Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Auto Tune the Nation-My Interview With Evan Gregory of The Gregory Brothers

I woke up this morning to find a text message from a Maryland phone number I didn't recognize. The message is brief. "Hey, would you be willing to interview the Gregory Brothers?" Oh, sure, my skeptic mind thinks. I've seen this one before. Some prank happy friend of mine, from Maryland, of course, knows my newest obsession is the "Auto Tune the News" videos, a series of music videos created and performed by the New York based Gregory Brothers, and is playing a joke on me to see if I'll bite. Must be, right?

After much text messaging, it turns out it's fellow Gentleman Steve Bragale who sent the message, and that the interview is very real, despite my assumption that everyone in the world is constantly going out of their way to play trivial, very specific jokes on me. So it was on a July afternoon that I had the pleasure of sitting down and having a conversation with Evan Gregory, one of the four masterminds who co-created, co-writes for, and acts in Auto Tune the News.

These Gentlemen: Tell me a bit about the Gregory Brothers. Where you guys are from and how did you get started making music?

Evan Gregory: Well, there was three brothers, Evan, Andrew and Michael, and Sarah rounds out the group, she is my wife. How did we begin? I'm not gonna get into conception or childbirth or any of those issues that had to do with the origins of the brothers themselves.

TG: Ha, ha. Fair enough.

EG: We grew up in Virgina, in Radford, a town in the southwest part of the state. No one in our family is a professional musician, but music was at least a part of the picture when we were going up. As a quartet, we've been playing together for a couple of years, doing original music. We've toured around quite a bit. We're based in New York, so we play up here all the time. Music is pretty much the center of anything that we're doing, and that includes the video stuff. Michael is by trade an audio engineer, and he started off the video stuff last fall when he put up some videos corresponding to the presidential campaign debates.

TG: Sure, yeah, I saw those.

EG: So he wanted to write a song about that and put it up in video form, and it got a little bit of attention. So we started collaborating to produce more songs about each one of the debates. It was during that time that it kind of evolved a little bit, and we hit on the idea of auto tuning speaking voices so you could turn them into some semblance of singing. So, that's the watershed idea that got us to the novelty that comprises some of the attraction of the Auto Tune the News videos.

TG: My friends and I who have seen the videos all agree that it’s a relatively simple idea that requires pretty top notch execution in terms of sound and video editing-take me through the process of creating of one of these videos.

EG: The early steps in the process are just finding the content, which can be quite laborious. It's just about finding stuff that's out there on the web. We're not DVR-ing every single cable news show that's out there. Our messages are no more sophisticated than just ripping stuff that's out there on the internet. But we still have to identify stuff that we think is gonna be funny. It's a combination of, "Is this clip gonna be remotely funny? Can we crack jokes about it?", and then, on top of that, "Could we set it to music?" Over time, we've gotten a little better at that as we've learned which speakers are gonna be good unintentional singers.

TG: That definitely shows.

EG: And sometimes we can make a guess about who's gonna be good if we haven't tried them before. But we do get surprised sometimes. You'd think some shouting, talking head on Fox News is gonna turn into a great R&B wailer, and he turns out to suck.

We write all the music beforehand, do all the original beats and the musical aspect. Then we'll line up the clips with the music and do the actual auto tuning, so, turning all the spoken stuff into melodies. That's the really fun part, because you get to see how the piece is gonna come together, and what's gonna turn into a catchy chorus, stuff like that.

The last step is doing the video. We take all the melodies that we came up with and start writing our own lyrics to mesh in with it, and turn it into one overall piece that fits together. And then of course, [for] the video, we just do whatever comes to mind in front of a green screen and splice it all together. Sometimes it's cracking on whoever is speaking, sometimes it's whatever dumb visual gag comes to our heads. The whole thing is simultaneously a parody of news, media, and politics, and the media cycle around politics, [and] using the music to parody hip hop cliches.

Obviously, the editing comes last, [we] splice all the video and line it up with the music. So, the audio is finished first, and then we do the video to line up with the audio.

TG: It seems like sometimes, you guys will find something that's so ridiculous that you can't even believe someone said it until it's played back. In the fourth episode, for example, the chorus about Judge Ginsburg being "very lonely without another woman."

EG: [laughs] Yeah. There's tons of that stuff out there. Sometimes, you might not even notice it if it just flew by you on a news channel, so [it's great] when we manage to catch it, and then highlight it by turning it into some sort of chorus or melody. That particular line from Barbara Boxer, of course, we emphasized it by repeating it and turning it into a harmony, so then it really jumps out at you and sounds totally insane.

TG: I know you guys have been featured on Rachel Maddow's show. It seems like you're all are pretty big Katie Couric fans. Has she seen your stuff?

EG: [laughs] Yes, she has seen it. We haven't talked to her directly, but we've talked to some people who work for her, and I think she gets a big kick out of it. I didn't know this beforehand, but apparently, she's kind of of amateur singer, and is really into singing Broadway show tunes around the office, which is kind of a funny picture. She gets featured so often for a couple reasons. One, we just found out really early on that she has a voice that's top notch for using the auto tune tools that we have. There's practically no other voice out there that just readily takes to it like hers does. It's just so easy for us to turn her voice into a melody...she very quickly became an all-star. Now on top of that, you have her delivering her monologues on the nightly news...whoever is doing the writing [for those] always sets her up with these nursery rhyme phrases. Those are practically song lyrics's always a trip to do those songs.

TG: Do you ever let the clips and what the people are saying influence what the piece will sound like musically?

EG: Yes, to an extent. We usually don't shape the entire beat around one piece. What we do is let he energy of a particular clip take the beat up or down. Like from the latest episode, where John Boehner is shouting "Hell no," to the Cap-and-Trade Amendment, he just got so emphatic that we had to put that into a chorus that gave a big musical lift, and turned into a much bigger part of the song...some clips lend themselves to being bigger hooks and bigger choruses than others.

TG: Who are some of your favorite musical artists? What music are you listening to lately?

EG: Tchaikovsky, Nobuo Uematsu, Dan Penn, Paul McCartney, and Herb Alpert come to mind. Also Ne-Yo.

TG: Do you have a favorite politician or analyst, other than Katie Couric, to use in your videos? Anybody who you'd like to use in an episode, but haven't yet?

EG: We've always wanted to get Keith Olbermann, but I don't know that his voice is gonna take to it the best because he speaks in such a low register. He did a appear for a fraction of a second in the latest episode, but didn't have a speaking role.

We had real high hopes early on for Sean Hannity and some of his Fox News pals, but he actually sounds terrible. Glenn Beck sounds okay, though.

TG: What's next for you guys? Have you had any TV offers?

EG: We have had a lot of requests and offers. We'll probably be figuring that out this summer, in terms of where we're gonna take it next. In the near future, we'll at least be putting out a few more episodes of Auto Tune the News. We'll keep the series going for a least a few more weeks, before we think about what the next wave of stuff is gonna be...beyond that, we're gonna be looking for ways to get some more ideas out there. Everybody in the group has got really different musical ideas and we all kind of meet in the middle to produce it together, but there's a lot of stuff churning over here on our end in terms of different ideas that ware waiting to get out. We'll probably try to cue some of those up.

TG: Anything specifically?

EG: I don't wanna really get into the TV stuff because it's so far from the coming reality...but we just released our own EP of stuff we've been playing on tour for a while. Andrew is gonna be putting out a record....Sarah fronts a band that we may be recording for also...on the video front, we're probably gonna apply some of the stuff that we've been doing for Auto Tune the News in some other context...for me, it’s funny because that whole area can just be so sober that, I guess, it’s the same reason you can get a lot of laughs at The Daily Show or the Colbert Report, just sending up people that are so permanently serious can be made even funnier because of that contrast. But I think we want to try applying it to some other areas too, before it gets too old.

TG: Thanks so much for your time. Keep it up.

EG: You got it, we're not gonna quit.

You can purchase the EP, Meet The Gregory Brothers at the Gregory Brothers' Website, You can also check out all the Auto Tune the News videos on YouTube,, and purchase t-shirts at their new online store.


Dillon Font said...

I love they list Nobuo Uematsu as a musical influence. Damn fellow nerds

Ozkirbas said...

Unapologetically, as well. Well played, Evan Gregory. Well played.

David Pratt said...

Dan and Stevie B with the scoop!

Matthew said...

...Speaking of the Daily Show and Colbert Report, why haven't they shown up in the ATtNs yet? The verbose musings of Stewart and Colbert would definitely make for some sweet loops... shorty.

blakeArt said...

Just found the Gregory Brothers on Tuesday... They are the most accurate mirror I have found that truly captures the reality we have created for ourselves... a confederacy of dunces fer shure shawtey!

Their genius is unbelievable - I am a huge fan... cant get AT#6 out of my mind. I'd download the iTune... great post—way to luck into an interview of a truly rising star(s)!