Former punker Tony White of the husband and wife duo, Grace & Tony, left his punk roots and ultimately created a musical genre he calls “punkgrass” after meeting the love of his life and band partner Grace. He had played in several punk rock bands, but had seen Grace perform her bluegrass instruments and knew he had to meet her. After meeting and playing together, they fell in love and the rest is history.
Their new full length debut album titled November is set to be released November 11, 2013 by Rock Ridge Music. The new EP is accompanied by a full band and was recorded at Villain Place in Nashville.
We had a chance to chat with Tony about his crush on Grace, how their musical genre “punkgrass” was born, their songwriting process, and what’s next for the duo.
GGM: So the band consists of you and your wife, Grace? How did that come about? Were you artists before you met each other?
Tony: I had met Grace through a mutual friend years ago and he invited her over. He and I had been writing some stuff together and he had wanted to kind of show off our stuff in front of Grace because I think he actually had a crush on her. So she came over and we played her a little song and thought we would just blow her away, I guess. And then we asked Grace to play something for us, and she played a song for us and hers was on just on a whole other level…songwriting was better, musicianship was better…she just played better than us and sang better than us. By the time she left, I not only had a crush on her, my friend and I both just said ‘we gotta get better, we gotta start practicing.’
So that was my first encounter with Grace and we had mutual friends but had never really spoken. Years later I noticed that she was on my friends list on one of the social media sites and I shot her a message to see if she wanted to come jam with me and a friend of mine. I found out that she was playing the mandolin and banjo and I thought it would be cool with what we were doing. I had just come out of a punk band and we were trying to play these punk rock songs on acoustic guitars and they were kind of sounding blue grassy. So when I saw that she was playing bluegrass instruments, I thought that she would be perfect. So she came over and she was singing harmonies and she was playing these instruments. Instantly, I knew that she was something that I thought could be special and we fell in love along the way.
GGM: How long ago did you meet?
Tony: We met in November of 2010 and that’s where the name November comes from for the new album.
GGM: So you are releasing a new full-length debut album titled November, on November 11, 2013 via Rock Ridge Music. How was it recording and working with the team at Villain Place in Nashville?
Tony: We had already worked with them on our prior EP called Inside a Seven-Track Mind and Lloyd Norman produced it and Stephen Jones engineered it. We had a really good experience with them on that EP and we really felt comfortable with them because Grace and I were both newcomers…this was the first serious thing that either one of us had done. We had played in different bands that had never gotten out and really done anything, so that comfort level helped us out a lot and it was a good fit for us.
GGM: What was the inspiration behind the new album?
Tony: Well, the first album, it was a group of…like I said, I had just come out of a punk rock band and we had all these punk rock songs. So we just started playing them on bluegrass instruments…Grace and I together, and we just created the genre that we started calling “punkgrass,” for obvious reasons. So when we went in for the second album, now we had a genre in place that we wanted to write around instead of taking punk rock songs and playing them on bluegrass instruments. This time around, I had Grace with me and she’s an amazing lyricist. She reads a lot of English literature and she likes to write on a timeline with a beginning and an ending to a story. I think it has helped the songs grow a lot and we decided to bring in some players so we could get the best possible sound we could get. So that’s what you get in November.
GGM: So the previous EP, Inside a Seven Track–Mind was an acoustic album and on the new album, November, you’re accompanied by a full band?
Tony: On the previous record, yes, acoustic. Having a band behind us on the new album does give it a bigger sound and we wanted to present the songs in the best way that we saw fit. The songs are actually written for two people to play – hook after hook and not a lot of long instrumental breaks. So they’re designed to keep the attention of a crowd that’s watching two people play the songs. It’s a bit of a challenge sometimes to find the room to add the other instruments, but when we play them live, we play them the way they were intended to be…just Grace and me against the world!
GGM: Can you share with us how you and Grace work together and collaborate on your songwriting?
Tony: We don’t have a set formula, but I can tell you that we butt heads a lot [laughs]. We are both very passionate people and have our own ideas in our head and how our own ideas are the right way! But we usually find a way to work together and meet in the middle. A lot of times it will be where I will have a melody and we will work together to put some music to it. You know, we might have a guitar riff, but we never have a set pattern as far as what order we write the songs in. It’s whatever pops in our heads.
GGM: Does Grace do more of the lyrics?
Tony: She does a good part of the lyrics. Like I said, it changes from song to song, but for the most part I’m more of like a melodies and music writing guy and she’s more of a lyricist.
GGM: What is one of your favorite songs you’ve written?
Tony: “November” is probably my favorite because it’s a story of me and Grace falling in love and her helping me out of a dark period in my life and her saving me. That one will always have a special place.
GGM: What instruments do you play?
Tony: I play acoustic guitar and baritone ukulele. Grace plays banjo, mandolin and acoustic guitar.
GGM: Hold old were you when you started playing and did you take lessons?
Tony: I think I was 15 when my brother showed me two chords and kind of turned me loose. I started writing songs with those chords and started figuring out more chords along the way. About two years ago, I had my first formal lesson and started learning some scales and playing some better technique and learning theory. It’s really helped me when playing live in front of some more people. This is the first band where I’ve played guitar on stage.
GGM: Do you come from a family with a musical background?
Tony: Somewhat. My parents both enjoyed listening to music, but neither were musicians. My brother is John Paul White of The Civil Wars, so he was a big influence growing up and watching him. His bands were always a big influence on me.
GGM: Can you share with us who were your early musical influences, besides your brother, of course?
Tony: It’s really weird since as a kid growing up it was a lot of ‘80s hair metal bands [laughs]. Then the early ‘90s was a big time for me with music because it was Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains, but then you also had the Tools and the Panteras of the world. All that music really I think kind of shaped me into what I wanted to be as a musician. As far as singer-songwriters, I’ve always been a huge fan of James Taylor – I always feel like he’s the wisest man in the world.
GGM: I know we talked earlier about your style of music as being described as “punkgrass,” but can you go into a little more detail about that and tell our readers how “punkgrass” was born?
Tony: I was coming out of a punk rock band and what was left was me and a drummer and we didn’t really have a PA or any real equipment. So we had all these songs, but nothing to play them with. We started working out the songs on acoustic instruments and they started taking on this bluegrass kind of feel. And then that’s when I met Grace and she was playing mandolin and banjo, and so when she joined us, we kind of kicked it in. We blended the two names of “punk” and “bluegrass” into “punkgrass” – and it just sort of made sense.
GGM: You’ve been on the road since mid-August and still have several months left on your tour. What has been your most memorable moment so far?
Tony: I think one of the most memorable things was that we toured the UK for about two and a half weeks and that was an amazing experience. Americana is bigger than you can imagine there. We did an Americana festival when we first got there and there were more English people with boots and cowboy hats than you can ever imagine. It was incredible!
GGM: With the tour and the new album, I’m sure your plate is full. But, anything new in the works?
Tony: We do have a brand new video that we have done and it’s in the final stages of editing. I think we’re going to let the “November” single and video run its course for a bit once the album is officially released and then we’ll wait until the proper time to release our new single and video “Chameleon.” It’s going to blow some people’s minds. Also, 2014 will probably be the first time we hit touring full speed.
GGM: What’s something about yourself that people have no idea about?
Tony: I enjoy cleaning house, washing dishes and doing laundry! That’s kind of my role around the house with Grace in nursing school and her working two jobs. She’s always busy with homework so I’ve got to pitch in around the house, but I enjoy that.
GGM: Well, she’s a lucky girl! I appreciate your time and look forward to possibly catching a live show and hearing your new album November!
Tony: Nice talking to you, as well.
For more on Grace & Tony, their music and where to buy their new album, click HERE.
Photo credits: Wes Carter