About a year ago, I was touring through New York and was at Pete's Candy Store in Brooklyn. My band played an early set in the back room, a long and narrow venue where the bands run their own sound with cables found in a piano bench on stage. The performance part of the evening went well, but the hours that followed were extremely unlucky (lost wallet) and unpleasant (someone coughed up blood, someone threw up, someone passed out). I did, however, return to the back room to get our instruments just in time to hear Meredith Godreau (or Gregory and the Hawk) start her set, making everything right with her little-girl voice and disarming melodies. Minutes later, I ran into the bar to inform my band that "the best female performer I've ever seen is in the other room." And then I returned to watch the whole performance and to buy an EP from the modest Meredith, who warned that none of the songs she played that night were on it, that she was working on an acoustic full-length album. That album, In Your Dreams, is now completed, and Meredith handles it without a label, despite a ridiculously multiplying number of fans.
You've been performing as Gregory and the Hawk for five years. Is this your first musical project? When did you start writing music?
It just depends on how you look at it, I guess. I started playing music long before and playing out in public for a while, but naming it was just sort of a decision to not go by my own first and last name, not really a change in anything else. I've had a few other projects playing with friends, but none of my own where I've played too many shows, just a few in passing.
I am curious about your recording techniques. Do you use any computer programs, go straight to tape in a studio, or record at home on an 8-track or such? There's a lot of clarity to your recordings, but they feel like live performances, and the reverbs sound natural.
What's most important about a recording for me is that it brings out the writing, because the writing of the song is what I like to do. All the recordings are so different. They've been made by me, or one of several producer friends of mine, in small studios or bedroom studios so far. The remixes on my first EP, though, all the beats are computerized. Well, I didn't have anything to do with those, that was a Short Stories miracle there. I'd say mostly they are made on what's available to me/us at the time and as low a cost as possible, you know? But it's fun to try it out with just radio tape decks and stuff.
Your voice is very particular. I can't think of a better word to describe it than "lovable." The cover songs I've heard you perform--Beyonce, Gnarls Barkley--become immediately transformed, sweetened, vulnerable. I wonder if your own voice is ever a challenge to you when you want to express something ugly, or cold, or sardonic...
Thanks, I can live with a "lovable" voice 🙂 I like my voice, sometimes I'm trying to sing a little more strongly, that's ok, too. I go through phases. Sometimes I envy people for their strong voices, though, that's for sure.
The following that you've garnered seems pretty unprecedented for an unsigned artist, who sells her own records from home. The amount of discussion on your message boards analyzing your lyrics, thousands of hits each day on MySpace... Have you made a conscious decision to be in charge of your own music and make available the songs and videos that you wish to? Do you find advantages to not having to go through the corporate channels?
There are advantages and disadvantages to doing everything you could possibly do--apart from music, too, of course. I try not to place too much emphasis on the rules of the music business. When you look back in history there are great musicians and great artists who've been screwed over, who stole others' material and passed it off as their own, who went unnoticed til they were dead... There's a whole realm of possibility. It's nerve-wracking to be in control of everything I consciously make available. It's impossible to control the sharing of some things so I try to let that go. Everyone takes a different path in life, and the same goes for how a certain musician gets heard. I can try to do this way and I can try to do that way. But in the end there's no real trying involved--it's just fun and games and chance.
What bands and albums have been an influence to you? Do you ever draw inspiration from other art forms -- literature, film...
I've never been a big reader or movie watcher and when I think of influence I usually have the same four answers: The Lemonheads, The Blake Babies, My Bloody Valentine, and The Sundays. I do love pop music.
What recent albums or artists are you enjoying?
Have you always lived in Brooklyn? How did where you grew up influence your exposure to and tastes in music?
It's actually a common misconception that I've ever lived there at all. I grew up in a small town and I still live in a small town, a different one. Brooklyn is more of a place for doing than living. I never really listened to radio other than the hit station when I was young, but my family played music and we had some odd records. Other than that, I went to garage sales when I was twenty-one. I started going to live shows, but it took me a few years to enjoy live music. Now I always want to live places where I can see live music regularly.
On your first release, The Boats & Birds EP, the backing band--keyboards, drums, and bass on several songs--was more present than on In Your Dreams, which sounds extremely intimate and has only a few embellishments. Did you prefer working with acoustic instruments, and do you think that you'll continue in that direction on your next album?
That's true. On the EP I felt outside pressure to make something extremely presentable to the public and very well produced. Then I sorta got sick of doing that 'cause I got very interested in guitar playing around 2005-2006 and so I wanted to make an album like In Your Dreams where I got to wile out on guitar. In Your Dreams was mostly working by myself, whereas the EP involved a lot of teamwork. Both were fun. I have a certain pride about In Your Dreams though, it's got the songs I've been wanting to write since I started writing. The next new album has already been started and is different from both.
Is there a particular element of your music that is the primary focus for you (lyrics, performance, melody, etc.)?
Just to keep presenting a new idea.
What are three things that you love?
Swimming, eating, the wilderness
More from Gregory and the Hawk
Visit Gregory and the Hawk at MySpace.
Identity Theory's Recommended Listening: "Neither Freer" and "Kill the Turkey" by Gregory and the Hawk