Myke Gray (Skin/Red White & Blues)

myke-gray-life-food-exercise-philosophy

Introduction and interview by Paul Monkhouse

Myke Gray first found fame in Jagged Edge before his superb guitar playing skills and magnetic and physical stage personality found its perfect home in SKIN. There was a band who, despite brilliant albums, some amazing exposure through high profile support slots and numerous television appearances, never really broke through as they should have. When the band split Myke spiralled into a haze of drug taking (something about which he talks about openly as a sobering warning to others tempted to go down that path) and worked in dance music. Through sheer determination he managed to sort his life out, started doing personal training and picked up his guitar again. Following a sadly short lived but astoundingly good SKIN reunion he formed Red White & Blues with former Jagged Edge band mate Matti Alfonzetti. A highly acclaimed debut album, an appearance at Download Festival and support slots with Chickenfoot and Whitesnake amongst others has seen them rapidly become a ‘must-see’ band.  I caught up with Myke at the UEA in Norwich prior to Red White & Blues opening for Lynyrd Skynyrd  – their second UK tour with the Southern Rock Legends this year.

Myke, what does rock music mean to you?
Rock music to me is…. Oh, that’s a tough one. It’s the music that most inspires me, it’s the music that I resonate most with when I listen to it. Montrose - first albumI like lots of different types of music but when I first started playing music it was the thing that most attracted me to it. The first Van Halen album, the first Montrose album, the early AC/DC albums. You know … I think it is probably the physicality of it, maybe it’s due to high levels of testosterone in me, I kind of resonate with music which is kind of very physical. Yeah, it’s the music I most want to play.  It’s the one that always seems to come out.

You mentioned a few artists there, but who was the first artist to make a real impression on you?
The Sex Pistols.  You have to remember when you’re a kid Top of the Pops was the only outlet you had for music and I’m talking about when I was 10 or 11 years of age. There used to be bands like Showadawaddy and Darts on there and all of sudden along came the Sex Pistols and it was that sheer energy! It was like nothing I’d seen before and it also went hand in hand with something maybe I could do … it didn’t seem like it was that complicated, there was a lot of energy. Very soon after that  I saw Judas Priest on Top of the Pops as well playing ‘Take on all the World’ and it was the first time I had seen what I perceived as a heavy metal band and I’d never seen anything like that before. So that was very much something that opened the door. Every week I used to go shopping with my mum and I remember going into WH Smiths … I’d go and look at the albums. It was the Kiss Alive II album cover. I just remember every week going to look at and not being able to hear it, but just looking at the cover and thinking, “What is it all about? This is very different to Showaddywaddy!”  And so then I sought out other bands and that’s when I found Van Halen, AC/DC and Montrose.  So those were the big influences in the beginning.

Van Halen - first albumIs there a particular band or album or song which means a lot to you?
Yeah, Van Halen 1.  I literally used to listen to that every morning before I went to school … just used to listen to ‘Eruption’ and think “How?” and to this day I’m still thinking that!  Pretty much Van Halen 1 … that was the most influential album. Van Halen 1 and Montrose 1: those were probably the two albums I’ve listened to most in my life.


You’ve toured with a lot of legendary bands and musicians, so what do you say to a ‘rock star’ after saying “Hi!”?
It’s always tricky because over the years it’s kind of changed. You know when you’re younger your ego’s a little bit out of control … so is a musician’s. You know, they’re friendly to the people they need to be friendly to, but I wouldn’t say that historically musicians are that friendly. But they tend to get friendlier as they get older, sort of mellowed out a little bit, and I’m definitely falling into that category as well. Here, the other day, Rickey Medlocke has obviously been a massive hero to a lot of people, including myself,  so when we arrived we sort of said, “Oh, hi!”, and then I basically told him how amazing I thought ‘Diary of a Working Man’ was. It’s a song I’ve listened to for 20 years.  He said “That’s very appreciated,” and then about an hour later I’m walking past his dressing room and he said “Come in” and I did obviously, as you do, like you are summoned by God, and he played, acoustically, ‘Diary of as Working Man’ to me, which was him playing to just me and moments like that are, oh, priceless. It’s the reason why you play; it makes it all worthwhile. 

So yeah, I have to say in, what, I’m approaching 30 years of touring I guess, Lynyrd Skynyrd are the nicest band I’ve ever toured with.  They’re just amazing and their crew, everyone, a pleasure, total total pleasure to be on the tour.

What has been your best encounter with an artist you’ve admired?
Girl - Sheer GreedWell, when I was growing up, when I was a kid, I had just started playing and my sister used to run a rock club and every night there used to be bands playing. One day there was a band called Girl playing and Phil Collen was the guitar player. He let me play his black Ibenez Destroyer, bearing in mind I was about 15 at the time, he let me get on stage and play through his amps and as a 15 year old that’s pretty amazing! Then about a year later, my sister’s boyfriend was the sound engineer for Thin Lizzy on the Thunder and Lightning tour and a great thing happened: he introduced me to John Sykes who let me play his black Les Paul through the Hammersmith Odeon PA on stage – that was pretty amazing! They’re good ones, yeah, they’re good ones. You know I haven’t forgotten them.

And what has been your best experience of meeting a fan of yours/your band?
People look up to you, I don’t know why … I’m just very appreciative of people who like our music. I don’t think I’ve had any bad experiences with any fans over the years. I had one guy who asked me to sign his penis once. He did it at the merch stand too and he just got his penis out on the table and asked me to sign it. So that was quite odd. [Couldn’t find a pic – Ed.] There’s obviously been some wonderful girls we’ve met over the years  so always found it quite flattering that someone would watch you on stage and would be quite happy to have sex with you afterwards. That’s definitely a very nice bonus to being in the band!

Having played all over the world and at some amazing venues, what do you think makes a rock gig special?
The audience. Simple as that. I mean you kind of take it as a given that the band is playing well but the gig will be completely determined by the energy back from the audience. Without the audience it would just be four guys standing there in an empty room, so it’s the people at the show that make the show. You know it’s your job to connect with these people as quickly as possible, and if you can connect with them and they give you the energy back, then that gives you a high level. It’s like a connection that happens between audience/band, band/audience. You know you have to establish trust first of all and then, once they’ve given you that trust, you can’t let them down and it’s a very spiritual experience.

Myke Gray on stageWhat is the best gig you’ve played as an artist?
Oh my Lord, I couldn’t possibly tell you. I mean you have moments where you … it’s like the whole thing … you just connect with the audience and you connect with the band. There’s been many where that’s happened. I’ve done some very emotional gigs with Skin, you know, and with this band [Red, White & Blues] because it’s just up-and-coming and the first show that we did the other night, on this tour, was pretty good. But there’s been so many, there’s been so many. I just feel very privileged to be able to play music, but it’s all good. 

And what is the best gig you’ve attended?
Oh my Lord, again another tough one. I remember seeing Mötley Crüe at the Marquee prior to playing Download, on the Dr Feelgood tour; that was a pretty amazing show. I’ve been to so many concerts over the years but that one really stands out as something that was just mind blowing.  Van Halen at Download, Monsters of Rock back then, the first time I’d seen Eddie Van Halen play for real, was obviously incredible. Any AC/DC gig is pretty spectacular, yeah those are the ones that sort of spring out. Guns n’ Roses touring on the first album: that was brilliant. Lots.

Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll: the Meaning of Life or just another jaded cliché?
Sex, drugs and rock n roll … the drugs are horrible.

You’ve talked a lot about it in the past …
Yeah, you go through life and you have lots of different experiences and different people will tell you different things.  My association with drugs was particularly bad – it only caused me a lot of pain and suffering. I haven’t touched any drugs for 10 years and I do yoga and meditation so it’s a different world for me now. I mean back in the day I was like a monster, I consumed so many drugs and it was a very dark time for me. Not particularly creative, didn’t make any good music. Rock ‘n’ roll and touring with my friends: that’s the best thing in the world, so it’s very hard when people put them together. It’s a strange thing for me to see it together because rock ’n’ roll to me is something very pure, drugs to me is something very dirty and unclean. Basically, they make someone very self-obsessed, very self-absorbed and dominated by their ego and is about as far away from consciousness as it could possibly be. You know, when you study anything about spiritualism, or stuff like that, ego is here and consciousness is here and they’re poles apart.  So I try to spend my whole time getting closer to consciousness, awareness, and further away from evil as possible.

And sex with someone you love is amazing and sex with someone you don’t love is just using someone – so that’s another very egotistical aspect and something once again, I would move away from. But in my early years, it was all about doing the gig, getting out and finding something to extend the entity that is on stage. On stage you have this extremely exhilarating experience and you just want it to keep going on and so finding someone to have sex with afterwards is a cheap illusion that gives you that sort of feeling. When you’ve never been in love you don’t know any differently and you’re just doing what is hormonally driving you, but you know, I had some great times, met some great people. Would I do it all again? There are some bits I would rather not do … but most of it was good.

Is ‘rock’ music for all people or quite tribal?
I think all music is tribal, whether it be country and western, whether it be punk, reggae. You kind of identify your entity, your ego identifies with something and so you become part of it and you feel connected to like-minded people and you feel connected to like-minded bands and stuff like that. Yeah, it’s incredibly tribal, but it’s incredibly ego driven, you know, that’s the other thing. All of us are driven by our egos, so as soon as you see a group of people with the same leather jackets on and the same denims and stuff like that, all of a sudden you are part of a group and as that group, you instantly isolate others. We are this group, you know, so definitely herding and ego driven. But that’s human nature.

How do you view what you do as an artist?
Skin - Breaking the SilenceA gift, it’s just a gift. It’s just changed over the years. Initially it was all about me, you know, but now when we go out on stage it’s about what can we give to the people who are here?  How can we entertain them?  What can we give them that’s going to make them happier and enjoying the moment. It’s all about what can we give them – whereas when we were younger, it was all about what they could give us. But that’s changed as life’s gone on and suddenly we have a greater awareness of what this experience truly should be about.

How do you think your music is labelled and do you find labels helpful?
I don’t really pay much attention to that; we write what comes out of us. We don’t write it thinking: “Oh, we really want to …” or “This week we want to …”

… appeal to a certain demographic?
Yeah, because that’s what comes out of us, you know. We play in certain ways, Matti [Alfonzetti – Red White & Blues] sings in certain ways, Nev [MacDonald – Skin] sings in a certain way. We get a consensus between whoever’s in the group. If it’s something we like then we’ve just got to hope that other people like it as well.  And that’s about as much as you can do. 

What piece of music would you like to be most remembered for?
Just to be remembered at all is incredible. To have anyone sing your song back to you is, as a writer, about the most you can ever hope for. I’m just very flattered and happy that anyone would sing anything back. When I go and see bands play and I sing along to their songs it just makes me happy. To sing AC/DCs ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ or ‘Far Away’ by Nickelback, you’re happy. So, for someone else to be doing that from something that I’ve participated in, that’s a very nice feeling.

Red White & Blues - ShineWhat would you say to people who claim that the rock era is dead?
It’s not dead to me. I don’t really care, it doesn’t matter to me at all what anyone else says about it. I listen to the music I like listening to, I play the music I like playing. If someone else doesn’t like it, there’s nothing I can do about it – I’m not going to let them affect me. It’s not going to affect my decision process on what I listen to. I don’t care. 

So, what’s next for Myke Gray? More writing, recording with Red White & Blues?
Well, I like writing but I try not to plan too far ahead.  We are talking about making another record and we have started writing some songs and I’m going over them with Matti tomorrow to see if he likes any of them. But life has taught me there is no point planning too far ahead. Just when I thought everything was right, everything goes wrong, so two or three weeks at the most is about as far ahead as I plan now.

The intrepid Paul Monkhouse with Myke Gray and Matti Alfonzetti

CHEERS, MYKE!

Myke Gray’s fitness, nutrition and well-being site
Red White & Blues official site
Skin official site

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