Q&A with New York State Blues Hall of Famer, Lex Grey - passionate artist fusing old school blues and classic rock

"If your music is not the spiritual expression of what you are then what IS it? It is our subconscious, unconscious, ancestral, ego, god, coping mechanism, creation, undoing. Celebration, communication, catharsis, connection and rebellion all in the same beautiful, gritty, bluesy breath. It is the song of every road travelled and every path not taken. It is a quivering bow and arrow displaying both potential and kinetic energy. It is a lotus flower born from mud. It is an Urban Pioneer!"

Lex Grey: The Sutra of Melodic Roads

Lex Grey and the Urban Pioneers were founded by Lex Grey and Vic “Mix” Deyglio who met at NYC’s legendary Power Station Studios. Lex Grey quickly rose to the status of cult-rock Diva in the New York Music Scene, headlining regularly at CBGB’s, Hogs and Heifers, Lone Star Roadhouse, Kenny's Castaways, Webster Hall, Wetlands Preserve, Saint Marks Bar, Mercury Lounge, and the Knitting Factory among many others. She also fronted Illuminati, a forty piece orchestra covering the songs of the Grateful Dead, James Brown and other rock legends. Straight off the stage, Lex was cast to play Jeannie in the European revival of the rock musical Hair, spending a year touring Holland, Italy, Germany and Switzerland. Her love of old blues and jazz brought her into the world of burlesque, where she and her band backed up the dancers of the Coney Island Burlesque, the Ixion Burlesque, and the VaVaVoom Room with naughty, bawdy songs from the teens, twenties and thirties. This gave birth to the ever-popular Down and Dirty Lounge show, dubbed “Better Than Broadway” by NYC’s Metro Press.

(Photo: Lex Grey)

Fearlessly dancing through genres with their feet planted firmly in the blues, the Urban Pioneers paint a musical patchwork of rowdy rock concert, theatrical hootenany and sultry after-hours jam. They are unafraid to experiment with both original compositions and covers. Headliners at major clubs, theaters and festivals throughout the United States and Europe, Lex Grey and the Urban Pioneers have cultivated a broad spectrum of fans of every age and background. Her universal appeal lands her on a wide variety of stages. From family-friendly festivals, private events, and theatres, to the motorcycle madness of Laconia and Daytona ... from intimate coffee houses, to major blues and rock festivals, Lex Grey has earned a strong foothold in today’s music scene as a live performer and multiple award-winning ASCAP songwriter and recording artist. Lex Grey and the Urban Pioneers’ much anticipated eighth original album “How Many Roads?” scheduled for release on January 27th, 2023.

Interview by Michael Limnios           Archive: Lex Grey, 2018interview @ blues.gr

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started making music? What has remained the same about your music-making process?

When starting out it is easy to feel like everything is the "be all-end all". Every song had to be a vocal showcase, every lyric had to be epic. Now, understanding the evolution and (hopefully) longevity of the process I allow the song to come first. Delivering that song with the tone, phrasing and cadence needed to get the message across. That doesn't always involve using 100% of all of your range. What has remained the same about the process is that for me it begins with the words...the message...the story or scene I want to create. Often on a bar napkin or scrap of paper the poem unfolds with its own rhythm and feel. Then I pick up my guitar and sketch out the "events" that will support the story. Sometimes we all just jam together and i make up lyrics and melodies on the spot and we cull from there. The opening song on our latest album called "In It Together" was one such stream of consciousness jam. We left it just the way it flowed, spontaneously.

Who are some of your very favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music?

I'm sure this is a daunting question for any artist! I love so many kinds of music and I love some artists for their songs, some for their voices, some for their outright flamboyance and desire to entertain. When I hear Nina Simone, I completely melt. Her talent, vocal quality, conviction, politics and pain all come through. When I first heard Janis Joplin, I was captivated by her grit and wild abandon. I love Suzanne Vega and her sweet vulnerability and deeply personal songwriting. When I first heard Amy Winehouse I knew she was an instant icon. Driving just the other day I heard a Phil Ochs song and had to pull over because it made me cry. I cover a few Bob Dylan and John Lennon songs because they are so amazing and adaptable to many interpretations. And Miles Davis is always in my playlist. "Kind of Blue" is an album you can listen to in your darkest urban derelict depression or your most enlightened moments.

"It's easy to become jealous of others. It's easy to close yourself off from anything new. Celebrate others' successes and check out as many new things as you can. Open yourself up to every new path and possibility that presents itself. It's not about you, it's about your connections with others. It's about being greater than the sum of your parts. We're all in it together." (Photo: Lex Grey and the Urban Pioneers)

Currently you’ve one more release with The Urban Pioneers. How did that relationship come about?

We started as a concept. An "Urban Pioneer" is a flower that grows from the cracks in concrete. It also describes a person who is willing to live in a place where few would venture to tread. In our case, Williamsburg Brooklyn in the late 80s/early 90s. We all came together with the desire to play and create. We all had different influences and strengths, different ethnicities and backgrounds. When we started playing together the differences dissolved and the connection strengthened. We have lost some members over the years, but the concept still remains. Founding members Lex Grey and Vic "Mix" Deyglio are still at the creative helm and 1993 member Tim Farrell has returned! Satellite member Sonny Rock is on the new album and newest member Ed Wasilewski was a driving force in the newest incarnation of the Urban Pioneers.

How do you prepare for your recordings and performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?

Rest. Hydration. Yoga. Time hiking in the woods or just getting out in nature. Sometimes a couple of glasses of wine or a nice snifter of Brandy!

Do you have any interesting stories about the making of the new album "How Many Roads?"?

We did most of the production during the Pandemic. Fortunately, we were able to have rehearsals outdoors in our backyard. We were worried about disturbing the neighbors but one afternoon when a song was over, we heard applause! From everywhere! people were walking up to our gate and leaving beer, flowers, food and notes of encouragement. When the weather turned nasty, we moved masked indoors for the recording process. A local club owner made the band custom face shields and delivered them to our door. In a time of so much political strife and isolation we felt incredibly loved and supported!

"Rest. Hydration. Yoga. Time hiking in the woods or just getting out in nature. Sometimes a couple of glasses of wine or a nice snifter of Brandy!" (Photo: Lex Grey as a version of the Hindu goddess Durga. Photo cover of Lex Grey and The Urban Pioneers new album "How Many Roads?")

What is the story behind album's photo cover with you like the Hindu goddess Durga? What do you think is key to a life well lived?

On the album cover I portray a version of the Hindu goddess Durga. She is the feminine epitome of strength. In her many arms she holds weapons of destruction against demons and objects of nurturing and power. She eliminates suffering and confronts evil without fear. Isn't that the mission of the blues woman?! A key to a life well lived is to always stand in your truth. When what you believe, how you act and what you do and say are in harmony with each other then you are living your truth. confront evil without fear and hopefully with a very moving and passionate song!  And never forget to arm yourself with a sense of humor!

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

It's easy to become jealous of others. It's easy to close yourself off from anything new. Celebrate others' successes and check out as many new things as you can. Open yourself up to every new path and possibility that presents itself. It's not about you, it's about your connections with others. It's about being greater than the sum of your parts. We're all in it together.

John Coltrane said "My music is the spiritual expression of what I am...". How do you understand the spirit, music, and the meaning of life?  

If your music is not the spiritual expression of what you are then what IS it? It is our subconscious, unconscious, ancestral, ego, god, coping mechanism, creation, undoing. Celebration, communication, catharsis, connection and rebellion all in the same beautiful, gritty, bluesy breath. It is the song of every road travelled and every path not taken. It is a quivering bow and arrow displaying both potential and kinetic energy. It is a lotus flower born from mud. It is an Urban Pioneer!

Lex Grey and the Urban Pioneers - Home

(Lex Grey/ Photo by Neil Segal)

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