“It’s Just Going To Be Called Music One Day”: Greg Sover Wants You To Join ‘The Parade’ (INTERVIEW)

Philadelphia-based songwriter and musician Greg Sover released his latest EP, The Parade, with The Greg Sover Band in October of 2020, taking on many of the key experiences of 2020. Now, with a little time to reflect, and plenty more time to go full steam ahead toward a “Part II” of the EP expected to release in 2021, he’s even more of the positive directions that The Parade represents for him, musically and personally.

As a lover of many musical genres who is more aware of the broader sweep of American music than most due to his Haitian background, Sover has many potential directions to choose from and wears his influences on his sleeve, believing that “…it’s just going to be called music one day”. Sover is steeped in Blues music as a guitarist and a vocalist, and embraces the work of personal heroes like Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, and Eric Clapton in his songs, as he discusses in his recent personal essay for Atwood Magazine. Sover joined me to chat about The Parade, his musical grounding, and why he feels it’s “never too late” in life. He also played me a preview of a song from the upcoming Part II of The Parade and it was a magical mix of Metal hints, Hendrix love, Rock ballad traditions, and the early days of Psych Rock. 

Hannah Means-Shannon: I noticed in passing that you have played a lot at The World Café in Philadelphia, which is a venue I love. Do you have a long history playing there?

Greg Sover: I started playing in Philly around 2007, so I probably started playing there in 2008. We go back!

HMS: I love the feeling there of how interrelated the band and audience are, as if it’s one gathering, one party. 

GS: It is, both upstairs and downstairs. You get that sense of being right there in front of the musician and that vibe is all around.

HMS: Do you and the band typically play new songs live first before you record them? 

GS: We tend to play them out sometimes just to see what the reaction might be from the crowd. If it’s good, if it’s not, it’s a bit of an indicator of whether we should take the song forward. I wouldn’t say that we would play them a bunch of times, but we tend to do that to a song to see if we should take it any further.

HMS: Have you ever played anything live and thought, “Yeah, no”, and you haven’t taken it any further?

GS: [Laughs] Yes. There is this one song, that’s actually on one of the albums, and to me it sounds great, “I Send My Love”. It’s very different from what people are probably expecting from me, but I always color outside the lines anyway in music. That would be the one, but it still made it to the album.

HMS: I’m glad to hear that. It’s a shame if a song gets totally scrapped. 

GS: There’s always somebody who’s going to like something. Some people might like all of it, or just one thing. You’ll always get the reaction you want from somewhere, though it may not be as much as you want. You just have to find them.

HMS: Yes, there’s someone out there, you just have to find them. That’s really true. On this EP, The Parade, did you get a chance to play any of these live? I know you did some livestreams with some of these songs, too.

GS: Yes, and the first song on there, “Wake Up”, got a big reaction. The second song, “Feelin’ Sumthin’”, is a bit Country, Blues, and Gospel, is actually getting the biggest reaction, which I did not expect. That’s actually me coloring outside the lines again and it ended up becoming one of the most fun songs right now for me.

HMS: I noticed it was getting a lot of attention online, especially at the moment. 

GS: As long as it’s from the heart, I can go anywhere I want. It was me paying homage to everything I listened to growing up, with Country and Blues. It was honest. It might be the most different, but it’s something that I love as much as the types of songs that I consistently do, if that makes sense.

HMS: This is going to be the one that people are demanding at your shows, isn’t it? It’s going to be your “Freebird”. 

GS: [Laughs] Freebird! I’ve had that thrown at me a couple of times. It’s cool.

HMS: With “Feelin’ Sumthin”,  the lyrics and what it’s actually saying is very direct and universal, too, so I think that people can apply it to their lives. It’s essentially saying, “Let’s not just be about ideas here, let’s have direct experiences of things.”

GS: Other than being uplifting in sound, it is one of those songs that tells you that everything is going to be okay, not to be corny. It’s a reminder and sometimes you have to be reminded. I think of “Three Little Birds” with Bob Marley and “Don’t Worry Be Happy” with Bobby McFerrin. It’s a real emotion. It’s about finding that thing that keeps you ticking and sticking with it. 

HMS: This EP tackles a lot of ideas, but there is a lot of positivity to it. “It’s Never Too Late” fits that. I was going to ask you if that combination of directness while being uplifting was inspired by Bob Marley.

GS: I think Bob Marley plays a part in all of my songs. He’s kind of the person who I attach myself to, lyrically, the most for some reason. He also knows how to keep it personal. But when it comes to the song, “Never Too Late”, that was actually inspired by my Mom. She passed away ten years ago in October. It was a song that felt like it had to be put on this album since it had been ten years. It says that it’s never too late to say what you have to say, regardless of the situation, whether the person passed or not. It’s never too late to let those things out. It is uplifting because the meaning behind it is that it’s never too late to do anything. It’s never too late to change, never too late to be who you want to be. It’s just never too late.

HMS: Is that part of your personal philosophy in life?

GS: Yes. Before writing the song, I was always doing it without knowing that I was doing it. But I think part of all that is that I’m still doing what I have wanted to do since I was a kid. My first guitar was when I was five years old, and thirty years later, I’m still playing. I think it’s a sign of things that you can overcome. I’ve seen too many experiences in my own life and in other peoples’ lives where they overcame certain things at the last moment. Things changed for them just in that last moment, when it seemed like it was time to give up. I’ve seen it too much to deny that there is a “never too late”. I totally believe that it’s never too late for anything.

HMS: I get what you mean. There often seems like a really tumultuous period in peoples’ lives when they are quite close to breaking through some difficulty, where they could easily give up, but thankfully they don’t.

GS: Persevere, yes. “Do what you love”, that’s all I can tell somebody. Then the work doesn’t seem like work.

HMS: I know you released the song “Politician” before the election and did a livestream about it around that time. I can definitely see the relevance and many reasons to pick that song, but are you a big Cream fan also? Were the guitar parts particularly interesting to you or was it more about the lyrics?

GS: I’m a big Cream fan. I would say more Eric [Clapton] more than anything. Other than the perfect timing of the song, it was really me paying homage to those before me, which I think every artist should do. I was showing love and paying my respects to Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce, who wrote the song. I did pick it because of everything that was going on. It was just perfect for the time.

HMS: It feels like never have the 60s been so relevant as they were in 2020 and are right now. Maybe it’s the anger.

GS: I think it’s the anger. I think the frustration is starting to show. But at the same time, it’s an awareness. Before this period, I remember saying, “Man, the people of the 60s really wanted to change.” And I guess you can say that now. It’s a good comparison, actually. 

HMS: I agree, they really wanted to change themselves and to change everything around themselves, too.

GS: Yes, from the music, the message was quite clear at the time, and is even clear to someone not from the 60s. They were going for it.

HMS: What led to The Parade being the title of the EP? It ties in with politics a little, but on the other hand, a parade can be a positive thing under some circumstances.

GS: I remember at one time, I kept waking up around 3:30 every morning for no reason. It was going on for a long time. When you’re up at a time like that and you can’t sleep, all these emotions run through your head, and you’re thinking about this and about that. A lot of doubt goes on in your head. I originally wanted it to be “The Parade” in that sense, of everything going on in your head. But with everything that happened afterwards, with George Floyd, and with what was going on in politics, it felt like the album needed to shift. The EP was supposed to be a full-length album, but Corona hit and we had to stop things. We couldn’t record as much as we wanted to, but we managed to record two more songs to make the EP six songs and put that out. I felt it was very important to put something out that year in that time. At the same time, we are working on Part II and you’ll get my original message on this one.

HMS: That’s great to know! Now we’ll get the second half of the story. Does that mean that you’ve managed to work within the constraints of Covid to get some time in the studio?

GS: Yes, we’re in the studio, and we’re wearing masks, and spread far apart with mics. It’s pretty weird. But we’re definitely taking proper precautions. Health comes first. We were able to finish three songs, actually. 

HMS: I have a weird side question: the font used for your band name looks kind of like 90s Hard Rock or Heavy Metal but is also really original. What made you all chose that font?

GS: We were “font-looking” one time and that really stuck out to me. That was the old WWF logo font, actually! 

HMS: It’s both retro and ambiguous, which is great. It gives you room to do just about any kind of music with that. A lot of people are starting to break free from genre constraints anyway, but I think they have been a source of restriction in the past.

GS: I agree. I was forced not to look at genres in the same way because my background is Haitian. The first American song I ever heard was Cindy Lauper’s “Time After Time”. I’m also a huge 90s and earlier Country music fan. Then I had my Hip-Hop and R&B upbringing. I never heard genres, I heard “American”. It was all music. It was never Rap to me, or Country music, it was just music. I was influenced by all of these things. Why not show the world what influenced you? I think it’s important to show that. It’s totally fine if you just do one genre because you grew up only listening to one thing, but I heard everything, so I want to mix everything in. 

HMS: I feel like we’re just now getting to a point in history where it’s more acceptable to like many different types of music. I think we’ll have a more open mindset in future.

GS: I agree with you. Imagine having to tell your friends that you like Country music in Philadelphia! But now genres themselves are looking different. It’s just going to be called “music” one day.

HMS: Did you start out mainly as a Blues guitarist? 

GS: My Dad played the guitar, but I’m the main Blues person. I remember my Dad bringing this instrument out and I just stared at it, and I was wondering what it did. And the next thing that happened was that it made sounds. My Dad gave me my first guitar, so big shout out to my Dad for that. When it comes to the Blues, I have big influences: Stevie Ray Vaughan, of course, Freddie King, all the Kings, Albert King, B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix, who I consider a Bluesman. I’m heavily into the Blues but I do color outside the lines a little bit, so it’s not tradition. Though I do consider myself more Blues than anything. 

HMS: I read your essay in Atwood Magazine. You’re a songwriter, but was it hard to write about yourself and try to encapsulate your life?

GS: Not so much, because I feel like when you get onstage, that’s a bit vulnerable. Because I get in front of people, I think it’s easier for me now. I think that if I didn’t get on stage, I wouldn’t be able to do that. There is a time when you’re writing and thinking, “How do I want to say that?” But it’s easier now to do that. But the writing part is the fun part. I love writing. 

Photo credit: Jeff Fasano

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