"My rewards are that I get to complete something that people might enjoy but will ultimately be a unique body of work. Money is part of that, but the joy truly is in the creative process to me." - M.K. Gray
M.K. Gray: Fantastic, thanks for asking!
Mistah Wilson: For our audience reading this, would you mind giving us a quick background on yourself?
M.K. Gray: Grew up in Santa Cruz & Watsonville, CA. My creativity started as everyone's does at an early age... I cartooned and came up with little stories. As I grew older I also drew to songs as we always had music in my parents' house. I was not good at instruments, but I nurtured my language skills and then started writing poetry, acting & performing in a music show in High School. That turned into writing songs with friends and we co-wrote and started in a musical at Watsonville High. My contribution was primarily lyric writing but I was allowed to create my character in the show.
Mistah Wilson: So, what led you to becoming a songwriter?
M.K. Gray: It is a combination of how I grew up, what my life was like and observations & experiences of family not to mention various relationships I've had with others over the years. I got side tracked with tennis in high school & college but I knew quite quickly my abilities in lyric writing would take me further. Early years of collaboration with close friends was key but I also studied relentlessly about what songs are and applied that to my writing. I went to Trebas Institute of Recording Arts in Hollywood, CA in 1992 to study Music Business, worked as an Intern for Epic Records and also worked for the Grammy's Host Committee that same year, however I was really not prepared for that kind of grind, so I moved back home and worked my way through various jobs. Since my good friend Phillip Harrington came back to Watsonville from studying Songwriting & Performance at Berklee School of Music, we decided to form a musical partnership calling ourselves funfolk. We did an open mic, but the main thing was we wrote a lot and took it quite seriously. We started posting stuff online. We got in the door with BMI as writers in 1994. During the same time, I worked with a Jazz composer & performer named Barbara Lopez briefly and she will occasionally perform the songs to this day. I also had met back then a now Nashville-based songwriter and music publisher/genius early in life named Lisa Aschmann who ditched being a professor at UCSC to do it full time and that impacted me greatly. She was still early in her career when I met her and I keep that as inspiration to follow this dream. Phil is doing his thing with a new partner named Purcella and I am putting in effort to work on my craft and find new collaborators but it took me quite a few years to totally commit my energy into writing lyrics. I sometimes think I should have other aspirations and goals, but you know, deep goals within the heart cannot be silenced as you age. That's why I write today. It just won't dislodge from me - it tugs at me to say I have too much at stake to not do it.
Mistah Wilson: What are some things you do to draw inspiration when writing new songs?
M.K. Gray: I usually come up with titles regularly so I'll list them, sometimes even work on them right away. My titles come from phrases or borrow from other title phrasings but I always make a conscious effort to not try to copy other titles or recycle them. The idea is if it is an interesting title for me that is half the battle and I just go to work. Old timers got assignments for songs but I don't work like that, it is self-driven and I write solely what I think is interesting.
Mistah Wilson: This question can't go unasked! How do you deal with writer's block?
M.K. Gray: I went through very frustrating times where I didn't believe I should work on new stuff anymore. Self doubt has a lot to do with it. As I read a book by Steven Pressfield called Going Pro, I realized what my hitch was. It had to do with not trusting my instinct and know I'll figure out what to create as I go along. That you should imagine what you are going to work on as opening a box that will always have something inside. That's important in creativity, to meet with the ideas to work with and accept them no matter what they are, because those open up other avenues to explore. Be willing to explore new ways of writing!
Mistah Wilson: What have been some challenges AND rewards along your journey as a songwriter?
M.K. Gray: Challenges for me include working with others that are focused on other things. Even I've been guilty of it. You get caught up in life so much that you don't honor your creative self or the commitments you make with other creative people to complete projects. My rewards are that I get to complete something that people might enjoy but will ultimately be a unique body of work. Money is part of that, but the joy truly is in the creative process to me.
Mistah Wilson: Have you written any songs for artists we should know about?
M.K. Gray: Barbara Lopez, Matt and Phil's Band. Hell, I even wrote a parody of a Weezer song, and it's co-published with Rivers Cuomo. I know that I WANT to write songs that artists will perform but it still needs to happen. My goal is to work as a staff writer I think. We'll see.
Mistah Wilson: What do you plan on accomplishing through your songwriting? What is your ultimate goal?
M.K. Gray: Really it's about supporting my family (I am married and have two daughters) so that is a major motivator for me. Writing songs, I love to do, so that is an ideal - to view is as my play and get paid for my efforts. And I just want to write great songs, but please others as I know how hard people work for their money to afford buying music.
Mistah Wilson: What positive, encouraging words do you have for aspiring writers who want to get into songwriting?
M.K. Gray: I think that you really know if you're meant for it or not - by instinct, internal drive and your overall passion. Focus on that, not what the end game is. I think it's the coolest thing in the world to create something new and participate in the music industry because you have the ability to spark ideas through your work. As a writer, if you are inspired so much that you cannot see yourself doing other work, then by all means, write. And give yourself the space to create what you are creating without needing to follow trends. Write what you like to write. Offer it up. Take that shot. Join organizations. Learn and create. Have fun!
Mistah Wilson: Where can people keep up with you online?
M.K. Gray: GrandmasMantelMusic.com is where my lyrics are, check em out and see if they inspire you. I am on Twitter as @mkgraymusic... As I say on my website, I am looking for co-writers who want to work with me on the songs to get them completed or even create new songs. So I encourage people interested in becoming creative partners with me to write me at email@example.com.
Mistah Wilson: Hey, M.K. Gray! It's been great having you here for this exclusive interview with ThaWilsonBlock Magazine. If there's any one you want to shout out, now's tha time ..
M.K. Gray: Shout out to all my friends back in Santa Cruz & Watsonville including old co-writers who are scattered around: Chris & Phillip Harrington, Anthony Fesmire, Jonathan Fesmire, Barbara Lopez & Lisa Aschmann. I feel I also have to do a special shout out to Diane Warren and Music Industry mentor Julie Farman who are both big inspirations to me creatively. A big shout out to my Mom, Barbara Gray and my brothers Russ and Jeff for believing in me. Finally, to my wife Melanie and our two daughters Grace and Annie. Let's all make it happen!