Gregory Douglass might be a fresh face on the Vermont music scene, but don’t be fooled; this well-seasoned songwriter is currently working on his ninth self-produced album. We met up with him at the Inn at Shelburne Farms to film an exclusive performance of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” and talk about his experience carving a new and independent musical path.
You’ve released eight full-length albums under your own independent label, Emote Records. Tell me about your most recent album, LUCID. Why was this an important record for you to make?
“LUCID is a dream-themed concept album that I’ve had brewing in my head since I was in high school. I’m a huge Kate Bush fan, and she’s always dealt with prominent dream themes throughout her music, and her writing style has been a heavy influence ever since. Her album The Dreaming was particularly influential for me in high school and that really set the stage for LUCID to someday be realized. I didn’t want to take that project on until the time was right though, and it was over a decade later when I finally felt compelled to make it happen. I’m proud of every album I’ve made as each one represents a different time in life, but I’m particularly proud of this one as it’s my first self-produced album. I really got experimental with this one.”
What made you decide to start your own label and produce your own work?
“Ani DiFranco was really pioneering the way for many budding artists like myself back in 1999, so the DIY movement seemed really promising at that time. I actually went to a college prep school and was the only one in my class who didn’t proceed to college. I figured if this “starving artist” routine didn’t pan out, I could always go back to school for something else. My model consisted of incessant touring and self-releasing of albums, and that’s how I really built a strong indie following and sustainable living over the years. It made sense to start my own label so folks would take me more seriously as an indie, and I wanted to keep as much creative control as I could as a ‘niche’ artist.”
On your previous record, BATTLER, you collaborate with other well-established Vermont musicians like Grace Potter and Anais Mitchell. What did you enjoy the most about creating and collaborating?
“I think Anais said it best at one point – we’re all neighbors. We’re all fellow Vermonters and grew up in the same local music community, so collaborating with each other is like giving your neighbor a hand stacking his wood or something. There’s a very prominent feeling of mutual respect that we all have for each other because I think we all realize how much talent there is right in our own backyard!”
What are your favorite types of venues and shows to play in Vermont?
“I love performing at Higher Ground. Those guys are like family to me, and I’ve always been welcomed and treated with such respect as a local artist. I also love the intimate nature of Signal Kitchen and have really enjoyed performing there in the past. I’m a sucker for any room that transitions nicely into a good ‘listening room’ because I often like to perform as a duo with my electric cellist and dear friend, Monique Citro.”
Producing your own records in rural Vermont is no easy feat. Your last few albums were almost completely funded by online pre-orders. Tell us about your newest Kickstarter program for your next album.
“Crowdfunding has truly allowed me to continue recording and releasing new music throughout most of my career. I could not afford to keep producing without the support of my fans, friends, and family, and I can’t stress that enough. It’s great to see platforms like Kickstarter in the mainstream now, and I think every new campaign helps educate folks on how things have really changed for many musicians and creative entrepreneurs. For example, the revenue stream for music sales has dwindled down to nothing, but the expenses associated with recording and production costs remain sky high. They have to be paid for somehow, so I love this model of fans being able to take ‘ownership’ of a new project ahead of time and become an intimate part of the process, instead of paying for the music after it’s released. It’s a win-win for everyone involved, and I hope more people become hip to this approach.
“Thanks to the incredible support of many for my latest Kickstarter campaign, I’ll once again be able to fund my forthcoming album and set the stage for other possibilities that might come with the territory.”
Any hints on what’s in store for your ninth album?
“In true Kate Bush-fashion, I’m working with another collection of conceptual work here. My co-producer and drummer, Matt Bogdanow, said it best: ‘It’s an album about idolizing the antagonist and the ensuing struggle and decision of whether to see that through or to jump ship.’ Matt also mentioned that there’s a lot of Shakespearean-type stuff in these lyrics, and that it would be fairly easy to write an actual plot, so I’m very curious to see how things develop with this collaboration. Matt was the drummer on my last two albums, BATTLER and LUCID, and I’m thrilled to have him on board as my co-pilot this time around.”
We read that at your high school graduation, your principal publicly encouraged you to forgo college and strictly pursue music. What advice would you give to other young songwriters?
“I would absolutely give the same advice to other young songwriters today! In fact, I would give the same advice to any young person fresh out of high school. I think there was a lot of power in ‘living in the real world’ straight out of high school … For young songwriters, it’s much more productive today to find your ‘niche’ audience and follow your passions – no matter how outlandish. There is a market for everything now thanks to the internet; it’s just on a smaller scale than what the music industry used to be able to sustain. The good news is that niche artists can make a fabulous living from niche audiences because they are the ‘forever’ kind of fans.”