Graham Greer enjoys independent success

With an Americana roots sound at the core of his music, Ontario’s Graham Greer has lived the life of major label musician but now finds himself an independent success story.

Best of all, the rewards that Graham has reaped over the past decade have come on his own terms, including having the opportunity to open for Dave Matthews while his track Wire-Walker earned honorable mention designations from the New York Songwriters Circle and the Nashville Songwriters Association.

With his previous musical project The Barstool Prophets, Graham achieved a notable level of success in Canada in the ’90s before the band members ultimately went their separate ways in 1999. Graham says that a variety of factors led to the rock band’s dissolution.

“The record company we had been signed to had been purchased by Universal Music and then Universal was bought out by Vivendi. At our former label Polygram, we had a really tight bunch of people that were looking out for us and each of those people disappeared one by one through the mergers.

“We ended up experiencing some management trouble around the same time and it seemed as though everything just came to a head. One of our guitarists quit and while we had considered carrying on as a trio, the wind just wasn’t in our sails anymore.”

After that turn of events, Graham says that he extracted himself from the music business completely, choosing to become a mechanic’s apprentice and spend time with his family, something that had become much more appealing to him at that point in his life.

Eventually though, Graham started capturing song ideas and melodies at his home studio which he laments was gathering dust. Graham ended up sending some of his solo material to his friend Joe Hardy, a producer who had worked with ZZ Top and Tom Cochrane and had also worked with The Barstool Prophets on one of their records. Joe ended up mixing Graham’s solo debut, Palookaville, released under the name of Moonlight Graham in 2003.

Despite the fact that he readily admits that he did not tour too extensively in support of the record, he still managed to sell more than 10,000 units, an impressive feat for any independent musician.

It would take Graham an eternity – six years – to follow up his successful debut. He attributes the extensive lay off between albums to work he was doing with other musicians, including songwriting and mentoring. He proudly notes that, so far, his self-titled sophomore record is on track to sell as well as his debut record has done for him.

But now, after earning a respectable amount of success as an independent musician, does he feel there is still a place in today’s music business for major record labels? Graham says record companies still serve a purpose but that too many others still see having a record contract as a “must have” for real success.

“I have had trouble getting an agent or a manager because they still see the record company as being a piece of that puzzle for success,” he says.

Although record companies most often align themselves with artists and musicians that will appeal to youth, it is interesting to note that some of the biggest selling records of the past five years have belonged to artists like Michael Buble and Adele that tend to appeal to an older generation of music fan. Adult music fans are often more dedicated to their favourite artists, sticking with them throughout their career – a fact not lost on Greer.

“I have fans who have bought my CDs that claim they love it as much as the day they bought it,” Graham says. “I think there is an appreciation for what you do that goes hand-in-hand with having an older audience.”

Appreciating a record from start to finish is a dying art form as far as Graham is concerned. Seemingly long gone are the days of rushing home with the newest release from your favourite band, scouring the liner notes and listening to the record from start to finish.

“One of my favorite parts of the process of making a record is putting the sequence of the songs together,” Graham says. “In my mind, the record as a whole should take you from somewhere to somewhere. It is certainly how I listened to music as a kid. Albums were a journey back then and I think that is missing in music these days.”

Article featured in June 8, 2011 edition of the Time & Transcript