The unexpectedly verbose Craig Greenberg was kind enough to do an interview for RCSC, so let’s see what he had to say…
How do your songs get written? Is it ever a collaborative effort or are you the musical mastermind behind it all?
About 95% of the time I start with a musical idea, whether it be a melody, chord progression, riff/groove. Sometimes I’ll just have a melody circling around in my head, but most of the times it comes sitting at the piano.
From there I generally start vocalizing and see what sounds form from the mood or vibe of the music, and then usually some words will come. Then I kind of like ‘stream of consciousness it’ as far as i can go and and after I’ve gotten a few lines ask myself “ok, what is this about?”, and if I hit on a phrase that seems like it would make for a good title, I’ll write that at the top and keep it as a grounding. i try to get as much as possible out in the initial writing burst.Ii write a lot of music, so the ones that come out most formed in the first sitting are the ones that will likely get finished. Though the time to actually complete a song can be anywhere from a few weeks to several years..
Actually, the way it seems to me is that out of all the songs I have in progress and that are kind of like fighting for my attention, whichever ones have the loudest voice are the ones that eventually will get finished.
I’ve done some co-writing, but those are generally songs that other artist/signers will perform. For the stuff I perform and sing, I’ve written all the music and lyrics. Lyrics can definitely be tough for me, so I could envision collaborating with someone on that at some point.
Obviously, there’s a strong Ben Folds influence (or just general sound) in your songs. What do you think of the comparison, and do you ever try to steer away from it?
He’s definitely a big influence, though I got into him a lot later on – only about 5 or 6 years ago. I don’t really steer away from it, and actually for my first EP (The World and Back), I used one of his solo records as like the sonic standard i was striving to attain (don’t think i really got there). Most people will say, “I hear the B. Folds influence but you definitely sound like you”, which I take as compliment.
As a follow-up, what are your strongest influences that people might not know about? (The influences do not have to be music, but can be if you want.)
Well, I grew up on a lot of progressive rock (Genesis, Rush, Yes). That stuff definitely stretched my mind and influenced me musically as much as anything, but I can’t deny the Billy Joel influence – I grow up on Long Island after all. That stuff was like indoctrinated from pretty early on! He’s definitely the number one reason I started playing piano. From my parents, I heard a lot of classical music and Broadway, which definitely seeped in on a subconscious level.
Later, in college, I was HUGE into Phish. At the time, I was really just a guitar player, and I spent hours learning a lot of that stuff. People can say what they want about their lyrics, but their early compositional stuff is genius, and as a live band there’s really no one that can do what they do.
Outside of music, my interest in psychology (what I studied in college) and the minutiae of human communication I’d say are my main influences lyrically. I have a bunch of songs that are kind of like mini self-help books…no kidding!
Your new EP, “Spinning In Time,” contains quite a few different sounds and styles on it that all revolve around the piano. Do you do all of your writing on the piano, or do you play and write on other instruments as well?
Though these days I mainly play and write on piano – and most people think of me as a piano player singer/songwriter – i actually started as a guitarist, and most of the formal musical training i’ve had has been on guitar. (Piano I’m mainly self taught). During my time living out of the country (in Chile and Spain), guitar was the only instrument I was writing on and playing regularly. It wasn’t til I came back to NY and had a less itinerant lifestyle that piano became my main thing.
I recently started playing ukulele as well, which i really like. I’ve only written a couple things on it, but i hope to do more on it at some point.
I also play percussion, which many people don’t know (though I’ve never written songs based around it). I’d really like to make a record at some point away from a harmonic instrument – ie.,start w/ just like a drum groove and bass line – something along the lines of the solo work of Peter Gabriel or Paul Simon. That would be really exciting!
Speaking of which, one big quality of your music is that it boasts a sort of ‘timelessness.’ It seems like it could have been recorded at any point in the last fifty years. Was that a deliberate decision or did the songs just come out however they came out?
Wow, saying my stuff is timeless is a HUGE compliment. Thank you! No, that wasn’t a conscious decision, it’s just how they come out. The only thing I would say is that I think good melodies, and music with soul and authenticity will stand up during any point in music, regardless of what’s currently popular, and if I manage to maintain a consistent quantity of those elements in my music, that’s really all I can ask for. Especially since I find keeping up with what’s currently “cool” to be exhausting. Actually, I kind have branded myself the “anti-cool.” I’ve always preferred what’s real, and what has emotion, to what’s “cool.”
How did you meet and convince your backing band to join you?
My drummer (Alex Cohen) answered an ad I posted on Craigslist, and Chris Kelly, my bass player, I met through a mutual friend. He kind of just started showing up at my gigs having learned my songs and wanting to play, so we just kind of fell in. The current band I have is definitely the best accompaniment i’ve ever had, and we’ve come as close to the sound I’ve been trying to actualize for many years now.
What’s the most interesting thing that’s happened at one of your shows?
Hmm… over the summer we played a show in Coney Island that would have to qualify as the most interesting. We were booked to play in between rounds of a bikini fashion show right off the boardwalk. Not quite our ideal setting… don’t ask how that one came about!
What superhero would you and each member in the band be, and why?
Haha!. Well, I’ve always been partial to Superman, because being able to fly I’ve always thought would kick ass! Plus he can be kind of hokey, which I admit I am at times. Chris would be a better villain…like the Penguin. I think he’d be able to get down a real sinister laugh no problem. Alex would have to be a combination of Robin, and the Flash – Robin, because he’s the youngest guy in the band, and kind of like a sidekick, and the Flash, because he can be seriously hyper and has some lightning speed chops on the kit.
What’s next for you musically? Are you working on a full length or another EP anytime soon?,
Yeh, starting to plan for the next record. Hoping it will be a full length. In the meantime, I’m having my first experience producing another artist, which I’ve really enjoyed.
Who are your three favorite artists and why? Any music recommendations?
Hmmm, that’s a tough one. I’ll assume that to mean ‘solo’ artists/performers since you didn’t say ‘band’ (and in the interest of narrowing down the decision).
Paul Simon – for writing some of the most beloved pop songs ever, and then expanding his palate by going to Africa and coming back w/ the Graceland record.
Ben Folds – for keeping the thread of piano based rock alive. There was really no one else doing it in the 90’s.
Peter Gabriel – a true pioneer, probably the best example of someone nailing the perfect combination of art and music.
Recommendations: aside from myself (tee hee), if you’ve never heard Jerry Joseph, you’re missing out on one of the best and most prolific songwriters anywhere. I’ve toured and performed w/ him, and he’s been a huge mentor and supporter over the years. You should check him out!
Bonus Question!: Who would be the person/band you would most like to play music with? (Idols, friends, etc..)
Hmm….if it were just like a jam session it would have to be Phish, but for a real project, working with Regina Spector would be a dream!
Well now we know why there are so many lyrics in Craig’s songs, don’t we! Kidding aside, thanks must go out to Mr. Greenberg, so let’s give the folks who made it this far a little taste…