Composer, bassist and vocalist Erick Grey writes music when he sleeps. His latest release, “Warm Fuzzy & Mellow,” fills the space with dreams and a beat that kicks your soul. The song transports and elevates with a weighty bass line, nice riffing on the keys and a sultry horn line laced along the top edges. This is all instrumental…when he’s on the mic, though, he can SANG! The passion in “Now, If You Think” is intense, the lyrics clever, the harmonies hot and tight. These are threads that run through all his music and weave a body of work that, while growing, is already beautifully produced and passionately imagined.
What is your music background and how did you discover your interest in vocals?
My dad once told me of a story of when he was a young boy. He and my uncle had to fend off a park full of kids who were intent on beating them up. Somehow, my dad and uncle came off “victorious”! I believe it was this encounter, along with many other harrowing stories that forged a bond never to be broken.
Years later, when they were young adults, my uncle owned a record shop and was very much into jazz. This influenced my dad so much, that by the time I was born, the only thing we listened to on the radio was jazz and Sade.
I get extremely anxious being the “center of attention.” But I still do it for a bigger reason than my own interest. Not only do I love music, it is so much a part of who I am, that I actually dream in music. So even if I didn’t make my music commercially available, I couldn’t escape it if I wanted to.
What was your first public performance, and how did it shape your career decision?
My first commercial performance was my EP release party, which my mom helped organize and sponsor. It was scary for me, because I was the center of attention. I realized that everyone was there to watch me perform, and that’s what they expected. Mmh! I just got chills just thinking about it. Nonetheless, it helped boost my confidence, that people really are interested in what I do. And all I need is one person to dig what I do.
What do you admire about the older R&B and what is it like bringing this vibe into your music today?
For me, old school R&B was so infectious! Whether it was slow and sentimental or more upbeat and groovy. It’s like you can’t help but be moved. Literally and metaphorically. Still, I can’t say that I consciously try to bring the style of old school R&B into my tracks. It’s just what comes out.
What inspires you when you compose and what instrumentation do you like best? Do you have other musicians on these tracks or is it all self-produced?
I get inspired by so many things. Sometimes it’s just a single sound. Sometimes, it’s the way sound waves distort and bend from a distant song. Other times I’ll be going about my daily routine and a song will come out of nowhere. Don’t forget, I dream in music. So sometimes I’ll dream a brand-new song, and have to wake up in the middle of the night to try to record it on my built-in phone recorder. Otherwise, it’ll be gone forever. There are times when I decide to sit down and write a song about a particular subject. So it comes from anything.
Since I don’t currently have the means to pay for session musicians, I’ve had to learn to play everything I want to hear, with the exception to “Warm Fuzzy & Mellow.” My dad played the chair on that track!
How did that happen?
One day I was over my friend’s house, “H-Town” (not the group). He’s an excellent guitarist, by the way! He was playing this lick from a song. I think it was “I’ll Take You There,” or something like that. Whatever it was I just remember it sounded and looked so cool when he played it. I had to try it for myself.
So when I had gotten back to the studio, I mimicked something like it on my bass. That inspired the other instrumentation. One day, in the middle of recording it, my dad had stopped by. I had bought these big ol’ fat drum sticks just because I liked the way they sounded when I hit them against each other. So my Dad says, “Lemme see those, Rick.” He was sitting on my futon, and I had this red chair I had gotten from an office that was throwing it out, and it was sitting in front of him.
While the track was looping in the background, he started tapping on the foot rest of this office chair. It had this syncopated pattern that only he would have come up with. Still, I liked what he was doing so much, I said “Do that again…” I hurried up and put the mic just right, and hit the record button. It added this flavor to the song. I just love it.
Is Raw Flames your own label? How did you get involved in producing other musicians?
In order to do business, I started my own label imprint, The Raw Flames Records (TM). From the start of this commercial endeavor I’ve always had in mind producing or writing for others. I’m shy, so I prefer to be in the background. I figured I needed to have something to show for myself before anyone would trust me enough to do something for/with them. I finally had my chance to produce a local cover band called Epic Melody. In my opinion, they were sensational. Particularly, one of my favorite covers they performed was Jill Scott’s “The Way.” I’ll never forget recording them. It made my hairs stand on end.
Have you performed with other musicians? Do you have plans for collaborating?
My relationship with Epic Melody led to putting on my first ticketed show. We packed a soul food restaurant called Big Sarge’s! I’ve also done several private shows with a group called “The Collective” made up of Stephen Richard on sax, Brian (DJ B. Will) on drums, Kenny and Amber on keys, Glenn on bass, my dad and BJ on percussions, and Bev and I on vox.
I’d love to one day collaborate with Sade, Maxwell, Babyface, Music Soulchild or Kem, to name a few. Plus, if everything is right, a lesser known artist that it makes sense to collaborate with.
What situations or environments inspire you to write music?
I need to be in a peaceful and clean environment to write. You know? I need everything to be clean, physically, morally, and spiritually. Besides that, I like to put myself and my surroundings in the mood of the music I’m writing.
What jazz musicians do you like to listen to and how does that influence what you write?
It’s hard for me to name all of them, partly because there are so many incredible jazz musicians and partly because I just don’t know their names. But I know their music when I hear it. At any rate, when it’s time for me to write, I do my best not to listen to any music, because I don’t want to accidentally steal their music, or worse yet, mimic their style. I feel like the world already has a “fill in artist’s name here.” So, I need to bring something unique to the table. Something refreshing but relatable.
Where are you based and are there opportunities to perform yet?
I’m in Houston. I haven’t been seeking venues to perform lately, because I’m still trying to complete this album. When I do complete it, I’ll probably host a video release party or something like that. I take people’s lives and livelihoods seriously, so I don’t want to needlessly endanger anyone, especially my fans.
What are your plans for performing this single?
With that in mind, I’m working on a session video recording that I plan to release in a few weeks. So be on the lookout for that. I know people like to see what they hear.
All in all, I’m just so excited about the reception that I’ve gotten on my latest releases! I hope everyone continues to stay safe and responsible. Take a moment to reflect on the more important things. Be kind and generous to others. Generally speaking, apply Bible principles. Other than that sit back and enjoy some jazz and some Rhythm & Chill!
Seriously, though, Debbie, I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done for me and the jazz community. You are very eloquent and gracious. Also, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who’s supported me somehow someway in the past. Finally, I thank those in advance who may support me in the future.
For more information visit https://erickgrey.com/.
Photo courtesy of the artist, (c) RMFOTO.com.
(c) 2020 Debbie Burke