Though most frequently cited for his longstanding contributions to hip-hop group Heiruspecs, piano player deVon Gray (dVRG) has a mile-long list of collaborations that keep him busy creating music and booking gigs around the clock. (For evidence, just check out his answer to the first question in our Q&A below, where he tries to list all of his current projects and ends up with about 18).
In honor of his 31st birthday today, Gray is rustling up "a mess of friends" tonight at the Aster Cafe for a loosey-goosey collaborative event that will feature a slew of his talented musical cohorts. We caught up with him to find out a little bit more about his multi-faceted musical life.
[jump] Roll call: How many bands are you playing in/collaborating with at the moment?
1) Heiruspecs: Currently working on a new album. We're 15 months into it. Going deeper than we have ever before. It'll be quite epic. Plus we are expanding our St. Paul Central High School Scholarship Program. We want to do it bigger in our second year. Next gig 1/29 shared bill with Lyrics Born and band in Chicago at the Abbey Pub.
2) Liminal Phase: An acoustic/electronic chamber improv collective with Adam Levy (Honeydogs, Hookers $ Blow), Joey Van Phillips (Mystery Palace, Dessa's band), and three other players. We've been recording for almost a year. That will be a very different and very engaging album. It's journey music. The music really takes you on a trip. I play electric bassoon and keys. Next gig 1/22 at Nick & Eddie's with Kill the Vultures and Black Audience.
3) And the Professors: A pop/rock band with Adam Levy, Joey Van Phillips, Trent Norton on bass (Honeydogs, Hookers, Kicks & Spurs), and the ATP String Quartet. Also working on an album for over a year. Amazing string arrangements from various composers/arrangers including myself. Also a couple by Andy Thompson (Messersmith producer, collaborator, arranger). Next gig 3/6 at The Cedar with Liminal Phase.
4) Lazerbeak's Ensemble of Legends: Played on his album and I'm in the live band. I play all the keys (strings, samples, etc.) as well as the bass parts on synth. Next gig 1/22 at Turf.
5) In Crisis Mode: Joey Van Phillips, Cody McKinney bass. We've been playing every Wednesday at Ginger Hop since early last summer. Nathan Hanson (Fantastic Merlins) often joins us. When he can't we invite another luminary to slay with us. We groove and we improvise freely. Ultimately we groove. A la fusion Miles. Steve Roehm (New Standards) loves to sit in with us.
6) Ashleigh Still band: With JT Bates (too many groups to name just a couple) on drums, Jeremy Ylvisaker (Andrew Bird, Alpha Consumer), and Aaron Fabrini on bass.
7) Sophia Shorai: We play as a duo and often with a trio. We've mostly played jazz standards and some covers, but we're moving toward playing just her original tunes which are remarkable. Next gig's Wee Cabaret 2/18 & 2/19
8) Southern Songbook: I chose my guys from Heiru to be the house band because we work so smoothly and effortlessly under tight time constraints. And it's always fun and memorable. Next concert 2/14 "Desire and Death: New love songs on yearning and loss" featuring John Munson, Aby Wolf, Darren Jackson, Alicia Wiley, Holly Newsom, and five others.
9) Champion Sweaters: Brand spanking new collabo with Lazerbeak. What happens when you put two producers together? We're thinking magic.
10) Ashley Gold: Brand spanking new collabo. We're writing songs starting from a place of mutual love and respect, the Black Keys. That's our inspiration. Goal is an album that rocks and grooves soulfully and hard.
11) dVRG Beats: I'm working on beats for: Toki Wright, Mastermind, Felix, and Meta. Who wants beats? Send 'em my way.
12) Scoring an untitled film project for Gantry Productions, an LA-based filmmaker.
13) Scoring a film project for a NYC filmmaker.
14) "String Theory Music Festival" presented/sponsored by the Southern Theatre, MN History Theatre, McNally Smith College of Music, and New Amsterdam Records. 4/14-4/17 2011
I've composed two works for string quartet. One in high school and one at conservatory. Both will be performed as well as a newly penned work.
There are a couple other groups that are less frequent at present: Supreme Privacy and Sean's group Twinkie Jiggles' Broken Orchestra. I also sit in with Big Trouble when keys are needed like on our annual Valentine's day show. This year 2/13 at The Cedar. Always with Dave Campbell and Lucy Michelle.
15) TLO: A mostly instrumental album with kirtan as the inspirational jump off. Project headed by Dan Wilson with Jeremy Messersmith, Andy Thompson, & Ken Chastain. I play electric bassoon and keys. This group is made up of busy guys. Don't hold your breathe waiting for this album. LOL.
I recently played some flute for the next Big Quarters album. I love those dudes and will do whatever whenever.
When Desdamona plays shows with a band of late she calls me and I make it happen. Love her voice her spirit and her music. ,'-)
Okay. That's everything. In a nutshell.
If I remember correctly, you started out as a classically trained piano player. When did you start dabbling with other styles and genres?
From day one. Classical training was a great jump off, but I've been improvising and playing by ear from day one. Which means at four or five years old. Banging away on the piano.
What were some of your earliest musical inspirations? Who were your first role models?
The first moment that truly shook me to my core was walking into Orchestra Hall summer after 7th grade on a jazz orchestra field trip. MN orch was being lead by Eiji Oue. That was the most beautiful music I'd ever seen being created live in front of my eyes. Heart skipped a beat. It was the opening movement of Beethoven's seventh symphony. That piece still, and forever, resonates. Truly.
First role models? Lawrence Waddell(keys/songwriter Mint Condition). When they weren't on the road he was at church playing with the choirs. That's where I learned to use my ears. He's still my favorite mentor of the keys.
If you could get any one present for your birthday, what would you wish for?
A recording studio to call home. With an engineer that was in love with every note I imagine, and shared the same dream. To take over the world. One piece at a time.
What can people expect from your birthday show?
Smiles and satisfaction. We play because we need to. We share because you need us to gift you with our art and our hearts. We're gonna have a great time playing some music you know. We're going to have a moving time sharing with you some music you won't know. Lol. The purpose is the same. Touch hearts and minds.
dVRG will perform a set with his groove trio Blood Electric followed by a mega-collaboration with a couple dozen of his closest friends TONIGHT, JANUARY 18, at the ASTER CAFE. All ages. 8 p.m.