Author: Bridget Benevides
Photo by Megan Carew
I have been to over 30 concerts in my life. Live music never fails to impress me and move me. There have been times I did not enjoy the concerts I was at, and there have been times that I have been moved to tears by the power of the music in the room. But Saturday night, at The Crocodile, I had the best concert experience of my life. From start to finish nothing went wrong. I was never uncomfortable, I did not dislike any songs, I laughed so hard I keeled over and my abs hurt, I got to meet and talk to Jack Gray about his music, I made friends in the audience, I was moved—again and again—by the emotion with which each artist performed and I had the best night I have had in a long, long time. So, thank you Dean Lewis, Brian Fennell and Jack Gray for this. It is one I will never forget.
I had the pleasure of talking with 20-year-old Australian singer/songwriter/producer Jack Gray before the show. Jack is touring with Dean Lewis and SYML for the next few weeks as they go to different venues around the US (and what a treat for all us concert goers this is, to see not one, not two, but three incredible artists live).
BRIDGET BENEVIDES: Chocolate or vanilla?
JACK GRAY:Chocolate for sure.
BB: Mountains or oceans?
BB: Cats or dogs?
BB: What is your most irrational fear?
JG: Seafood. I hate seafood, I can’t do it.
BB: I hate seafood too!!
JG: Are you the same? Thank God! Because I get tortured every time. I can’t do anything from the ocean and its totally mental, and anytime someone finds out I don’t like seafood, that’s when it starts, they’re like “you have to try this!” and I have a fork in my face with seafood on it the whole night, and I can’t do it, I can’t do it.
BB: What job would you be terrible at?
JG: Anything other than music. Literally anything. An accountant. Selling cars—I wouldn’t be good at that.
BB: What is a small thing that makes your day better?
JG: People smiling or being nice to me. When someone smiles and says “hello” that’s a nice thing. Getting good news actually! If you get an email with good news like you’re playing this show, or you’re playing this festival—that’s cool, that makes my day better.
BB: What is it about your music do you think fans respond well to?
JG: There’s a few things I think. The production: I like to do a lot of ear candy, so really satisfying sounds, all the stuff you don’t notice straight away but once you listen to it a bunch of times you’re like “Oh that’s cool.” Lyrically I think it’s interesting, I talk about falling in love, which is great to talk about, but I talk about other things as well.
BB: Do you write based off your experiences?
JG: Sometimes. But not all the time. I like to make up stories… yeah, not all the time.
BB: If you could describe the feeling of being on stage in front of fans, how would you describe it?
JG: Anxious (laughs). No, it’s the best feeling ever. You’d think having all those eyes on you in the room would be terrifying but after the first song you just feel like you’re in your room and its really cool.
BB: How do you get ready for a show?
JG: I listen to music before I go on, and the biggest one is practice. If you’ve practiced enough then you feel comfortable and you’re ready to do it. If you haven’t practiced it’s like “F***. I’m going to screw everything up.” So, definitely practice. Breath. Hang out with Jim, that’s a good one. (Jim is Jack’s manager and friend, and he was very kind and helpful in setting up the interview, thanks Jim!)
BB: What do you hope fans remember from your shows?
JG: My guitar playing and all the things I’ve been working on for the past 12 years of my life… everything. I hope they like the lyrics, I hope they remember my voice.
BB: When did you start playing guitar?
JG: When I was very young, I was probably about 6. My whole family loves music, my dad is a drummer, my mom is a keyboard player, my uncle is a bass player, so I just grew up around it. So very young.
BB: What inspires you to make music?
JG: The feeling of making music—as cheesy as that sounds—is the most fun thing to do, ever. That’s all I do. In between all this stuff I look forward to sitting down and producing, making sounds and making melodies.
So, at this point in the night I am smiling ear to ear. Jack Gray is absolutely adorable and charming, he is passionate about his music, he gave me a hug on the way in and out… how could I not be a little smitten. Sophie and I went out to the standing room to join the crowd of excited men and women. They varied in age—some were with friends, others with partners, some with parents and a few alone, but the room was buzzing with energy.
Jack Gray took the stage at 7:30 pm with his guitar and masterfully started picking and strumming and singing beautiful melodies. I looked around me and the faces of my fellow audience members matched mine almost to a T; a look of “How can he be singing so beautifully, guitar picking so skillfully and looking so good while doing it?!”
Jack sang four songs (though I, for one, would have loved to hear more). The first song I did not catch the names of, but second he played his new single “Drunk Talk”. Next, he played a very moving song “Bullets” which was written in reaction to three of his classmates taking their lives when they were in high school. During this song he sat down in front of the keyboard with his guitar around his shoulders and finger picked with his right hand while playing piano with his left, and this was one of the more astonishing things I have ever seen. Another testimony to his unique ability to make music. I cannot wait for this song to be available on streaming outlets, so I can listen to it again and again and so its message can be shared with all. Finally, he played a song called “Fools” which was about a past relationship.
I can confidently say that Jack is the most talented young musician that I have ever had the joy of seeing perform. He is talent in its purest form. In seeing him live I could feel his passion for making music, not only in his ability to play his instruments, but in the emotion with which his sings. His voice is effortlessly smooth, powerful and unique, and his lyrics are raw and undeniably human.
Next up came Brian Fennell, known as SYML—pronounced “sih- mol”. (Until last night, I thought it was an acronym for something, but after a little research I learned that SYML means “simple” in Welsh. Fennell said his wife helped him pick out the name.) It definitely fits his music which sounds to me like strength and softness wrapped up into a beautiful melody. I was highly anticipating seeing SYML live because over the past few weeks I have come to love his music and connect very deeply with it. It is very dynamic and seeing him perform live, seeing him add special tweaks here and there and seeing his face contort with passion as he hit higher notes was everything I was expecting and more.
In between songs he enthusiastically interacted with the audience. He asked us if we had any questions for him, and audience members shouted out questions back to him. Some questions were about his music and some just about his life. His answers had us laughing out loud and helped us get to know him a little more as a person, not just an artist. I respect that he took the time to be human, to laugh at himself and laugh with us.
He shared stories behind the inspiration to his songs, and with this I learned a lot about what inspires him. When he said that his song “Girl” was written for his two year old daughter who recently went through a scary surgery I heard the song like I was hearing it for the first time. I understood it so much more. Listening to it from the perspective of a daughter who has known the difficulties of health problems but has also known tremendous support from her parents was (and is) a very emotional experience for me.
I have a huge respect for the unique and honest music SYML makes as well as the charming stage presence he had. The audience was very excited to see him play, and sang along, hands in the air trying to soak up every moment. I originally requested this show because of him (later growing to love both Dean Lewis and Jack Gray), and he surpassed my expectations. It was everything I could have imagined.
Dean Lewis came to the stage wearing a simple black t-shirt and looking dashingly handsome as always. He was accompanied by four other men: one acoustic guitar player, one bass player, a drummer and a man managing the sound board. His performance was relatively simple, there were no crazy visuals or dancing because his voice commanded the attention of the audience. Dean Lewis has a very rare and captivating voice that catches on certain notes and makes every word sound like its own standalone piece of art.
He sang new songs like “Be Alright”, he sang songs off his album “Same Kind Of Different”(my favorite was “Chemicals” and many members of the audience sang along with him to this one), and he even sang unreleased songs like one called “Half a Man” that he played on the piano. The audience sang quietly, and his voice was the center of attention. Couples held each other, and friends laughed in unison and as a singular body we swayed. He has this impressive power to make everything melt away, everything except the music, and the melodies about love and heartbreak, full of genuine emotion.
To be honest Sophie (my roommate and concert buddy) and I are still riding this high and I don’t plan on coming down any time soon. We have been playing Jack Gray, SYML and Dean Lewis on repeat and loving every minute of it. This concert was really what I needed to feel warm and full and inspired. I am humbled to hear these incredible men perform live, and truly grateful for the opportunity. Again, thank you Dean Lewis, Brian Fennell and Jack Gray for making my heart sing.
BRIDGET BENEVIDES | Any other seafood haters out there? | KXSU Music Reporter