Troy Gregory had his first rock band before he had hair in his pits. While most boys his age were busy burning ants with magnifying glasses, Gregory was holed up in his Warren home spinning records and playing guitar.
“I started my first band when I was 9 years old,” says the 37-year-old.
“I would even ask my babysitters to bring their records over.”
He’d received his first acoustic guitar at the ripe age of 8, from a young uncle whom Gregory would soon lose to a fatal asthma attack. There was a lot of death in Gregory’s family when he was a kid. “Even though I wouldn’t consider myself a dark person, I would definitely say that all the funerals and family deaths that happened when I was young changed the way I am,” he says.
After he and a couple neighborhood boys struck up friendships, music would become an essential social activity. He started his first band with buddies Mike Alonso (Speedball, Five Horse Johnson) and Matt Smith (the Volebeats, Outrageous Cherry). They are all still friends today and successful musicians in their own rights. But back in the mid-’70s they were simply a three-piece rock ’n’ roll cover band whose net age equaled that of the average graduate student. They called themselves The Archives.
Even as a grammar school student, Gregory had a seriousness to him that went far beyond his years. He and his band mates spent their free time jamming and waxing philosophical on the virtues of Devo, Zappa and Captain Beefheart. The band would play talent shows and neighborhood gigs.
When he was in the ninth grade, Gregory’s family moved to Holly, Mich.
“That was the beginning of my social nightmare,” he says.
Moving from the city to the countryside, where “the closest store was 10 minutes away,” Gregory was in for a bit of a culture shock. “Sometimes people listen to a certain kind of music to be liked,” he says. “I was really into Black Flag at the time. … I got picked on a lot.”
Music was his only defense as he made it through high school, then it became his career.
Shortly after graduating from high school, Gregory moved to Hollywood, Calif., and began to frequent Bukowskian haunts. “I loved going to places like that,” he admits of his affinity for dark, seedy places. He loved to study the people he found there.
Sound weird? It’s not once you have heard Gregory’s music, which paints vivid lyrical portraits. His songwriting is more like prose than poetry.
Though he spent most of his 20s on tour with a variety of bands (on both major and independent labels), he says that pursuing the brass ring was an abysmal experience.
Since returning to Detroit in 1993, Gregory has churned out a rich body of work.
“The songs came spontaneously,” he says.
From his band, the Witches, to his 2002 solo album, Sybil, he has carved out a unique sound in an almost impossibly limiting scene: the garage. Recording his signature echoing vocal tracks atop accompaniment from such luminaries as the Dirtbombs and the Electric Six, Sybil was a compelling collection of 13 original Gregory songs, backed by 13 different bands.
His latest solo release, Laura, on Fall of Rome records, makes it evident that his musical obsession hasn’t loosened its grip. From brooding to dancey, Laura’s untraditional songcraft represents a mélange that evokes everyone from Pere Ubu to Kraftwerk to Wilco. The opening song, “Dracula has Risen from the Pond,” is unsettling and atonal, while the ass-shakin’ cut “Live/Dead Entertainment” is Hammond keyboard-laden. The album is unexpected and entertaining.
After nearly three decades of devotion to making music, Gregory has a simple explanation why he continues to pursue this vocation: “Because I feel like doing it every day.”