Interviews / Music

Mark Everton Gray Crafts Compelling Music

Mark Everton Gray lives for each beat. “Music does more than speak to me, it envelops me,” he says. “It picks me up when I’m down, it plays me to sleep, it sets the tone, it sets the mood, it motivates, it celebrates, it inspires, it heals, and it loves. Music moves people in all sorts of ways. Frequencies are fundamental to life. I’m grateful that I know how to shape and control them in a positive way. Frequencies are my world.” Rhythms have set the tone of his existence from the beginning. “My mother loved music, so from the time I was in her womb, music ​was always playing. Classical, Jazz, Rock, you name it. She insisted on me taking piano lessons and singing in the school and church choirs, and then I moved onto the drums! As a drummer, I played in the jazz band at school, as well as being in a band called Sweetwater Keene in high school. When I got to college (Syracuse University), playing music consistently was becoming less and less, and my interest in the business side of the industry became my focus. I ended up being in the School of Management and the School of Visual and Performing Arts at the Cuse. While I was in college, I did summer internships at the GRP Recording company for two summers, and an MTV Networks internship. Post undergraduate school, I worked at the Verve Music Group. but was unhappy in an office environment and wanted to pursue my love and passion for recording music. I wanted more than just a nine to five grind. I’m very happy I followed my dreams, but still a very long way to go.” 

Soon, his interest expanded into audio engineering. “I had a fascination with recording when I was young. I would spend countless hours making mix tapes in my room with my dual cassette deck. I would record Casey Kasem’s top 100 and then make my own playlists just burning out the cassette tapes. When I started playing the drums with friends in middle school, I gravitated towards recording. I started with a Tascam 4 track and got my head around some of the basics of recording via trial and error. There were no YouTube tutorials when I was growing up, so I was forced to figure things out on my own, and I did. High school is where I really started to get the bug. I graduated to a 56 channel Mackie 8 bus console with 24 tracks of ADAT recording capability. I ran with that setup through college. Like I said before, I graduated from the Cuse and went right into the record label side of things but wasn’t happy. So, I enrolled into a program at The School of Audio Engineering (SAE) in London, England. I spent a year studying the fundamentals of recording, but was frustrated with more of the focus being on the digital realm when I wanted more analog, and there was very little practical time per week. I left London and started engineering my career at Quad Recording Studios in Times Square NYC as an intern.”

His glowing résumé speaks for itself, but one collaboration and partnership stands out to him in particular. “I’ve been very fortunate that I have been able to work with some of the most talented artists and bands in the industry over the last twenty plus years. Celine Dion, Elton John, The Killers, Joe Bonamassa, Donny Osmond, to name a few. Today, I would like to share my time with Imagine Dragons, one of my favorite bands I have ever worked with.” The coincidences that crossed his path were serendipitous. “Imagine Dragons is the only group that I’ve ever worked with that was unsigned, then at ludicrous speed became one of the biggest bands in the world. It never happens like that, or if it does, it’s very few and far between occurrences. That in no way means that these guys didn’t work for it, it’s very much the opposite. They are one of the most hard-working bands I’ve ever worked with, and the same can be said for their entire team. I knew who these guys were early in the game. One of Dan Reynold’s (the singer) brothers, Robert, is The Killer’s manager, and another one of Dan’s brothers, Clinton, was my dentist, so it was only a matter of time before I met another one of Dan’s brothers, Mac, the band’s manager (Imagine Dragons), and then finally I meet Dan, Wayne, Ben, Brittany, and Andrew. I can’t make this up, and yes, there are lots of very successful Reynolds in the world.”

Everything else became a blur. “Moving on in quick progress from when I met them at a ‘First Friday’ show to when we started working together in the studio. I think it went in order of the single ‘America,’ then us doing the ‘It’s Time’ EP with Brandon Darner producing and Mark Needham mixing. There was a little bit of time passing and then ‘It’s Time’ was all over the place, multiple formats, everywhere. They get signed to Interscope via Kidinakorner (Alex da Kid’s record label), and then we are immediately in the studio cutting ‘Night Visions.’ The rest is in the transcript.” He barely had time to breathe. It’s an experience he will never forget. “It was so fast, roughly a little less than 2 years into our relationship—just a wild ride. They even have a documentary called The Making of Night Visions. Have a look, they pranked the hell out of me towards the end of it. To be a part of their careers’ launching was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had in the music business, hands down. I forever understand the mechanics of the music industry because of it. It’s not something you can teach, package in a bottle and market —you must live and work your ass off to know, and it comes in all shapes, sizes, and formats. I am forever grateful to Dan, Wayne, Platzman, Ben, and Mac. They will always have a special place in my heart, and I can’t thank them enough for all that they have done for me.”

Mark evolves his sound in response to the changing zeitgeist. “I’m constantly learning and honing my craft. Technology advances at a rapid pace these days, so it’s very important to stay current by reading, interacting with colleagues, going down the audio rabbit hole on the University of YouTube, trying new plugins, software, and analog gear. I started out all analog and now I am a hybrid engineer combining the analog and digital worlds. Some trends I follow, some I don’t. At the end of the day, It’s all about what the client wants. What the client wants, the client gets.” He treats everyone like the star they could be. Building a relationship is essential. “The recording industry is very service based. You must anticipate the client’s needs and exceed their expectations as best you can. My philosophy is you treat everyone like you’re working with Michael Jackson. Vibe is the most important thing in a recording session. If there is no vibe, the music will suffer greatly. As an engineer, you must be able to create the vibe from the start. Constant transparent line of communication, a spotless studio where all the gear and instruments work, having a great team (Studio Manager, Technical Director, Engineer, Assistants, Production Assistants), and being able to work problems out quickly and efficiently. You also must be part psychologist, part mother, part father, part brother, part sister, part friend, part whipping boy, part manager, and part cop on top of all the technical and musical aspects. It’s like herding squirrels, not easy to do. My mother always told me to take care of the band. ‘Always make sure they are fed and comfortable,’ she would tell me. This was my mother’s philosophy, and she would do exactly that when my band would practice at the house. The more you care and honestly show it, the better the results are going to be.”

You have to strike a careful balance between work and flow. “As I stated earlier, vibe is everything ,and to achieve that, it’s imperative to come into the studio prepared. Preproduction is key, even if it’s a demo recording done on your phone, you have a starting point. Once you have that you can plan the session out. What’s the goal? What’s the budget? What is the instrumentation and who is going to be playing? Where is the project going to be recorded? What format, analog, digital? What gear is everyone bringing? Where is everyone staying? How is everyone getting around? So on and so forth. These and many other logistical questions must be answered prior to walking into the studio. You want the session to flow smoothly. Plan out when and what the session is going to eat prior to the day’s event. There is nothing worse than hungry cranky musicians and clients. Now, keep in mind you can over prepare for a session which can end up being a disaster too. Coming in with a minute-by-minute schedule of the day will drive the session crazy and eventually derail you. Aim for that third bowl of porridge to make the session juuuust right, and the session will have a great vibe and a much higher success rate.” 

He is deeply grateful for his other team members. “I have had the great fortune to work with some of the best people in the industry throughout my entire career and am currently in a unique partnership with my dear friend, colleague, and mentor Jeff Ocheltree. Jeff is the godfather of drum technicians. He literally created the position when he started working with drummer Billy Cobham and the Mahavishnu Orchestra in the late 1960s. While with Billy and the band he started to gain notoriety in the scene, and the next thing you know Jeff is with John Bonham and Led Zeppelin. Jeff’s roster of drummers and artists he’s worked with over the last 50 plus years is beyond impressive. I say our partnership is unique because it’s not common to have an engineer/drum tech duo advertising their services together. We have been working with each other over a span of three decades, and now in 2023 have decided to make our alliance official. The importance of having immaculate kept drums, that are properly tuned and service during a recording session is paramount. You would be very surprised to hear how a lot of drummers do not care for their drums and or know how to tune them properly. Between Jeff and I, we have a sizable collection of vintage and new drum kits and snare drums that we bring to the session. We tailor our selections with the drummer and producer (if there is one) we’re going to be working with for that specific session. It’s like making that perfect pairing of food and wine, it elevates your senses and your experience.” Together, they make music that electrifies and excites. Check out Mark’s website HERE.

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Mark Everton Gray Crafts Compelling Music. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Mark Everton Gray.