall 2018. All of our previous episodes are available on YouTube by searching “Greg Hall Interviews…”.
Speaking of Lexi Weege, The Franklin County Sweethearts are opening up the night for your show, can you tell us a little about them?
The Franklin County Sweethearts are my favorite local band to see live. Lexi, Rosie Porter, and the rest of the band do an amazing job with classic country tunes. They truly impress me at every show with the breadth of their repertoire. I look forward to each time I get to share the stage with them.
What is one thing that you think is a defining characteristic of The Valley’s Music Scene?
I believe the ability to be an individual is the defining characteristic of The Valley’s Music Scene. Some of my favorite shows as a local musician have been playing some original country songs on a night of experimental music. Doing this night after night around the country would likely get tiring, but I have experienced a great level of respect from musicians of all genres in The Valley. Most of my best friends in music don’t know anything about George Jones but they will will take the time to understand why I love his songs and I make it a point to do the same for their favorite artists. Shooting the “Greg Hall Interviews…” series has further confirmed this. Separate from the each main interview in the series, I play a song with each guest that also goes on YouTube. It has been very fun to find a song for each guest that we are both excited about, especially when we come from different genres.
What would you say is the hardest part about being a self-employed musician?
The most difficult part of being a self-employed musician is that you have to constantly work if you expect to move forward. You can’t let a bad day keep you from booking because that will likely mean that in 3 months you won’t have a string of shows for a week. Slacking off at work hurts no one but yourself, so you have to keep grinding constantly. It’s not all bad though, there is no feeling better then when you land a big show, prepare to release a new record, or step on the stage.
Of your released (or soon to be released) songs, what is the most personal one you have written to date? Do you mind telling us about it?
Mountain Glow is a very special song to me. It put into motion the idea that I am going to make it in music or bust. During the time of writing the song, I was working a 40 hour work week and was simply not able to pursue a life on the road or in the studio. One night on my way home from work I passed Mt. Tom on the highway, which I had done hundreds of times before, but for some reason that night felt different. I got home and wrote Mountain Glow in 30 minutes.
The song as a whole is about the need to chase a dream at the expense of your comfortable life. Soon after writing Mountain Glow, I began restructuring my life, which has led me to where I am today.
Your band is made up of some really excellent locals- many of which perform with other great bands locally. Can we expect any new collaborations coming up?
I am always open to collaborations! Seeing the way other players write and perform is something that I find fascinating. There is no one way to make music and I want to experience as many approaches as possible.
I recently tracked some backup vocals on a Matt Bryde song at Ghost Hit Records, I am looking forward to that release. I do have a couple of collaborative projects coming up very soon. They're kind of in the early stages and I don't want to jinx anything or spoil the surprises! Check greghallband.com and follow me on Instagram @greghallmusic for more information on these projects real soon!
What’s next for Greg Hall & The Barnhouse Band?
I have been in the studio demoing songs for our next album, which will hopefully release in Fall 2019. In the meantime, I plan to be on the road more than ever, traveling around New England the Midwest and the East Coast. You can also expect the return of “Greg Hall Interviews…” as well as some music videos this Fall.
Join Greg Hall and The Barnhouse Band on September 9th when they release their album, "Live at the Barnhouse" at Gateway City Arts. You can purchase tickets here.
To learn more about Greg, visit his website.