By Nicole Hanratty
December 16, 2012
Listen to Gideon Grove sing and you will be drawn into his mystique and sound. Among his recent accomplishments are impressive feats such as debuting his first solo album “Wildfires” on iTunes Singer/Songwriter chart at No. 13, holding a New and Noteworthy iTunes featured album spot for weeks, sitting now on the “Discover This” chart at number 4, and opening up for American Idol winner Kris Allen this past October.
All of that aside, it’s the rock star quality of Gideon Grove’s voice –which sounds like John Mayer meets Gary Lightbody (Snow Patrol)–his songwriting and the knowledge that he comes from a family of seven kids that led Life of a Rockstar to interview Gideon and learn more about this singer/songwriter who finds it important to give back to charity.
Nicole: Hi, Gideon?
Nicole: It’s Nicole Hanratty. How are you?
Gideon: Good, how are you doing, Nicole?
Nicole: I’m good. I’m anxious to hear a little bit about you and know more about your music.
Gideon: I’m from DC; I was born in Norman, Oklahoma and moved when I was two with my family. I’ve been in the DC area for pretty much my entire life. From a very young age, I was introduced to music. My mom played piano in high school, my dad played drums in a rock band in high school. So early on they introduced music to me and I picked up the viola and…
Nicole: The what?
Gideon: No one knows what the viola is. It is kind of the stepchild of the string instruments, but it is a beautiful sounding instrument. Kind of the way I was introduced to it was one brother was playing the cello and my other brother was playing the violin and so when it came to me to choose an instrument, I went to this woodwind workshop and I picked up the saxophone. After about three months of trying to pursue saxophone, it just wasn’t working so my parents were like, “How about the viola?” because it would be a good match with the cello and the violin, string trio stuff. Then I moved up from there.
I pursued that all throughout high school and into college and received a scholarship to pursue it in college. I did that for two years, and then…it was coming around to the time I started picking up the guitar and writing songs. I decided to switch schools and pursue a degree in something else, and I kind of found my niche with writing.
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Nicole: Which school did you go to that you gave you the scholarship?
Gideon: I went to Catholic University of America for two years. I got a full scholarship there and the intent was the viola. I was always just kind of pursuing it as something to keep me disciplined. I love music, but the viola was never something that I was really passionate about. …It kind of took two years of being in school for me to realize, “Hey, I love music, but I don’t want to be a professional violist.” That was right around the time that I started picking up the guitar. Everything kind of led out from there.
Nicole: Did you already know how to play the guitar at that point?
Gideon: I didn’t know how to play guitar. My other brother, he picked up the guitar in high school and he quickly became really good. I hadn’t really thought about playing the guitar myself. I was 19 and at that point I was two years into college and my oldest brother had this like $75 acoustic guitar that always sat on his desk. I remember one day being bored and I picked it up, I remember at the moment being like, “I don’t want to play other people’s songs. I don’t want to play covers.” I knew a couple of bar chords, so I just thought of my first song and I did it with just kind of a unique chord combination and something about just writing a song with my own chords just struck something in me and that’s when I just hooked. Anytime I had a free moment I would go into my brother’s room and get the guitar out and play it. I couldn’t put it down; something just clicked in me and I just felt like I found like this part of myself that was always there but was undiscovered.
Nicole: So, you leave the college you’re in, and you go off to pursue a different college?
Gideon: Yes, I transferred to University of Maryland and I did a degree in Communications/Public Relations. For the better part of the last decade, I just really pursued song writing. It’s been a long journey in terms of where I’m at today with this album…
Nicole: It looks to me like this is potentially your second album; is that correct?
Gideon: Yes, I was in a band with my two other brothers. They were working in a band that existed before I joined it. I joined it and played electric guitar and sang backup vocals. I wrote songs for that record, about six songs for that record and I sang on two of them, but there was just this constant pull within me to sing the songs that I wrote and to really live in the song. I found it hard for me to play the electric and to not be the one to be inking the song and singing it. I eventually just decided that it would be best for me to step down from playing electric in the band and pursue a career as a solo artist.
During this time…I met my buddy Mark Williams who I went on to work with on this record. Originally, the idea was just to put out an EP, but the more that I was coming into the studio and writing, I just felt like this was not an EP, it needed to be an album, a full length album.
Nicole: The cover of the album has the little boy and the little girl on it, which is so cute.
Nicole: Why was that our choice?
Gideon: Good question. It’s funny, I really feel like it was fate, I really do. I was in LA at my grandma’s house and I was sitting at her piano and I looked up and that photo was staring at me, and I was so moved by the photo, and I immediately was like, “That’s my cover” one, but two there’s a song behind this cover, this photo.
I went to my grandma and I was like, “Can you tell me about this photo?” It was my aunt and uncle and she said, “It was after church on Sunday and the wheat was about to get cut down and so I asked them to go out there with your grandfather and take a photo of the two of them. He took one shot and that was the one shot that came out.” The photo is absolutely beautiful and I felt that there was a story behind it, so I wrote a song, which is the title track “Wildfire,” based off of that photo. The ripple effect of that song is throughout the rest of the record.
Nicole: It’s a gorgeous photo.
Gideon: Yes, I love it.
Nicole: It looks professionally taken. I’m kind of taken aback that was just a snapshot…
Gideon: I know that’s what I love about it. It’s got kind of a movie-ish type of look to it. Leading up to the release of the record, I think people are drawn to that photo and you kind of… I might be biased, but just looking at the photo, you want to hear the music behind that photo.
Nicole: Your profile photo is black and white, and I don’t know why, but I guess looking at that photo and then the cover on “Wildfires,” I thought to myself, “I wonder if he has red hair and maybe that was him when he was younger?”
Gideon: It was a stereotypical Irish kind of family. My [grandma had] five boys and five girls. They all had red hair. All the boys were captains of the football team. Just the stereotypical family growing up. [My mom] grew up in New York.
Nicole: Then she meets your dad and has seven children?
Gideon: Yes, she had seven kids. My mom is pretty amazing.
Nicole: Tell me about your mom, that she inspired so much music and talent coming out of you, and it sounds like you have some family members that are pretty talented?
Gideon: Yes, I’ve got six brothers and sisters. Two of my oldest grew up playing music and are classically trained. My oldest brother is a professional photographer, and he is doing film now as well. Another sister is also a professional photographer, and then a couple of us have degrees in music alongside of other degrees. I think all of us would without question look to my mom as kind of the person that pushed us along the whole way with music.
I think pursuing the viola in high school was kind of not a cool thing to do. So, having my mom consistently there…there was no question, I had to pursue it. At the time, you drag your feet and you’re like, “I don’t want to do this.” Looking back, I’m so thankful for it.
Music, especially classical music I think trains you in a way that is very disciplined and it just has to be so precise. I think it has helped me in a lot of different areas, and in terms of performance, in doing live performances and the song writing, I attribute a lot of it to growing up, listening and playing brilliant musicians and composers like Bach and Beethoven, Mozart, stuff like that.
Nicole: Those are some of your early influences?
Gideon: Definitely, definitely.
Nicole: What about the pop culture music? What were you listening to?
Gideon: My mom had a pretty wide palate and my dad did too, so I always just listened to a lot of music they listened to and my mom, she loved Bob Dylan and she would buy us Bob Dylan records and throughout her house and then she would turn on Peter, Paul and Mary, Paul Simon, and then eventually turn on Caruso, which is opera/musician/singer.
A lot of times my dad would listen to bluegrass kind of music. I remember being really intrigued by that, the way it made me feel. At an early age, I always felt like there were certain songs that just connected with me emotionally, where I just felt like so connected and it was kind of listening to the songs was just as much about how I felt when I was listening to the song as it was about the sound of the song.
Nicole: Your music seems to have a really authentic sort of singer/songwriter feel to it, but I am curious, how would you classify it, what genre would you put your music in?
Gideon: It is funny you ask that, because I find it really hard to answer that question. Every time somebody asks me, I kind of get tongue-tied. I don’t know that it is any specific genre. People naturally are going to listen to music and compare you to certain people, but I try to write music in a way that if someone walks into a performance of mine, or if they walk into hearing my record, they’re merely drawn in. So whether they’re having the best day or the worst day, when they are listening to the song they’re just drawn in. I think that’s what I hope to do with my music. So I don’t know if there is a word for that genre.. [laughing] But I think there is an element of which I would say it’s kind of like a Brit rock type feel a little bit, and a little bit of Americana maybe, a little bit of folk in there. I don’t know if it’s got a specific genre.
Nicole: I was just going to say I that you mentioning Bob Dylan and then the bluegrass music that feels like it could be a natural fusion of those two.
Gideon: Yes, definitely, definitely. It is funny I’ve had this happen to me twice where someone asked me if I was Irish, and I am, I’m half Irish. Someone heard actually a song I had wrote on my previous record that I was in with the band, that said, “I’m Irish, and it’s got kind of an Irish-folk sound to it.”
Nicole: I just want jump back quickly to your childhood. With seven kids what was your dinner table like?
Gideon: A lot of fighting, [laughing] no, I’m joking. It was funny because growing up for you to get two words in at dinner was like success. Everyone has got so many stories and everyone wants to tell their story, and my mom wants everyone to be quiet and it is rare there is a quiet moment. You kind of had to be really good and seize the moment and kind of get your conversation in or your story in when you could. But no, it was good. There is nothing that replaces growing up with six siblings and all of us are pretty close in age. The dinner table has always been very eventful, chaotic. But my mom was like a drill sergeant, so she for the most part tended to keep it under control.
Nicole: One question that I always ask is if you had to pick one song title, any song in the whole wide world to describe your personality, what would it be?
Gideon: One song title… Hmmm…that is a tough question. …I don’t know, Mr. Tambourine Man.
Nicole: Wow, alright. [laughing]
Gideon: [laughing] The only reason I said that is …because growing up I was always–the tambourine is just like a percussion, rhythm–and I’m just always tapping my feet and listening to rhythms, and I don’t know that’s just it. I’m just shooting from the hip here.
Nicole: I’m glad you explained that because I’m pretty sure if I recall I took a Lit class in college where we dissected that song, and Mr. Tambourine Man was actually the drug dealer, right?
Gideon: [laughter] I mean, honestly, you have to give me a couple of minutes because I am going to have to rethink that. [laughing]
Nicole: [laughter] No, it was good answer, I just… it was the first thing I flashed to.
Gideon: You said the song title! So I’m not going with the lyrics from the song. [laughing]
Nicole: It’s a good song, it’s a good personality title song. I like it, it’s strong. [laughing] What’s the last album you bought or downloaded? Who’s at the top of your playlist?
Gideon: Emmylou Harris’s album is… The last album I bought was Emmylou Harris, Wrecking Ball.
Nicole: Is there a charity that’s close to your heart or to which you donate your time?
Gideon: Yes, Musicians On Call, yes.
Nicole: Tell me a little about that charity and why it’s important to you and why you think it’s important for musicians to give back.
Gideon: I was approached to be a part of it a while back. The idea is to bring in the musicians to play at bedside for wounded warriors, and so obviously that was huge source of excitement for me to be a part of something like that so going into it… I got it, and knew that was something that I would love to pursue.
You go in there and you meet with them, and perform songs, talk to them and a lot of times–it sounds cliché to say this–but it is just a very very humbling place to be because humans in general can be so consumed with themselves and their life. When you’re brought into a situation like this, where someone has lost limbs or they’re on their 25th surgery and they’re smiling, it just…there’s nothing that could mean more than seeing that and someone that is your own age that has gone out on the front lines and has put their life out there for me, it is a very minuscule thing that I can do in return.
Nicole: Is it a fairly easy thing for musicians to get involved with?
Gideon: Yes, definitely if they were interested, Musicians On Call is always looking for musicians to come in and perform songs. …I would highly encourage anyone to do that. It just gives you perspective and you leave just really humbled and just aware of how much you’ve been given, but just to realize where else a lot of people are and they’re in your thoughts and your prayers.
This one gentleman about my age, lost both of his legs, lost one hand and had three fingers remaining on his left hand. He was telling me that he was in a band and that he used to love playing guitar and that he can’t play anymore. Stuff like that breaks your heart. But then again, he was telling me that he wants to get into producing. It’s just cool to go there and for me to be able to encourage him and I think it is just a great organization.