William Gray : From One 'Artistic Turning Point' to Another



Urban Craft recently caught up with China based musician William Gray, who was more than happy to not only retrace his musical footsteps but also open up to us about his current and future endeavours...
The artist has of course been working on building his new project 'Jumb for Neon' that has not only given him that exhilarating feeling of playing with a band again but also meant more and more shows.
"I was born in South Wales in the UK. I lived in Leeds, Yorkshire for around a decade, during a real period of growth for the city's music scene and exciting days to be in a band there. The group I was in, The Smokestacks, attracted a little bit of major label interest which never bore fruit, we did national tours, released music on local labels, achieved BBC airplay and played radio sessions.
"Most importantly we had a lot of fun together and met some lovely people doing what we loved doing. When the group called it a day, music-wise I focused on solo projects. I've received a fair bit of critical praise on the blogosphere and in various publications over the years, during which time I chose to relocate to China where my wife is originally from", he said.

To be able to understand just how far he had come in the industry we had go back in time to when Gray was just a mere 14 year old boy trying to find his way in this musical world.
"I first began playing in a band with school friends when I was about 14. My first pub gig I was probably that age so I started quite early. As mentioned before I played for a long time in a band called The Smokestacks when I lived in Leeds. I then became a solo artist but also occasionally played in other groups from time to time, helping out friends type of thing.
"When I relocated to China I eventually became involved with the Hangzhou record label Medic Independent Records, co-founded by a guy called John Carroll, originally from Limerick in Ireland. He's a brilliant artist in his own right and I was honored to be asked to play his album launch for his record 'Aviation', opening with a solo Jump For Neon set, as I was just starting to get that project off the ground, and then also playing some guitar and keyboard as part of John's backing band. John was also kind enough to later contribute some guitar to the Jump For Neon debut LP. When I first arrived in China I played solo a lot. When my son was born I couldn't gig as much, as I occupied the stay-at-home dad role and needed to adjust to that.
"Now my son's getting older I've started to venture out into the live music scene a bit more again and we've played some really fun Jump For Neon shows in different cities in China. It's great just to be playing with other people again. The fact I've been able to do gigs with my best friend (Ray Davies on bass) and my wife (Wu Luxia on synth/sampler) is even better", said William.     

The artist sees his career thus far as a "creatice path" that was packed full with career-defining stages but overally an amazing experience.
"It's been a creative path full of artistic turning points and that's what keeps me going because otherwise I think things would get a bit stale. Regarding the so-called industry I try not to get too focused on that these days and just concentrate on doing what I do for the love of it and making sure I don't do anything unless I'm really enjoying it and/or getting paid.
"My experience of the industry in the UK was both positive and negative. On a positive note, on a local level, the DIY spirit in Leeds was absolutely fantastic for example. On a negative note, as has always been the case in the music industry, on a general level, there's always a lot of people trying to rip you off and exploit you", he said.
     
His work has definitely not gone unnoticed and as such he has, in recent months,  received a lot of coverage from quite a number of renowned publications.
"I'm proud to have received radio play for tracks from most of my releases as it's not easy to do everything yourself and achieve that without a plugger, particularly national radio play. Having two tracks in a row being picked as 'Fresh Faves' by the Fresh On The Net music blog was arguably the hardest feat to pull off as competition on that website is fierce. For my most recent project 'Jump For Neon' I was thrilled to be covered by Simon Tucker at Louder Than War as that's a webzine and magazine I've kept tabs on for years and to also be named as one of this particular writer's albums of 2017 was a really awesome surprise.
"I'd be lying if I stated getting this type of validation doesn't matter to me. Of course it does because it's people who you regard as having excellent taste in music giving you a thumbs up. It can be a lonely process writing and recording so you want to feel like you're connecting at the end of it. And it's not just those I've named here I'm grateful to for listening - the Jump For Neon project won a load of support from writers/bloggers and indie radio/podcasts all over the place and in fact the album ended up on a few end of year lists. I'm extremely grateful to all who covered me. Artists like me rely on genuine enthusiasts such as yourself to get our music out there - not everyone can rely on having a big machine behind them. It's really good there are seemingly just as many people passionate about covering music as there are people passionate about making it", said William.

For the musician, this new turn of events and the obvious recognition that comes along with it has really gone a long way in establishing his brand.
"I really enjoy checking out new music blogs, stations and podcasts so I'm approaching this from the perspective of a music consumer too. Going off on a tangent there I forgot to mention the Jump For Neon music video for 'So Far' was also featured on the Vice/Noisey website here which was a really important moment because it allowed the video we'd made and thus my song to reach a much wider audience. Stuff like that makes promoters sit up and take notice. It's also been really pleasing since I've been living in China to be featured in magazines such as That's China/Ningbo Guide/Ningbo Focus.
"It's harder and harder for print media to survive these days so I feel really lucky as being covered in this way is something less and less artists will experience. Back in Leeds, mags such as Sandman, Vibrations and No Title were important parts of the local scene you could hold in your hand. I'm as addicted to the Internet as much as the next person but it's always special to actually pick something up you're featured in and leaf through it. The recent Ningbo Focus piece was particularly gratifying from a presentation angle as I'd worked really hard at the photography side of the album package and the pictures looked fantastic in print", he said.

Gray also talked about his current projects that he said he couldn't wait for the opportunity to perform live in the coming weeks.
"I'm currently rounding off a long promotional campaign for the debut Jump For Neon LP. I created a video for each song and allowed a new track/video to become available for streaming every month whilst gradually increasing the price of the album as time went on. I found this really helped maintain interest in what I was doing and generated more sales as people tended to be more likely to buy when they knew the price was about to go up, but it's been exhausting!
"I've had a bunch of more acoustic based songs waiting to be recorded for a long while and currently I'm trying to put them through the Jump For Neon filter which means I'm trying to record the songs in a way that will work within the current dynamic of the project rather than just reverting back to solo singer-songwriter performances when playing live. I've nothing against solo stuff. In fact I love playing solo and seeing other people play solo. But my current interest lies in trying to merge more traditional forms of guitar music with samples, loops and electronic sounds and recording my songs in a way I can reproduce accurately live.
"I'm having a lot of fun just taking my time with it but at the same time I'm hoping it won't be too long until I'm ready to play the newer material in front of people, hopefully this year. I feel with two albums under my belt for this project it'll give me more flexibility in terms of what types of shows we can play and the length of sets we can do", he said. 

Being someone who enjoys making music, William hopes to still be putting out great songs for years and years to come.
"I hope we can break onto the festival circuit at some stage in China but really my goals are just to make music for as long as I am able to or for as long as I am enjoying it whilst maintaining a stable and happy family life", said Gray. 

http://www.williamgraymusic.com/
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