The tale of a struggling musician is nothing new, but when combined with a look at the current state of the music industry, a tired story gains an entirely new perspective. “Broke*,” a documentary by singer/songwriter Will Gray that screens at Wild Goose Creative on July 20, accomplishes just that.
“My story is individual, but it’s not unique,” Gray said in an interview. “I felt like someone’s story needed to be told about pursuing music on a day-in, day-out basis just because the challenges are so prevalent.”
Gray compares the way the public consumes music to the way most people go into a grocery store and buy a package of food without thinking about where it came from.
“There’s no connection to how it got made or got to your phone or iPod,” he said. “I wanted to pull back the curtain a little bit and share that experience with consumers.”
And share he does. The documentary, which took a little more than two years to film, features three main components: footage of Gray’s day-to-day life, interviews with numerous artists of varying popularity and musical performances from Gray and many of the artists interviewed. The film dissects the value of signing with a label, the struggle to become sustainable and what achieving success actually means.
Columbus is the second to last stop on the film’s 17-city screening tour, which has taken Gray up and down the East Coast. He’s touring with fellow musician Reva Williams, who is featured prominently in “Broke*” and is performing live with Gray after every screening. Each concert is followed by a question and answer session.
Gray describes his music as “hip-hop Americana.” He attributed his unique blend of genres to his upbringing — he’s originally from New York but grew up in Tennessee, so he was offered a look into two very musically different worlds. “I’m just trying to make sense of what’s in my head and what’s in my heart,” he said.
And what’s with the asterisk in the film title? Gray explained that because an asterisk signifies more than what you can see at first glance, it symbolizes hope. It’s a reminder that everyone is working toward becoming better and breaking through any struggles life brings.
As for the future, he has signed a publishing deal with Warner/Chappell Music, an opportunity he describes as his “day job.” He wants to do another tour, possibly in the fall and next spring, and to make more music with Williams.
For Gray, the ultimate goal has never been to play to a stadium of thousands. “I would just like to make the next project and have the artistic integrity,” he said. “That’s what I need.”
Jonathan Kofahl photo