INTERVIEW: Greg Goodell – Music in the Key of Life

Gregory Goodell is a music producer from the Boise, ID area and is the owner and proprietor of Dynamic Arts Musical Academy and Recording Studios. He is the lead singer of Devil’s County and is involved with multiple musical projects, including production, engineering, and consultation. He manages the Dynamic Arts Wrecking Crew, Lookout! Point. His story of life is as valid for a musical career as much as a writing career. In fact, the lessons learned are more about life than anything else.  Books & Pieces Magazine wants to highlight professionals and their journey toward success.

GG: My college instructors used to say that inspiration is for amateurs because if you sit around waiting to be inspired, you’re going to be sitting around a long time and you’re going to miss a lot of opportunities. If you’re good at what you do, just do it. Figure it out, make it happen.

WG: Any creative work is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.

GG: That’s right. Absolutely. It’s all hard work. I know people think it’s some gift, and it’s like, no, you have an innate talent for some measure of it. Some people can hear music in their heads, and some people can see words. But I think after that, it really is a skill set that you have to bust your chops out and hone, hone, hone. Just because you can listen to music doesn’t mean that you actually have a true aesthetic for what is good or bad. One of the things that I wrote in a college paper was that a lot of people today complain that all music today is terrible. And my answer to that is there’s good music and there’s terrible music through all eras. One of the things that happen as you’re growing up and turn into a teenager, you’re creating formative things in your brain. These new neurons are firing. These new memories are being formed. These brand new first times. First kiss. First time I rode this one carnival ride. First time when you got married.  When you drove your first car.

WG: First time I heard stereo, right?

GG: Yeah, anything like that. One of the first times I really realized stereo was, such a powerful thing. I was listening to the Beatles’ Revolver album and some of that stuff was just incredible how they could move around in the stereo field. And it sounded so good.

WG: It was clean and simple.

GG: Yeah. And the White Album, too, although that was a little more experimental. But I loved it. You have to evolve if you want to maintain relevance. I’m sure this is true with writing or anything else. You have to remain relevant to what is happening. And that goes back to what I was saying before about the paper I was writing—all those first times. You relate to these songs—they can be terrible songs and you hate them, too, but when you hear them later in life, you’re thinking it was such a good song. Such a great ride. And you’re a ’69 Mustang. That’s what that is. That’s what you’re hearing. What you’re hearing in your heart, the first time you drove that car, the first time when your daughter was born, and things like that. But when you start running out of first times, that’s when you quit associating it with music. Not just music, but film and books, too. Unless you’re more open than the average person, or you’re just constantly consuming this stuff. You and I are constant consumers consuming? We try and stay relevant.

WG: I think you’ve added a lot of depth over the years, not necessarily that you changed that much, but your bank of experience has gotten a lot bigger.

GG: Well, the experiences, the things that you’ve done, the people that you’ve met, the lessons that you’ve learned, and the mistakes that you made. Failures are very important. You got to have failure because that’s where you get your push-through from. That’s where you get to get back up and do it again.

WG: It has to be pain.

GG: Absolutely. That’s why so many artists are tortured, and people go, well, why was he this way? He was kind of insane already.

WG: There was a period of time that was a cool thing. If you weren’t tortured, you weren’t really cool.

GG: True for whatever form. I think one of the things that happen now in society, is these kids are living these perfect lives in these very bubble-wrapped environments where there’s nothing even there to hurt their feelings per se.

WG: Oh, God, yes.

GG: I don’t know what they do anymore because I think society spent so much time trying to spare feelings and trying to equalize so that people that weren’t as able are made to feel that they are equally able. The way that I even have to deal with artists these days is a little more strange. I made a grown man cry. I did. Well, one of the reasons people come to me for what I do is most of them apparently know I have no filter.

WG: None?

GG: And I’m honest to a fault. Well, how was that? And I’d go back over the talkback microphone and say, well, that was terrible. Can we try again? And then I’ll literally go and teach him a vocal lesson. Well, by the time we were done with a voice lesson, this 50-year-old man was in tears because he had never been spoken to that way, told that way, and then taken on a tour of all his weaknesses.

WG: But it’s a great lesson, isn’t it? And that’s what they should teach in school instead of sheltering. I consider myself fortunate, and I’m sure you do too. I was born in an age they didn’t pacify you.

GG: No one gave a shit what your feelings were. I’ve had it fall apart before with these types of people, because one of the things that happens when you confront them is you realize there is nothing there, and they realize there’s nothing there, too. And so then we have to figure out how are we finishing this project? How are we going to get through this time? And usually, if it’s not the front part of the group or something like that, we can work through with session musicians, or I can do it myself to fix it. But if they’re the mouthpiece of the group, let’s say, for instance, the guy is a singer and a frontman, but he can’t sing and he’s not good at being a front man, that makes life really hard. I’ll say this, everybody can do a little of everything if they apply themselves.

WG: How’s the music business today?

GG: Everything is booming. I’m so busy that it’s not even funny. I’ve got a lot to have done by next week. I’ve got about nine or ten songs to mix, edit, boom, out the door before I take on another three or four, and then another couple from a different artist. I’ve got to get all those headed out the door not too long after that. And, there’s live music happening. I’ve got performances booked for the first time in a long time.

And it’s incredible. And I’m seeing these new young artists out there, which is great because there’s been a little bit of a vacuum lately, somewhat in the musical world. Most of the time it’s been us middle-aged guys and older guys very active. You look at the legacy bands, how old are they getting now? I mean, even Metallica, you know, they’re getting up there.

WG: Okay. Tell me about little Greg. How did Greg start in all of this?

GG: Well, I always loved singing as a kid. My grandmother would listen to music all day long, mainly old honky tonk country and old Australian songs, pre-World War II Australia recordings, and stuff like that. Basically Australian country. I listened to those reels every day for 8 hours a day, five days a week when I was a small child. And that’s probably where I gained some of my aesthetic for music, mostly through osmosis. And then I was asked if I wanted to play an instrument because I enjoyed playing the recorder, as all children do, or most children do, to the horror of my parents.  I said yes, but I wanted to play the clarinet. My dad said, ‘No, you’re not playing the clarinet. You can play the saxophone.’

WG: Why?

GG: I have no real idea. Possibly it was a manlier instrument. I don’t know. There was a lot of sax stuff being played in music? Kenny G was about to hit. He hadn’t hit yet, but he was about to. Bill Clinton hadn’t played the sax yet on stage at his inauguration. Saxophones are for boys. And so I got my first saxophone, and I played, and I was that kid who never practiced all the things that I now tell my students to do. I didn’t do it okay. I didn’t even have any real natural inclination to it. I couldn’t read beat. I could read the notes well. But beat and timing and stuff like that,I was no good. But I still liked participating in band. I had one of the greatest band instructors ever, Mark Krueger. You could hear him on the second floor in another building as he was yelling at us. It was brilliant. I loved him so much. He was probably one of the angriest men I’ve ever shared a room with. He was a bald gentleman, and his head would turn beet red when he was mad at me. He did a lot for the music in his community. He got a lot of the grants.

And a lot of the instruments the kids are still playing 30 years later are from the grants that Krueger got. In high school, I wasn’t a sporty, kid. Band was somewhere that I fit. And some of my friends were there.  They were seniors that year. One of them was a super-senior, too. We called him the magical 13th grader. But he was great. He was a great player, like, a really great player. And they didn’t haze me. 

That’s where I found my home. And so I started playing, and I wanted to play to their level. That was the first time I was interested—truly interested—in becoming better. I wanted to play to their level, and then I did, and then I played beyond their level, and then I played beyond everyones. I had no rival. Then I got bored with the saxophone at age 16, I had played with Gene Harris at the Gene Harris Jazz festival, with Curtis Steigers and Red Halloway. It was a stupid, silly school thing, but I still count that as my first real gig because it was with real musicians.

And the only reason I got to play was I was one of the only kids that didn’t go to lunch. And I was peeking in through the door so I could see Gene Harris. They’re like, hey, kid, come on in here. You play? It was one of those things. And so I went and I played a couple of times with them, freeform jazz and also on stage, which was cool. That was beyond cool, one of the coolest things ever for a 16-year-old kid. I didn’t realize how cool it really was because I was 16 and stupid, but that’s what it was. And then some of the most amazing things to me in those days were orchestrating and composing things, even if there were things that I already knew. To hear the chords resonate together, was this feeling that was better than any drug to me or anything. It just felt almost like a voice from above, a light shining out of the clouds when these chords were created.

So I formed my first band, and I think I was about age 17 then. At that point, I had started playing drums. I was learning from my dear friends Mr. Schaefer, Kelly Long and Aaron Mitts. They’re all local drummers here. Jake actually still plays music with me to this day, and so does Kelly.

WG: When did you move to Emmett, Idaho? 

GG:  I was nine years old. The true musical journey began here. I learned the drums and I decided to learn the guitar. And that didn’t go so well. So I sold my first guitar. This is irony. It is the most supreme form because I was so mad at it. I took two lessons. Two lessons. My piousness arrogance.

WG: It’s called youth.

GG: True. Well, at that time I’m one of the best saxophone players in the state, not just for my age, but in the state, possibly the northwest. That gives you a big ego boost. And before my injuries, I was a really good drummer. Scary good drummer. So I thought, guitars should be easy. No, it wasn’t. I took two lessons. It was one of those things I’d be angry and I’d keep coming back to it and it just didn’t work out. So I traded it for another saxophone. I tell all my students that story. 

I’ve been playing professionally since that first gig at age 16, I had an oldies rockabilly band. So we’re playing this fusion of 50s Doo-wop and old 1940s swing, singing. mixed with 50s rockabilly. It worked, but I’m not sure how. We were always busy. We were doing car shows. All over the place. And between that and my first job running a sound company, Road Guys Sound Productions with my buddy Jake. He hired me as a sound engineer. Basically, I coiled cables and did whatever he told me to out in the hot sun while he sat having a beer. Music was not only something that I enjoyed doing, but music started becoming my source of income. And all my friends would go to work at McDonald’s or the Roe Ann Drive In restaurant or whatever, work their ass off all week long and come home with a $50 check and they couldn’t hang out. They couldn’t have fun. We couldn’t go swimming. Now I went to work. I worked for 1 hour on Sunday and I brought home $200 every week. And then I worked gigs on top of that, another $200 for some music.

WG: that’s a good thing.

GG: It was great because the work was awesome. I had to have my free time because I lived out on a ranch. And so before I did any of this I had to help with the sprinklers and with the animals and all of that kind of stuff. And at age 19, I got injured. I got run over by a hay trailer and it crushed all the metatarsals in my right foot. And that’s why I’m not the best drummer anymore. I only got about 60% mobility back in my right foot.

WG: I’d never have known.

GG: I only limp in the wintertime. About three or four days out of the year, I’ll have to walk with a cane. And just because the pain is too bad. There are eleven pins, three screws, two plates, and an ounce of donor bone welded into it. It looks like something out of Hellraiser. And then something happened. I got my first real job. I was working in security, and one of my first tours of duty was working at the prison. And I was really nervous about going in that first night. I had anxiety. There’s no sidearm there either, but I had worked at places like Loomis, Fargo and stuff like that. With a sidearm. I’m going to be in the prison and all I’ve got is pepper spray. And it’s not even CS gas. It’s pepper spray. I was nervous. I couldn’t sleep.

So there was a guitar sitting downstairs. And mind you, remember I sold my guitar when I was 17 and traded the guitar for the saxophone. The band rehearsals were at my house, so I was around instruments all the time. So I went downstairs and there was this PV Raptor owned by the Jake. And it only had five strings on it rather than the normal accompaniment of six. And I picked it up and suddenly I could play. It was the most bizarre thing. Maybe I just needed some time. Maybe I needed a little bit of my arrogance to burn off. I played that guitar all night before I went and did a lovely tour of duty in the prison.

WG: I thought you were going to tell me you played in the prison. No story, right?

GG: No, I’m not that fun and fantastic. It was just something to kill my nerves before I went in and I discovered I could play. Six months after that, I was playing live, playing guitar, and making money, because Red had told me that there was no real money in saxophone where I was.

I had also dabbled in recording. Just dabbled. We had tape machines. You saw the tape machine in the other room. I have an old analog eight-track tape machine up here.

WG: I remember when you got it and had to dissect it to get it working. Great old-school stuff there.

GG: You came in the day I had all the cards pulled out of it, right? Yeah. I’ve always been very hands-on. You probably noticed around here, if something needs fixing, I’m the one that fixes it. I try to work on everything. Like yesterday I was working on PIP cards for a Crown amplifier. I felt like a caveman trying to figure out a microwave because I’ve got the manual in one hand, and I’m looking at these 30 little buttons and sliders and realizing it’s like a bunch of little Lego bricks on here, too. You can move everything around. Oh, my goodness. I finally got it programmed, but the only thing I was thinking in my head was that a real studio would have someone to do this for you.

WG: Cathartic: 

GG: It makes me feel good. Yeah, it makes me feel good. There’s only one person I can blame if something goes wrong. That’s how we learn. And like I said, most of my instructors were very yelly, angry people. And so that’s how I cope. It’s how I deal with things because that’s how I was taught to deal with things.

So I played in a lot of groups, doing a lot of things in a lot of different styles, all the way from swing and jazz, rockabilly to hard rock and heavy metal. I’ve shared the stage with people like Alice In Chains, Godsmack, Jane’s Addiction. The list goes on and on. It’s all wonderful. The highest points that I have right now are the kids that are learning and doing. I can’t look back at any performances or gigs or say this was the greatest night of my life or anything.

Kelly, the drummer, and I started counting up all our gigs and shows, and performances. We quit counting when we hit 1800 separate shows. And that was when we were 28. And the frequency actually increased after that. And we’d only been playing out since we were 19. We were 19 with fake IDs. I had the fake ID and was appalled at how much alcohol actually costs when my 21st birthday rolled around. Because I’d been paid to party for free for two years.

WG: It’s a lot more expensive now.

GG:  I love the whiskies. You have flavors that all come at.  I like every whiskey to be like a good novel. It takes you on this little journey. I’ve got different kinds here. I keep them for my clients. I have my fine whiskies, and then I have my roughneck whiskey. And everybody’s happy because not everybody’s going to appreciate an 18-year-old Scotch.

Anyway I taught for years and years. I had a studio in my garage and studio in the loosest terms ever. It was in a garage and not a nice garage. And we called it Hillbilly engineering because it truly was. It was the most redneck thing you ever saw. I’d have foam taped around microphones, the cheapest microphones that I could afford. I had no money.

WG: You went to college later in life?

GG: One of my buddies said, well, why don’t you make it real? Why don’t you go to College? Why don’t you get the paper that says that you’re educated in this?  I just finished school for music production and recording. I have a degree, a Bachelor’s of Science in Music Production and Musical Engineering.

WG: So just the second question quickly. Outside of the paper it’s printed on, was it worth it?

GG: Absolutely. My freshman and sophomore year, I skated through because I had more experience than anybody else that was in the school. The wash out rate was about 82%. So out of every hundred of us, 18 has graduated. I graduated top in my class. In fact, in most of my classes, even my junior and senior year, I set the curve. That was really cool.

I was confronted with ideas that I had never considered. I had two instructors that just run me ragged. And I hated them then, and I absolutely adore them now. Dr. Macintosh and Viet Renn, They were amazing, absolutely amazing. And he used to do pop records. He’d work with Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, all that kind of stuff.

I’ve also done stuff at Washington State in the classical music department and the Lionel Hampton Jazz School. I was also accepted to Manus Music Conservatory in New York. But I did nothing more than just head out for orientation, check it out, and decide I didn’t want to go there. All that means is I am able to be a music instructor. And what do I do today? 50 percent of what I do is instruct in music.

And the music production in the studio just grew from there. I started to outgrow the little space that I had. Then I moved into a larger building. That’s when the studio really started to expand.

WG: And you opened Sagelands music.

GG: I took on a job teaching guitar for the original owners of Sagelands Music.  I had taught music at several other institutions locally and privately as a contractor up to that point.  Due to some business ventures falling short, they cut their losses and moved back to their point of origin (the Seattle/Tacoma area) and left me the business.  I taught and created programs, and they helped me with the book keeping (which I am awful at.) 

And so when I got this job, it was a godsend. They’re wonderful people. Truly, I would have none of what I have right now without their help and letting me take that business as a startup and putting me where I was. And it was hard.  

And I had Sagelands for a year and a half to two years. At that point, I was doing the musical recording works. I had just started to refine my craft and started getting serious. If you don’t know your science, then it becomes very difficult. So I’ve been gaining knowledge. That’s one of the most important things in this field. You need to stay up to date. I check Billboard once every few months, whether I need to or not, so I can see the musical trends, understand what’s happening, what’s popular, because it’s really strange in music. 

WG: So I’m going to ask you some hypothetical questions. If I throw at you an obscene amount of money at you, and say that you can’t do any of this. All you can do is go back to playing sax?

GG: Okay.

WG: Okay. Same question with any other instrument.

GG: Okay. So there’s the passion part. The overriding thing is I want to be happy. I want to take care of my family.  Look…I have a diagnosed mental illness. And so all of this is like an addiction. This is my focus, this is my outlet, and I don’t think I could stop. I have to always do something musically. And I’m a strange cat too, as far as what I’m doing. My frustration comes from doing 12 or 13 things at once. I’m simultaneous like that to a point where it’s so disjointed that people come in to visit me and they’ll stop. They’ll just leave because they can’t handle what I’m doing, because I’m going from this room and I’ll work on this for 3 seconds. And then I’ll glue up a tile that was starting to fall down. And then I’ll go and I’ll start tuning the piano, and then halfway through tuning the piano, I’ll leave the wrench right in it and go on— oh, I need to do this real quick, and I need to tune the drums, and then I need to go and set mics for a session in three days. And as I walk through I need to lay sessions for this song. And it’s all totally random, and it’s depressing to me because it feels like I get nothing done, and then suddenly, boom, everything’s all done at the same time. It’s a strange process.

WG: How do people around you deal with that?

GG: With me, it drives them nuts because, a friend of mine, Jeremy,  said that I’m much like a gnome. I just wander around like Hephestus at the gates of Hell.

WG: But it works for you. 

GG: Yeah, but every once in a while you get back to that crippling self doubt. If I am paid to do something, obviously I do it. But, I don’t think you could pay me to stop, though.

WG: Let me ask you a different variation on it. You can do this. This is your domain, this is your world. Or you can work for somebody else for good money, great money, in a studio that’s 50 times better. Which of the two would you choose?

GG: I rather like what I’m creating now because of a lot of things, I don’t work well and play well with others. I would eventually piss my boss off. And that kind of gig, that’s not forever. I have no control. I have no control over it. This is as long as I can sustain it. There’s something new and different that changes and evolves every week. I couldn’t go in and work for somebody in a stagnant, stale environment.

There’s a cool vibe here. One of the things that I’m enjoying here is that my business is increasing. I’m so busy, it’s not even funny. And I don’t advertise. It evolves every day. And what’s cool about a building like this is that if I need to punch a hole in the ceiling, I could punch a hole in the ceiling with my gear. If I need to pull it apart and work on it, I can pull it apart and work on it because I do everything myself. I make all the lists, I make all the things. I do all this. And I realize how much stuff I’ve learned how to do over the years out of necessity. 

WG: What’s the future?

Bill Monti with Greg

GG: Well, I’m always working my craft. It would be nice for me to afford next-level gear. Everybody, of course, wants the next bigger and better thing is, from where I’m at right now, that would take some very considerable financial investment at this point. That costs as much as a house.  What I see from here, I’m growing. We will grow. We will serve more artists. I’m trying to figure that one out in my head how I’ll be able to do it all myself. And perhaps the answer is I won’t be able to keep doing this on my own.

And of course, with the passing of Bill Monti, the onus is now mine to educate and pass on. I was even toying for a while with being not a teacher anymore until he passed. And I realized that I’ve got to pass his lessons on to those who can pass those lessons on as well because I’m one of the only ones that was close enough to know him to teach those lessons. And so teaching is still in my future, too. 

Bill Monti was my mentor for over 15 years, and his loss has been hard. But we’re moving forward. There’s a lot of him in here. He taught me how to do so much of this and how to deal with people in a more appropriate way. He taught me how to not be taken advantage of because I like to please people. I like people to be happy. I like people to like me. And I think that’s a need of everybody. But I think it’s more for me just because I was always that guy that, oh, my God, really? I’ll help you with that, or I’ll do that. I’ll do that. Don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about the cost. And that got me in trouble, not because of anything bad happening, but because people would take advantage of it. And then suddenly Bill would tell me, you know what? And I go, you’re right. My goodness, these people are doing this to me. I didn’t even realize that. He’d put on his fedora and turn around and walk out the door and let me cogitate on what he said for a while.

Before he passed, he would come in, and the last time I had this really awful, just debilitating couple of days of this anxiety with all these jobs to do. And he looks at me and he goes, “So how long is it going to take you to finish up all the projects before you hand it all off?  And I said, well, I’ve got John in Texas and I’ve got Randy in Washington, and I’ve got this, and I’ve got this, and I’ve got this. And I named off this litany of things that I had to do. And he said, “Well, I ask you again, how long is it going to take?” And I said, well, it’s probably going to take me about two months to cycle through all of this, maybe three to get everything finished and done. And he said, “By the time that three months is over, this little funk you’re in is going to be gone.”

The more serious you become, the more invested you become, the more crippling certain things can be. And usually, it’s your own worry, your own self, going, you can’t do this. And most of the time I’m teetering on the edge of confidence with just a taste of arrogance.

I had Bill to help guide me through that and to realize when I was being exploited or manipulated in some way. I’ve always been an honest person. I try to be. If I say, I’ll have your $50 on Friday, it doesn’t matter what I’ve got to sell or what I’ve got to do. You’ll have your $50 on Friday. Really? I never found a necessity for lying. Sometimes little white lies to save people’s feelings. Sometimes perhaps. But on the whole, the important things—lying, I just don’t do. So when people lie to me, I don’t understand it or I don’t expect it because I don’t do it. It’s a strange thing. Shake hands, agreement. Now I’ve learned to get everything in writing.

Learn more about Greg and Dynamic Arts Musical Academy at:

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