Everett the Grey is the musical project of Alex Hill, who combines influences as disparate as folk, hip-hop, rock and jazz into an engaging, organic and personal sound. In this interview, Hill describes the roots and challenges of his creative process, his influences, and how he balances music with the demands of being a third year medical student at University of Kansas. Thank you to Alex for a fascinating insight into his work as an artist. Enjoy!
How long have you been a songwriter? Who were some of your earliest influences?
I’ve been playing the guitar since I was 10 years old (I’m 25 now). I was in a couple metal bands during high school, but nothing really ever came of them. It occurred to me when I got to college that I wouldn’t have time to perform in a group, so I started working on a solo project and began recording at a studio in Joplin, MO. I began by writing acoustic music, but I started to dive into production at around age 19 with a bootleg copy of FL Studio and fell in love! Ever since then I’ve been finding ways to tell my story through a combination of programmed and organic sounds.
My biggest influences in terms of songwriting are from the worlds of rock and hip-hop. I always cite artists like Kid Cudi, Coheed & Cambria, Mastodon, The Weeknd, and Frank Ocean as my musical heroes. It manifests itself in a number of ways, whether it’s how I structure my songs, my instrument choices, my guitar solos, or my lyrical content.
In the past several months, you’ve released a few singles, namely “April”, “Sunsets” and “SmokeEaterz”. How have you challenged yourself creatively with these projects?
The biggest challenge that I encounter as an artist is maintaining a fresh sound. I take pride in trying to create music that pulls from all areas of music; rock, hip-hop, and R&B are the main genres I pull from but I love dabbling in folk, electronica (particularly during shows), and jazz. I think this was disorienting to new listeners earlier in my career, but I’ve improved on mixing my influences together in an organic way that can hopefully appeal to a wide audience.
Describe your creative process. Are you a heavy editor of your music? How do you know when a pieces of music is “done”?
I almost always start my songwriting with music. I’ll come up with a melody or a chord progression and build from there- drums, bass, and vocals usually follow. I’ve found it’s much easier for me to write meaningful lyrics if I already have a sonic environment created that I can spend time in, and to be honest I’ve written some of my best lyrics by just singing nonsense while driving around town and seeing what came of it. I believe that lyrics should always tell some form of story, even if it’s vague or open to interpretation by the listener.
I used to be a horrible perfectionist. I would spend months mulling over a single verse or synthesizer, things that honestly probably wouldn’t make a huge difference to the listener. I learned my lesson after the releases of “Sunsets” and “April” however. I actually wrote most of “Sunsets” several years before I bothered to record it, and labored over every note and lyric…and to date it has the lowest number of streams out of my entire selection. I was frustrated by this and so “April” was born in a couple days; it jumped up to my most played track within a week or so of release. Lesson learned!
You’re also a medical student. Does switching back and forth between these two sides of your brain come naturally to you?
I’m currently in my 3rd year of medical school and the University of Kansas. I always joke and tell people that becoming a doctor is my back up plan if I don’t get a record deal (although there is a touch of truth to the sentiment!). I often get asked how I manage to make time, but to me jumping back and forth comes naturally. I’m continuously honored and thrilled to be involved in patient care, and I know 100% that I’ve chosen the right career path- but music is my greatest passion in life. It’s what I think about from the moment I wake up until the moment I go to bed. To be honest I probably did spend a few too many weekends traveling around to play shows when I could’ve been studying but I don’t think it’s a crime to sacrifice a little sleep for the sake of chasing your dreams.
What music currently inspires you?
The music that really inspires me most comes from the people around me. Thanks to social media I’ve been able to meet, reach out to, and perform with a plethora of amazing musicians. I’m all about community, and I’m not afraid to message or email other artists whose stuff I appreciate. Motivation and inspiration can become scarce as a solo performer, so it’s always refreshing to get to know others who share the same dreams.
Everett the Grey's recommendations from Johnson County Library's catalog.
Good Apollo I’m Burning Star IV, Vol. 1: From Fear Through The Eyes of Madness by Coheed & Cambria
Blonde by Frank Ocean
Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager by Kid Cudi
House of Balloons by The Weeknd
Crack the Skye by Mastodon