Jack Gregori hates waiting in lines. Luckily, the 38-year-old singer rarely has to. When it’s time for him to sing with his band, Human Country Jukebox, on Wednesday nights at Madam’s Organ, he’s ushered onto the stage without much waiting around.
The same was true when he auditioned for NBC’s The Voice last October. After friend and Gypsy Sally’s owner Dave Ensor e-mailed some of Gregori’s clips to the NBC show, show staffers immediately invited the D.C.-based singer to come perform. During his audition, Gregori’s deep-voiced rendition Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” caught the attention of judge Adam Levine. The following few months were a back-and-forth of tapings and rehearsals, with his audition episode finally airing March 3.
Though Gregori got the boot on an episode that aired just two weeks later, he says he’s not sore about the experience at all. Arts Desk chatted with Gregori about what it’s like being on a reality TV show, how his music career has changed since joining Team Adam, and how he copes with a newfound fanbase that flatters and occasionally confuses him.
Arts Desk: Was singing just always a hobby for you? Did you ever want to be a performer instead of a real estate lawyer?
Gregori: It was more than a hobby. It was a passion, something I always did and wanted to do. I didn’t understand how much I needed it until I started working those 80-hour weeks and not really having enough time to devote to it. After not being able to do it for so long it made me realize how much I needed to make space for it in my life.
When the economic downturn happened, did you find yourself with a lot more time to perform?
Absolutely. In retrospect it was a huge blessing in disguise for me. It allowed me to reset my life and start getting back involved with things I wasn’t able to do for a number of years. It really allowed me to play more music and to travel more and sort of enjoy things I had forgotten I really liked to do.
And yet you’re still a lawyer. Is that what you always wanted to do?
Oh no, hell no. There are certain people who are destined to wind up lawyers, and that’s a very small percentage of people. The rest, I’m sorry it happened. I’m kidding. Mostly. There are worse things, for sure, but it’s a job for me. If I could be a constitutional lawyer and argue in front of the Supreme Court, I would love to do that. But that’s not going to happen for me and for the vast majority of lawyers out there. But then what? You do the transactional and courtroom stuff and it’s not particularly glamorous. I’d take music over that every single day of the week.
So, let’s talk about your audition. What was that like?
[The show] wasn’t something I really thought about doing for a number of reasons. I was kind of concerned about the competitive aspect. For me, music should be more of a cooperative thing. Things like [a singing competition] tend to make me a little wary. Also, there’s always the fear of losing your street cred, if that’s a thing. It wasn’t really on my radar. It wasn’t a dream of mine to be on TV. I liked to play music two, three times a week. I asked [The Voice‘s producers] “Do I have to wait in line?” Waiting in line was a deal breaker for me. And they said no, so I said, fine, I’m in.
When I finally got to the point to being able to audition in front of the coaches, I had already gotten much farther than I ever anticipated getting. It was great. It was a very positive experience all the way through for me. Everybody was very positive. I almost wish there were some sour grapes or something for me to talk about.
In your episode, Adam Levine turned around to select you pretty quickly. But you’re such a country-focused guy. Was it surprising that Adam, not Blake Shelton, chose you for his team?
I really tried to go in with as few expectations as possible. I was just hoping for anybody to turn around, I didn’t care who it was. The thing is, you can do well with anybody, and there’s steals and all that. For me, it was just getting somebody to turn around and then hopefully being able to progress to a point where Blake or one of the other coaches could have maybe stolen if Adam didn’t keep me. That was my thinking.
I think Blake would have been the obvious choice, but at the same time, sometimes it’s good to have a different perspective. It’s not like I grew up in a vacuum listening to country music. I probably grew up listening to the same stuff that Adam grew up listening to. Sometimes having a different perspective can benefit you quite a bit. So I wasn’t locked in to one person. I would have liked all four of them to turn around. I would’ve picked Adam if I had the choice anyway.
How much did you get to learn from Adam?
I don’t think there was anything groundbreaking about what we were discussing. It’s not like you hunker down and analyze each note. It’s more, this is how I think the feel of this song should be, or let’s try this or that, or let’s hear you sing the harmony and you sing the melody.
It was more like feel, arrangement, have fun with it, those kinds of things as opposed to, you’re not hitting this note. Maybe we were just lucky and hitting the notes in rehearsal. It’s always good to talk to the guy who plays stadiums, and that’s not certainly anything I have experience with.
It’s a shame you fell out of the running so quickly. Do you think you could have gone farther on the show?
I felt like I left some stuff on the table in terms of being able to showcase what I can do vocally. If I had made another round, maybe I could have sung a ballad or something that I think showcases a different part of my voice, and who knows what that leads to. But again, these people are all extremely talented. The fact that I got as far as I did was, I was pretty happy with that, to be honest. Of course you want to win, and I’m a little disappointed I didn’t get the chance to dig into some songs that I felt were really good for my vocal range. But everybody can’t win—-that’s the bottom line. To some extent, you need to let go of the fact that this is a TV show and it’s not just about singing and it’s not just about you. If you look at it from that perspective, you have to be grateful that you got to where you did.
Plus now you get to add that little star next to your name, you know, having been a contestant on The Voice. I would imagine that would bring more people out to come see you when you perform. Has that been the case so far?
So far, our Wednesday nights are much busier. The energy is great. As a performer, when you have a crowd that’s excited and engaged, it just makes it so much better. That has definitely helped bumped up the excitement. When the crowd is fired up, the band is fired up.
Though sometimes you get a couple weirdos on Facebook or whatever. But the overwhelming response has been positive.
Weirdos on Facebook? You’ve piqued my interest. What kind of weird stuff are people saying?
You get a lot of friend requests and I’ve been getting a lot of e-mails through my website. You get…some, let’s say, risqué interactions.
Risqué? Like people are sending you sexually explicit messages?
That has happened, for sure. Also, let’s say oversharing on the part of certain people. Not even from an inappropriate sexual standpoint, but oversharing in details about their lives that you wouldn’t necessarily tell anybody, much less a complete stranger. I feel bad giving specifics, but there are some weird people that watch TV, I guess.
It sounds like you’ve been elevated to celebrity status to some people.
There are people who see anybody on TV and just assume that they’re a big deal. I don’t think I’m quite that important yet to deserve that kind of interaction. People are just so accessible now, you can just type a name into Facebook, send a message, and there you go. Some of the other people I’ve seen have had much creepier interactions than I have, particularly the women. But I’m old enough that I don’t get too creeped out. And generally, when people send messages, I try to answer them. I really have been trying to spend extra time answering people and thanking them for taking the time to actually give a damn.
So, what’s next? Any plans on quitting law and becoming a singer full time?
I would love to do it full time, but it’s a really hard gig. The danger there is that, when you start being forced to do things for money, it’s a really tough situation to be in. It’s such a personal thing. People that are good at it do it because they love it. For me, it would be really tough where I have to play a gig that I really don’t want to play. That part worries me. The part that would be great is being able to focus on songwriting and performing and touring and making more albums. Yeah, who wouldn’t want to do that? That’s the dream for sure. But the reality is, it’s extremely tough making ends meet as a full-time musician. I think sometimes you can go into trying to be a full-time musician and end up working in a warehouse at night. You still have to have another job. But yeah, that’s the goal. I just want to do it the right way.
Gregori and his band, Human Country Jukebox, perform tonight at 9:15 p.m. at Madam’s Organ, 2461 18th St NW.
Photo by Sean Shanahan Photography