We reached out to Heather Grey, a talented young producer from Salt Lake City. He enlightened us on the hip-hop scene in the Beehive State and discussed his craft and future endeavors. Get to know him:
You’re from Salt Lake City. No disrespect, but for those of us who have never been there, one can only think of skiing, Mormons, Karl Malone’s big rigs, John Stockton’s tight-ass shorts and maybe a dash of racism. Tell us about the hip-hop scene in SLC, and by all means, let us know where we can buy weed there..
John Stockton’s shorts haha, that’s hilarious. I definitely know what you mean though, Salt Lake City doesn’t carry nearly the same weight as like New York, Chicago, Atlanta, or basically anywhere else. But if you know where to look then you’ll see a city that’s full of talented cats. Even just as a producer there are opportunities to network and perform at different showcases and pop-up shops which are pretty well attended. And also, just in general, there’s a good community surrounding the hip-hop culture here. I think touring artists see that: the Rhymesayers cats love coming through. In my song “Saltwater,” Rakaa’s making references to SLC because he’s gotten to know it so well after years and years of touring through here. Long story short, it’s kind of an if-you-know-you-know situation, you know?
Do you still live in SLC and if so, is it sustainable as a hip-hop community or do you eventually feel the need to move to LA or elsewhere?
Yeah, I’m in SLC right now. It’s hard to say long-term, but I don’t plan on going anywhere in the near future. I’ve been fortunate to get some incredible support from the community thus far, and I hope that will continue to grow along with the hip-hop community itself. I’ve been given some opportunities by some older OG’s here and I’d love to help build the community more and give those same kind of opportunities to others. And honestly I just really like it here. Gonna name the next album John Stockton’s Tight-Ass Shorts just to represent my city, haha.
It’s been documented that you are a classically trained pianist then later took up the drums, but how did you develop such a keen ear for loops/samples? Do you have a process when you’re digging for records? Do you buy hard copies of vinyl or use digital stuff or both?
Thank you, man. I think that’s due to several things: I’ve always tried to have an eclectic music taste and expose myself to different styles and genres. So I think that’s helped for sure. And taking piano lessons for 10 years has influenced the way I chop up samples, too. Like, I’ll be trying to put together certain chord progressions so I’ll be searching through the song to find just the right chord to resolve it and stuff like that. That kind of thinking has just been ingrained in me.
I do a mix of vinyl and digital sampling. If I’m just digging though, I like to keep an eye out for certain years and also just for artwork that catches my eye. If the artwork’s fire you can often find something to flip.
How have you been able to enlist a fair share of top-shelf MC’s without much exposure (Skyzoo, Tha God Fahim, Rakaa, Mr. Lif, Nolan The Ninja)?
Wow, just looking at that list of MC’s is crazy. It’s super humbling to work with guys that I’ve listened and looked up to for years. I miraculously linked up with the legend Rakaa Iriscience from Dilated Peoples (might be a story for another time), and from there one thing has kind of led to the next one. I’ve tried my best to be professional and respectful, put out high quality material and compensate fairly so I’d like to think it’s due to a combination of all that.
Any MC’s/singers/musicians you’d really like to work with?
Yo, I’ve got a big long note on my phone (some more plausible than others, lol) of people that I’d love to work with. Right at the top are cats like Evidence, Mos Def, Black Thought, Blu, Roc Marciano, Earl, JID, I could go on. I’ve got some unreleased stuff just chilling on my laptop right now that’s got some crazy collaborations too, so the next little bit is already looking exciting.
You mentioned in other interviews about working at a skate shop with hip-hop heads who turned you on to Dilla, Madlib, etc. Was there one particular record that gave you that light-bulb moment or was it more gradual and repeated exposure to true-school stuff? Talk about some other artists you dig (any genre).
Yeah, working at the skate shop is where I got schooled on the greats. There wasn’t really a single record where I was like “yo, I need to start producing.” Since I already had the musical background and the desire to create, it was almost inevitable that when I started really diving into hip-hop I would want to make it. The thing is though, the hip-hop I listen to generally isn’t what inspires the music I make, if that makes sense. I’m not looking to sound like Preemo or re-create what Dilla or DOOM have done. I draw a lot of inspiration from jazz musicians like Nina Simone, Herbie Hancock and BADBADNOTGOOD. Artists more in the soul realm like The Sylvers or Smokey Robinson, too. Listening to D’Angelo or Bilal makes me want to cancel all my plans and just make music all day. My girl has been getting me into 90’s and 2000’s R&B the past few years, which I had never listened to a whole lot, so more and more I’ve been finding that work its way into my songs.
Willie The Kid & V Don put out a record last year entitled Heather Grey. Did you do the beats on that project or is that title just coincidental?
Nah, I’m not involved with that one unfortunately. Would have been dope, it’s a cool project. But no that’s just the name of their EP. I did email with Willie briefly a little bit ago about doing a song, but it didn’t end up working out. Not yet at least.
You dropped an EP and two albums in 2019 including A Mosaic in late November, what’s in the pipeline for 2020?
I got like way too many things that I’m working on all at the same time hahaha. I hate to say dates or names, because it’s so easy for things to get postponed or put on hold, but I will say that I’m going to do a re-release of my Black Snow EP. It’ll be remixed and remastered and it is much improved, so that will be out pretty soon. Definitely a handful of instrumental collaborations sprinkled throughout the year, perhaps a Signs, Vol. 2. And also I’ve locked in two full projects with two different emcees, so you’ll definitely be hearing more about those.
Touring this year? Have you been to Detroit or Philly? If not, you must.
No tour planned as of right now. I’ve never been to Detroit or Philly, but definitely got some friends and hopefully fans out there. As soon as it makes sense to tour I’ll hit the road, performing is so much fun for me. There’s nothing like playing your music in front of people, it’s an indescribable feeling for sure.