Q&A with Tyler Gregory, a singer-songwriter with stories to tell
Tyler Gregory has become a staple in the local music scene. The 24-year-old busks on Massachusetts Street, hosts Acoustic Open Mic at the Jazzhaus every Wednesday, and plays in bars almost every night, year round. Gregory, who plays guitar, banjo, and stompbox, also busks across the country.
Gregory and his band—Sonny Sparks, who plays upright bass, and Paul Coleman, who plays mandolin and violin—just returned from a month-and-a-half-long tour on the West Coast and in the Southwest and South. I sat down with Gregory this week at the Jazzhaus to discuss his history with music, his musical influences, and how he spends his rare free time.
JS: When did you first start playing music?
TG: I started playing guitar at 14, 15 years old. I joined up with a lot of my friends in school in Wamego and started playing there and playing rock and roll music. Then I picked up my dad’s acoustic guitar and started listening to Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly and all of the artists from the ‘20s and ‘30s. I got inspired by the singer-songwriter storytelling music, so it kind of captivated me and I went into the acoustic thing.
JS: Was that while you were still in high school?
TG: Later years. After that, I kept playing music and moved to Lawrence for more opportunity—obviously it’s a really great town for music. This will be five years next year of just doing music. No other job—just music. It’s very nice.
JS: So your music career is full-time? How is it?
TG: Yeah. You’re your own boss. It’s more of a business than people think. You’re a boss, you’re a promoter. It’s a lot of work, but it’s wonderful work. What you put in is what you get out of it. It depends on how hard you want to work. With any business, or anything you love.
JS: What’s your favorite atmosphere to play in?
TG: I love dive bars. I mean, I feel like that’s where it’s most comfortable. You walk into a bar and you instantly feel comfortable. Being on the road, when you realize you’re playing at a dive bar, it’s just comforting. When you play in a coffee shop, you can play different songs, portray a whole different feeling that I’m not even used to. People are quiet. Or you can be in a huge venue and you’ve got a huge PA and you play certain songs for that room. It’s always about playing for the room. And I think that’s what’s enjoyable about the whole thing. Different atmospheres. I don’t know if there’s one I like the best. I feel more comfortable in some situations, but it’s all just interesting. It’s like walking into a different job every day, or a different atmosphere every day.
JS: What do you do in your free time besides play music?
TG: More music stuff [laughs]. Usually, if I’m not playing a gig, I’m doing booking, or promoting, or sending out flyers or sending out phone calls or emails to get more gigs in the future, to keep it steady. But last winter and the winter before, I made a lot of jewelry. I’m starting to do that again this year. I make it at home and sell it on the merch table and on the website and whatnot. I haven’t got it up and running this year, but I’ve got a lot made, so [I’ll sell some] probably in a couple of weeks at one of my shows. It’s good for the wintertime. I can’t go outside and busk on the streets.
JS: Who are some of your favorite acts or bands to see in town?
TG: I’ve had a good time playing with Charlie Parr when he comes through town; Possessed by Paul James; there are a lot of acts I wish were still alive.
JS: Who are those?
TG: Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, Townes Van Zandt, just the list goes on. It’s really nice lately, the uprising of bluegrass and folk music. It’s taking a whole new turn, and people are realizing the truth. The simple form and storytelling. It’s starting to get popular, so it’s nice seeing these bands touring on their own, and people are really grabbing a hold of it.
JS: What is your songwriting influenced by?
TG: A lot of traveling. I don’t have too many love songs or anything like that. Just a lot of scenery, traveling, a lot of bar room songs, drinking, that goes along with—we’re playing in bars every night. I like to separate myself sometimes, as if everything is sort of a canvas or its own song. You could sing a song about everyone who’s at the bar right now. Painting a picture out of nothing for a song. And bringing yourself to a whole new place when you sing it.