I will be the servant to your stiletto heels/And the marks that you leave on me I will keep concealed…* -Gregger Botting
Chatham-born Gregger Botting returns to Sarnia, Ontario, Canada, Sunday, January 21, 2018 for an afternoon House Concert at the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts. Grab your tickets now!
Every time Gregger performs live at a coffee shop or during an outdoor event, his voice strengthens and his confidence soars. Behind the scenes, his fans praise his humble and casual nature. The guitarist displays a genuine interest in helping people and harbours a deep parental love for his young daughter. On stage, his wide smile automatically warms up the audience; his magnetic personality keeps them listening. According to a Lawrence House release, “Gregger will be performing a mix of his original songs as well as covering some favourite and familiar rock/folk/Americana hits of the 1960s.”
Hear my applause again and again.
I normally don’t blog about musicians but Greg (stage name Gregger) has been part of Sarnia’s literary scene for several years: first as one of the few singer-songwriters to attend Spoken Word at the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts and more recently as part of Open Stage, a new open mic event hosted by musician Missy Burgess.
With a common interest in words and rhythm, poets and songwriters are often inspired by each other. I admire Gregger’s dedication and commitment to his music plus the depth of emotions in his lyrics.
In his debut CD, Never Saw A Thing Coming, Botting draws on the vulnerabilities of falling in love, the loneliness of break-ups, the healing of open wounds, and the uncertainties of a future relationship.
His 11-song CD showcases a variety of musical styles and voices from the twangy-country feel of “Hippie Girl” to the slower tempo of “About to Fall” to the rock ‘n roll sound of “It’s You” to the jazzy and bluesy “Bad Day Blues”. I love the sound of “The Grand Catastrophe” with Botting’s harp-sounding guitar picked melody. His duet with London folk songstress Taylor Holden is also noteworthy, reminding me of the famous Johnny Cash and June Carter collaboration.
His lyrics lean toward the more traditional verse with catchy lines like Hearts can heal but I’m not sure from “Hippie Girl” and I’ll help to take your tears away from “It’s You”. He also writes gems like the stiletto reference mentioned at the top of this blog and I will be the ashes and you can be the fire from “As Fast As You Come (You Disappear)”.
In my opinion, his strongest lyrics stem from the song he often plays at gigs. This title track “Never Saw A Thing Coming” includes the words That joker he lives in a house of cards/one day they fell down and they fell pretty hard/The Kings and Queens they laughed at him. Later, he adds: His record was worst [sic] than the weatherman’s.
In the last track, hope prevails in “Promise of Another Day” where the duet sings Darkness now gone, sunlight now gained/The moments of love show when we are saved.
Several months ago, I had a chance to interview Gregger about his journey as a musician and his experiences with his first CD. Below is his response to my questions:
First of all, belated congratulations on the release of Never Saw A Thing Coming, your debut CD. In one or two lines, describe the style of music and theme behind your CD? Was there a message you wanted the audience to walk away with? If yes, what is it?
Well thank you very much. So the album by design is a mixture of folk, blues, rock, Americana… I certainly wanted it to be an interesting mix of material. It’s going to be familiar but I am a product of my musical heroes and ‘if it ain’t broken’, as they say… The mix of genres keeps you on your toes with their feel and instrumentation, so I hope that brings the ‘fresh to the familiar’ in its overall sound.
In regards to theme (and I don’t know how intentional it was while selecting the songs at the time) but what I noticed as I look back on its overall theme, are the ideas of love, loss and a nostalgia for life moments that good or bad, make an impact and are relatable to people. I hope as people listen in a contemplative kind of way, that on the whole, it has a reassuring kind of vibe.
What is your favourite song on the CD and why is it so special to you?
I know that this sounds completely cornball, but all the songs I finish are sort of special. I find that when I write, if my intuition is telling me to see a particular song through (either immediately or being constantly compelled to return to it) then something outside of me is going on. No song felt like a chore. I am pretty certain that I was really pumped-up after writing each tune. So, back to your question, I’ll toss three out to you.
The title track “Never Saw a Thing Coming” was a song that came pretty quick from start to finish….and I knew there was something about it as soon as it was finished. It’s not quite a story but nor is it this free associating wordplay. It’s autobiographical yet equally relatable. It came quickly from the song writing gods so I am grateful for it.
“All ‘Bout the Soul” is a tribute to Kris Kristofferson, a song writing legend and hero of mine. Also, my friend Roger Fisher who recorded guitar on the record says it is probably his favourite song and so that means a lot too. He told me as soon as I played it for him, he could imagine it on the radio. He does a great classic-country guitar solo on it.
“Hippie Girl” took years between the first half and second half of the song. It was one I was always going back to in the notebook. It is special in that, when I completed it, the sensation of excitement and confidence about it (even as just words on a page) was really strong. At the time, I felt like that one (on a lyrical level) was so smooth in its imagery and would be able to easily speak with other people. That’s the reason it kicks off the album…That and Producer Adam Miner, told me as much and so I’ll bow to the wise.
A musician’s journey can be a challenging one. How long did it take to collect enough material to put out a CD? What was the most difficult part about the process? Did you ever feel like giving up? Why or why not? How did you stay motivated?
I went to DNA Media in Sarnia with a bunch of home recordings of songs. Producer Adam Miner (DNA Media) and I discussed what I was looking to do and he told me to go with my instinct and pick the sure-bet songs to start…and we went from there. The songs I provided were written in roughly a five year period.
The most difficult part of the process was fighting my own self-doubt. I think it bogs more people down than anything else. While I was excited for so many of the other musicians who came in and did outstanding performances during the process, there were times when I wondered about the purpose of it all.
I had written enough material that I felt were good (to me) and complete, that ultimately I knew I had to do something with them. Surely I wasn’t meant to just play them alone in my living room. I don’t want to get all hippie-dippy on it but I chalked it up to something more than me. There’s a point to it all, no? There has to be. Maybe it was all just cathartic at the time, but maybe it was to be shared. Where’s this stuff coming from? How’d I come up with that? So one day you decide to do something concrete with it. Get it out there.
With authors, the cover of the book is the first thing that readers will notice. I was quite impressed by the cover of your CD and the images used to promote your work. How challenging was it to decide on the right cover? Please explain the process.
The credit goes 100% to DNA Media. I dragged photographer Natali Bravo to a couple locations in and around Petrolia (where I am living) and she eyed new locations, 200 feet from my locations that ultimately made the cover and CD inserts.
Once we had the photographs, Music Producer Adam Miner and I sat down and he whipped up some magic in Photoshop. We tinkered with size and alignment of some text, but Adam is both an audio and visual artist so things came together fairly quickly. The photos told us the colour scheme and some back and forth with different ideas, and there it was.
Adam really has an eye for quality and he doesn’t fool around when he has a vision going. I am grateful for them both to help me out with this for sure.
When did you first decide you wanted to write songs and be a musician? Was it something you always dreamed about or was it a decision you made later on in your life? Please elaborate.
I always enjoyed music and as a little kid was driving around with my dad who listened to 104.3 WOMC out of Detroit. 1950’s rock ‘n roll, The Motown sound, early British Invasion, Chuck Berry, it was all great stuff. I liked 94.7 WCSX which was more into Jimi Hendrix, Cream and harder, edgier classic rock of the later 1960’s and early 70’s.
I don’t know if there ever was a moment that I consciously considered either as something I could be. I think my guitar playing was and is out of enjoyment ever since I picked it up as a teenager.
Writing songs was something I had tried from time to time as a teenager and in my 20’s but they were only pieces and were varying degrees of awful. Ultimately I knew that I really had nothing to say. I never really was into current trend music and anyone I was listening to had a pretty authentic persona. I was and still am of the belief that the great songs come from authenticity that I didn’t have.
I found myself writing while struggling with the end of my marriage in my early 30’s. I wasn’t writing songs necessarily, but I was writing my struggle and writing to sort things out in my head. After we separated, it was kind of a conscious notion that I should try writing some songs. They were dark and a lot of them only sketches of a full song. But they were a constructive way to work through things and focus my thoughts when I’d get home from the day job. So that’s where things evolved and I started to have something to say. I gained some of that life experience/authenticity that I was able to use as fuel.
What inspires you? Who are your mentors?
Surrounding myself with other inspired people is a good start I think. It is not a competitive endeavour by any means, but surrounding yourself with other creative people just seems to rub off. I often feel inspired after attending an open mic or something where people are relaxed, having fun and sharing their material.
Other times though, I’ve no clue what inspires me…until it does.
As far as mentors, there is a quote from Tom Waits that goes “For a songwriter you don’t really go to song writing school; you learn by listening to tunes.” It probably is an osmosis kind of thing. Writers I am sure love to read and likewise musicians listen to music absorbing little things they likely don’t even notice. The artists (that I have a pretty good collection of their material) were guys like Bob Dylan, Kris Kirstofferson, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits so if I’m not listening to their records often, I am always going back to their canon from time to time. I’m really hoping the whole osmosis idea is an actual thing. Haha.
Tell me a little about your writing process. Do you have a specific routine or do you just write when the muse nudges you? Is there a certain place where you like to write? Which comes first the music or the lyrics? Please elaborate.
The lyrics always come first. I find that I am able (and I use the word ‘able’ loosely) to come up with some sort of melody around some established words and reshape some lines as necessary. I can’t recall a time when I was strumming my guitar and a melody translated into a worthwhile phrase or a flash of inspiration. I know many other songwriters do it that way though. It’s all a mystery to me; the how and why of it all.
Early on, I only wrote when the mood struck me. Now, I attempt to write (or at least carry a notebook with me) as often as I can. Usually I find it more difficult to write some words and follow them down the rabbit hole. I need a broad idea/topic to generate the first couple lines….and maybe things will catch fire. But maybe one day the song I force myself to start may be my best song.
I was listening to CBC radio one morning and the program topic was serendipity and happy-accidents. A writer was promoting their book on the subject and one of the points made was that for those moments to happen, you have to be active and keep working to put yourself in that position. The example the writer gave was Fleming discovering penicillin. It doesn’t happen without him being a messy guy, the laboratory being in shambles and covered in petri-dishes. So the same logic can apply to song writing or anything. Stay engaged, don’t throw any of the scraps away, and something may come of it someday.
I can still recall the first few times you started performing at the Spoken Word events at the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts. There you were at the back of the room listening to all the poets, storytellers and non-fiction writers sharing their work. Many evenings you were the only musician in the room and yet you kept coming back. Now I understand you are a regular at the Lawrence House’s Open Stage event which is filled with musicians and musical performances and now the poets are in the minority. How have these local experiences helped you as a writer and performer?
Well, thanks for not only having me, but encouraging me, back at the Spoken Word events those years ago. I don’t see a big difference in poetry and song lyrics. Leonard Cohen has many fine examples where his words sit just as beautiful on the page as they do as a song. Kris Kristofferson studied English Literature at Oxford and is a Rhodes Scholar. His heroes are Johnny Cash and William Blake so that’s a pretty cool mix I’d say.
Along with attending these events for inspiration and being around other creative people, it is a great opportunity to play new material and try new things. The Open Stage is such a supportive and encouraging space. When you start out at anything, you should give yourself the best opportunity to succeed so an environment like the Open Stage, where everyone is encouraging and attentive, goes a long way to gaining that experience and logging some hours in front of an audience. In addition, the sound in the room itself is really great. At the end of the night you’ve gained some experience for yourself, heard some great material, and met some new people so it’s a pretty good deal all around!
What’s next for Gregger Botting?
Haha. What a question Debbie. I really don’t think it is up to me at all. I’ll keep plugging along I suppose. I enjoy writing and tinkering on a guitar so I’ll do them both whenever I can. I have kind of a “things happen for a reason” outlook with my music. Should some new opportunity come along and my intuition then gives me a nudge towards it, it’ll be what it’ll be.
Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers?
I will be playing the Lawrence House this Sunday, January 21, 2018. It is an afternoon show that starts at 3 p.m. and will last for two hours.
A CD can be picked up at Cheeky Monkey in their “Local Artists” section as well as at The Book Keeper.
Or, visit my website www.greggerbotting.com to listen to samples or see music download options
Thank you Gregger for sharing your writing process and journey as a songwriter and musician. I like how the whole package came together for you. Can’t wait to hear more of your work!
Gregger Botting’s debut album Never Saw A Thing Coming was digitally released in January 2017 and officially launched in Petrolia and Chatham in April 2017. He has performed in numerous public events including Sarnia’s Cadence Reading Series, the Lawrence House’s First Friday events, Sarnia’s Artwalk, and at Petrolia’s Art in the Park celebration. He is a frequent featured performer at the Coffee Lodge in Sarnia and at Sam’s Percolator in Chatham.
Gregger’s Sunday’s performance at the Lawrence House is part of its House Concerts series supported by the County of Lambton Creative County Fund and Leonard Segall and Marilyn Mason.
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*Quote is from the song “As Fast as You Come (You Disappear)” from the CD Never Saw A Thing Coming © Gregger Botting 2017 Used with permission from the singer-songwriter.