An Interview With Mikei Gray All About His Nashville-Based Band THE FRST!
Meet the Nashville rock project The Frst! “Tarantino” is their newest track. Check out their video for it here- “Tarantino”.
Listen to the song: Spotify and Soundcloud.
The honest and unabashedly cool new track nods sporadically to the cult film director, whilst tackling the timely and pertinent topics of isolation and loneliness, shot at the Joshua Tree.
After a decade spent as a decorated live rock guitarist, sharing stages with artists spanning the width and breadth of the music industry, such as Portugal. The Man, The Florida-Georgia Line and Sublime with Rome, singer-guitarist Mikei Gray had something different in mind when he started The Frst in late 2017.
“Freedom and fun were the goals with this project, so as a mission statement there is no I in The Frst.” – Mikei Gray
Since that time, The Frst has received international acclaim for a combination of driving guitars, pinpoint melodic injections and heart-on-sleeve lyricism, with recent single “Ammo” peaking at #1 on the Soundcloud New & Hot Rock USA Chart.
With Andy VanDette (David Bowie, The Beastie Boys) and Steve Hardy (Jay Z & Alicia Keys) behind the controls, The Frst’s 3rd single of 2020, “Tarantino” shows the Tennessee collaborative project at their ambitious, grunge-infused best.
Connect With The Frst Online Here:
Learn more about The Frst in the following All Access interview here:
Thank you for your time. So given these unusual Covid-19 times, what does a typical day look like for you? How have you adjusted to these times?
Thanks! So for the last month I’ve taken to a somewhat strict regimen of an hour of click (metronome) on each instrument – Guitar, Drums, Bass, and I include vocals, but with that it’s more about breath control than timing like the other instruments. A few hours go to interacting with fans and doing interviews like this (laughs). The last few hours at night I might do some drawing with Ink Master on in the background.
What has been the hardest/most challenging part about being quarantined? Is your city starting to open up more now?
In the beginning it was very tumultuous. In March our home was deemed un-liveable after the Nashville tornadoes, though we were incredibly lucky to be alive – most of East Nashville was destroyed. April and May was spent moving and couch surfing during the height of the initial Covid breakout, which certainly wasn’t ideal from a medical standpoint. Now we’re much better, almost finished building a new studio outside Nashville and renting a place in the countryside while working on new material. Nashville itself has had a rough year though…Tourism and live music were the life blood of the city’s economy. Some of the protests turned to large scale riots. Lately it feels more like my time in Detroit than Nashville.
How have you been able to use social media during these unprecedented times? Are you finding that you use it even more to stay connected to fans and other musicians?
It’s been great to talk with fans all over the world, they tell us all about what’s happening in their countries and what the news is saying about the US, and ask if it is accurate. I’ve learned a lot from them, and hopefully likewise. In these times, social media is either a window into the outside world or just a window into an alternate dimension, I’m not sure. (laughs).
Have you had to cancel a lot of shows this spring, summer and fall? I see that you do have a couple shows this summer in cities that allow it so what has that been like? Are you starting to schedule any bigger shows for 2021 yet?
Yes, actually, we were deep into finalizing an East to West coast tour when COVID hit. We did retain a few shows coming up where fans will be required to wear masks and stay a minimum distance apart. I think seating will help a lot in these instances. Mosh pits as we know them are dead. (laughs).
We’ve yet to reschedule any of the big cities for the obvious reasons. Live Nation’s pay cut memo didn’t help either (laughs). But more than anything else, we want to encourage our fans to stay home, and stay safe; Throwing a big comeback gig wouldn’t help accomplish that. We’re all hurting right now, but it will be a lot worse if we don’t play our cards right.
[Tour Dates Available @ https://www.songkick.com/artists/9971279-frst or https://www.bandsintown.com/a/14650990-the-frst ]
Since we are all desperately missing live music, can you recall a favorite show of yours from the past? What do you think ultimately makes for a great show for you?
Woah, too many! I’ll go with the last show I saw a month before Covid, which was Black Flag. They certainly tested my notions of what a ‘great’ show should be – no lighting, no intros, no banter, just “1-2-3-4!” There it was all about the energy and the present moment. A lot of musicians get hung up on the future or the past, but when it comes to concerts, they bring you into the present. Some folks need an arena sized light rig, and others just a 1/4” cable and a half stack to accomplish that; but seeing human beings in their element, doing what they do best, that’s what is appealing. And the crowd, it always feels like a reunion of outcasts- all shapes, sizes, ages, genders, and ethnicities all coming together to be a part of something. Honestly, I’m still not sure if I like attending or playing shows better. (laughs)
How did you guys go about choosing your band name? Was it a hard decision to come to? What other names were you considering?
I actually dreamt it, with the spelling and everything, one night in December 2016. When I woke up and searched the internet I couldn’t believe the name was available. I texted some of my friends, “Hey have you heard of The Frst?” and they all wrote back pretty much the same thing- “Nah, but it sounds like a cool band!”
In the years leading up to this moment, I had been making music using my name, but writing and producing for other artists became confusing to the public. Also I had never envisioned being a singer songwriter type, so I wanted a name that could be a band or a person, and would give me some anonymity, like Nine Inch Nails or Foo Fighters on their debut album.
Let’s talk about your newest single, “Tarantino?” What was the inspiration for it? How would you say that it compares to anything else you have released? What was it like shooting the music video for it in Joshua Tree? How creatively involved with the overall process were you?
Musically speaking, the main pieces came from a scrapped song I wrote titled, “Mobile Homes”, which was an ode to mine and my brother’s rugged upbringing in central Florida. Lyrically speaking, I said out loud to videographer Laura Dobransky one afternoon in a Eureka moment, “I’m going to write a song called Tarantino!” I jotted the title down in my phone notes app for later imploring.
The chorus is obviously set like a Quentin Tarantino Film, and the verses are more of the personal stories intertwined with bits of characters from his movies. When writing, I like using raw emotions from my life to tell a fictional third person narrative. That way it feels honest, because it is, but also to make it more relatable and perhaps retain a little privacy – if that’s possible anymore (laughs).
So far “Tarantino” is a fan favorite and it’s helped us connect with our audience. They’ll share their stories and ask about lyrics and meanings. I try not to give everything away, but I don’t mind sharing. I try to evaluate the songs from multiple perspectives to add dimension, so it’s intended to have several meanings anyway. It’s like the lyrical equivalent of oil painting eyes that seem to follow you around the room.
Filming in Joshua Tree was amazing! I had driven through there a year before for the Seven Eleven Video, but we didn’t stop to film then. Tarantino was shot on Christmas Day, and it was freezing! On the way out there, the Grand Canyon area froze over making national news, which aside from hydroplaning for about 8 hours, pushed our shoot time back drastically, to the point where we only had 2 hours of daylight left for the outdoor scenes. We thought, “Ok, well we have tomorrow for overdubs in addition to the inside scenes.” Sure enough, the next day, Joshua Tree gets several inches of snowfall overnight, for the first time in over a decade! National news again (laughs). We shot the card game scene, Tarantino style – table level and close ups, during some of the down pour.
Creatively speaking, from beginning to end. Laura Dobransky has done a great job capturing the spontaneous moments on the last few videos. I write the script and let her fine tune it and dictate the shot angles, which was similar to how I worked with Alexandra Brown.
Do you plan on releasing more new music soon and a full album later this year or next? Have you been able to work on new songs lately?
We released another single on July 10th named “Duh”, and then “Prelude” our debut full length will drop August 14th, with a new single and video as well.
Even newer than that?? (laughs) I’ll probably get some flack for this, but yes pre production is completed for our second full length (due 2021) and tracking will begin this Fall. I’d describe it as more Indie & Punk and less Alternative & Rock than Prelude. Grammy winner Steve Hardy will be mixing all of the tracks on this record, unlike “Prelude,” where it was only the last 3 singles. Andy VanDette (Sublime, David Bowie, The Beastie Boys) is of course confirmed, and the rest will just have to be a surprise! (laughs)
How do you think future music is going to be influenced by this incredible and absolutely necessary Black Lives Matter movement that the US and even the world is going through now? Is it inspiring you and your music today at all?
It’s certainly long overdue. I hope it shines more light on folks like Anderson Paak, or Kele from Bloc Party. Fela Kuti has been a big inspiration of ours over the last few years. You bring those names up and people look at you with a blank stare…
Absolutely! “Duh” was inspired by the movement, which to me seems obvious in lyrics like “…If we can love, put down the gun, that includes you…” but listeners always draw their own conclusions (laughs). The title was meant to be somewhat obvious…Sort of like the answer is simple: “Duh!”
If you could get into the studio with any artist today and collaborate on a new song, who would it be and why? What bands consistently inspire you all?
I always say Travis Barker. He gave us props back on our 3rd single when he and Lil Peep & XXXtentacion (RIP dudes) beat us on Soundcloud that day! Ironically, I worked with Johnny Minardi [DTA Records] on our early singles before he and Travis teamed up on DTA, because he was managing James Paul Wisner, who mixed our singles until “Ammo”. It’s a small world in the music industry, and that in itself can be inspiring.
As for artists, too many to name! Beck, D’ Angelo, Tame Impala…It’s been inspiring watching our buddy Shane (Adjust The Sails) find success on Spotify, and Owen Danoff, who’s been in a few of our videos (Rules, Ammo) getting love from Billboard and American Songwriter.
What would your dream music video look like right now?
Honestly, getting permits and land is usually the biggest challenge. It’d be great to have a larger team, more space, and bigger budget, but ironically the lo-fi viral shots have become part of what our fans associate with us (for now).The next record’s videos will be higher definition and different conceptually from our linear story based videos on this album.
Would you like to share anything else about yourself or your music with our readers?
Thank you so much reading this and listening to the songs! Definitely download our Augmented Reality “The Frst” App free now from your phone’s app store to see behind the scenes content and exclusive bloopers anywhere in the world, by simply scanning our official logo.