In Conversation with Gideon’s Army

Gideon’s Army is a New York based rock band notable for inspired southern-rock style of music and lyrics. In 2014 the band’s founder, singer/songwriter/guitarist Robert Bray, wrote all the lyrics and music for their first album, Burn For the Living, as well as for their second album, King of the League, released January 2016. Recently Bray took the time to answer Wanda Waterman’s questions about their musical odyssey.

Describe your musical background. What role did music play in your childhood?
You absorb everything That’s around you, whether You’re conscious of it or not at the time. The music my parents were playing, the music I was hearing from the television and from the movies, were all a big part of my early musical experience.

I played around on a piano when I was really young because my grandmother had one in her apartment. My uncle, a piano major in college, gave me a few lessons, and I began to play some simple tunes and some simplified arrangements of well-known classical pieces. I picked up an instrument for the first time with consistency in the second grade. I played Violin from the second to the fifth grade in the school and then the town orchestra. We played classical pieces from the great composers.

I picked up the guitar for the first time when I was 12. It’s now my primary instrument and one of the great loves of my life.

What’s the story behind the lyrics on “Desperate Hearts?”
I grew up middle class in a wealthy town, literally on the other side of railroad tracks that separated the wealthy part from the not-so-wealthy part. It gave me a complex. I’ve struggled financially my entire post-college life and It’s been the source of a tremendous amount of pain and hardship. The song is a lament, a prayer, and a reconciliation. I’m desperate for the day when that will all be in the past.

Your music is infused with emotion, both powerful and tender. How do you make that happen?
Powerful emotion is built up over the years through courage, vulnerability, and acts of kindness and generosity. Expressing your joy and affection for others is one of the most generous things you can do. And it takes courage to admit you were hurt or that you messed up and were wrong and to accept fault. You also build the powerful emotion muscle when you take risks and step out of your comfort zone. Musical skill allows you to release it, but emotion is built into musical skill and is inseparable from its
development.

What are your rehearsals like?
It really was love at first note. Playing with these guys is a time, man. It’s sublime. If there’s ever something I don’t think is right for a particular song, I’ll usually direct by referencing specific musicians and songs. You know, this feel on this song. I’m a fanatic music fan with an interest in all genres, and so are they. It takes a millisecond before we’re all on the same page.

Has anything funny or bizarre ever happened to you while in the
recording studio or on the stage?
An artist friend of mine was sketching and drawing while we were recording “Burn for the Living” when the producer’s nephew walked in to observe the recording session. He’s also an immensely talented musician and we wanted his feedback. My friend the artist and the producer’s nephew start talking and you can tell right away they have chemistry, there’s mutual interest there. She kept coming back to our sessions and so did he and before long the were involved in a full blown love affair. Once they started dating we never saw them again except for a time or two when they were nice enough to bring us food. That artist has done the album art on both of our albums. She’s brilliant.

What’s it like to make southern-style rock in a city like New York? Does the city help or hinder the muse?
It hurts. For all of the city’s positives, its advantages, and there are many, I much prefer bucolic, rural, and country settings. You can throw beach life in there too. I grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey, where baseball was my primary pursuit. It’s a game played at a “southern” pace. I followed it down to Florida where I spent two and a half years post high school.

I’m tremendously influenced by, and a fan of, the blues, country music, rockabilly, rock?n roll, and southern rock. I love those sounds and aesthetics. It’s a big part of my make-up, just like my life growing up and living in New Jersey and New York are. There are aspects of both that I need in my life and can’t live without. I haven’t been able to satisfy that need yet, and that struggle is all over my music and songwriting.

If your band’s life were a movie, what kinds of scenes would make you laugh? Or cry?
Parting ways with our original lead guitar player was sad, but that story has a happy ending. Our touring has been laugh-inducing, what with the massive traffic jams, bus delays, less than idyllic motels, and the logistics of moving all of that equipment from point A to point B without a sizable tour bus or even a van. The laughs come because You’re with people who are committed to making it work and to putting on good shows for people. You make the best of it, and You’re there for each other.

Wanda also writes the blog The Mindful Bard:The Care and Feeding of the Creative Self.

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