The Gregory Brothers are some of YouTube’s newest celebrities. They started out humbly on the ‘net, doing “Debate in Song and Dance” videos for the 2008 presidential race. They’ve since expanded to general news (though mostly political news, still) with their “Auto-Tune the News” series, which is taking the ‘net by storm.
We know it’s not game or anime music. But if this isn’t “nerd” music, we don’t know what is.
In our interview with them, we ask about their work as a “family” band, the Angry Gorilla character, their take on politics, their music, and a whole lot of random, hilarious stuff. These guys (plus one girl) are some of the most interesting people we’ve ever interviewed, and they’re definitely what we would consider a “rising star” in the world of internet celebrities. Fortunately for them, they’re making their way through actual talent, rather than silly memes and viral trends.
After the jump, our exclusive interview with The Gregory Brothers (and lots and lots of embedded YouTube).
OSV: Thanks for doing this interview with us here at OSV.
GB: You’re very welcome.
OSV: Who are “The Gregory Brothers,” and is everyone in the Auto-Tune the News videos somehow a part of the Gregory extended family? Tell us about all the people you feature in your videos.
GB: The Gregory Brothers are Evan, Andrew, Michael, and Sarah Gregory. So really we’re looking at three brothers and one sister-in-law (Sarah married Evan earlier this year). We’ve played together as a band for two years, and work together on the videos.
OSV: Is there something I’m missing with this “angry gorilla” recurring character? Is it some sort of inside joke, or did you just have a gorilla costume handy and decide to make use of it?
GB: There’s no inside joke, and, yes, we did simply have a gorilla costume handy and begging for use. More people ought to have gorilla costumes given to them by their aged grandfathers in sentimental bequeathment ceremonies. But, at the risk of overstating the concept, we will say that the point of Angry Gorilla is to act as a foil for the commentators and talking heads that use anger as a calling card, or at least fabricate cheap ire to chase viewers.
OSV: In your first series of videos on YouTube, the “Debate in Song and Dance” series, auto-tune was rarely used, and the videos were essentially you guys putting music to the spoken word of the debate. What led to the shift over to the usage of auto-tune for your next video concepts?
GB: It definitely was an evolution. First there was simply the idea of inserting a song into the campaign debates. Then in later videos the participants became more and more part of the song. Then we hit on the idea of applying auto-tune technologies to make their spoken responses fit melodically into the songs. You can track that over the course of the debate videos. The town hall debate was a real watershed.
OSV: What’s the setup for the Gregory Brothers / Auto-Tune the News recording studio look like? What software do you use for the audio editing?
GB: The setup is a Mac desktop workstation underneath Michael’s loft bed in the apartment he shares with Andrew in Brooklyn. We have a green sheet purchased from the neighborhood fabric store for greenscreening. You really couldn’t have a more homegrown setup for digital production. We do video editing in Final Cut Express and audio in Logic Express (with plug-ins for all the actual auto-tuning).
OSV: Your YouTube presence also contains a series of videos of famous historical speeches with music (and plenty of auto-tune). Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King Jr., and most recently, John F. Kennedy have been song and danced by you. Though I am personally moved by these videos (particularly MLK’s “I Have a Dream”), do you worry that putting these famous speeches to music could trivialize their impact for a younger generation?
GB: This has come up many times from critics, sometimes well-articulated by established bloggers or online essayists, but most often from everyone’s favorite detractor, the ubiquitous YouTube commenter. In the end, the positive response has outweighed the negative, and we’ve heard some very encouraging stories from teachers and other adults who have actually used the I Have a Dream video to refresh the speech for younger ears, with great outcomes.
OSV: Many have observed that, with most of your videos remaining largely political even as you’ve transitioned into “Auto-Tune the News,” there is a slight political bias taking place. Is this just because President Obama sounds really good auto-tuned, or do you agree with him on a political level? Also, out of curiosity, we saw you work Ron Paul (the Internet’s favorite libertarian) into Auto-Tune The News Episode 3. What are your thoughts on Ron Paul?
GB: We’re not really interested in coming down heavily on either the left or the right. There are enough silly people on both sides to go around, and we have the most fun cracking jokes about the hyperactive media cycle, rather than any particular ideology.
As for Ron Paul: he’s a great statesman who courageously engages the issues.
OSV: Enough with the politics, let’s get to the music. Your whole family seems like a talented bunch. You’re in a band together, you make these videos, and you have a pretty keen sense as to what it takes to make a catchy song. Where have you studied music thus far in life, and what do you do to stay sharp in your crafts as both composer and performer?
GB: We perform a lot as a band and have a ton of side projects outside of The Gregory Brothers. That keeps us sharp. Michael and Evan have undergraduate music degrees, Sarah has a theater degree, and Andrew is often employed as a songwriting teacher. That being said, nobody has ever taken a class on what makes a song “catchy.”
OSV: You’re a fan of game music, am I right? You are, at the very least, familiar with the name “Nobuo Uematsu.” Tell us about how game music has inspired you in your musical endeavors.
GB: Honestly, Uematsu about sums it up. How can you not love that guy?! His achievements are towering, and his melodies mighty.
OSV: Almost everyone that performs in your videos gets auto-tuned, but it seems your sister-in-law escapes its almighty grasp most of the time. Why is this?
GB: (In a deep southern drawl) Because she saings so purty!
OSV: Is the success and popularity of your videos due to the “comeback” of auto-tune thanks to hip-hop artist T-Pain and others like him? Are you lampooning this segment of popular culture in these videos, or do you legitimately appreciate the sound created in the process of auto-tuning one’s voice?
GB: The answer is both. Auto-tune is used throughout the recording industry. It has complete saturation. You just don’t realize it until the artist (ex: T-Pain) makes a choice to crank it up and get that robotic effect that is popular right now. So, we appreciate auto-tune as a recording and audio editing tool. But we also enjoy lampooning hip-hop clichés, and it’s only better when we throw those clichés at political and media figures.
OSV: In one of your videos, you pair up Glenn Beck with a cow and sequence a lengthy auto-tuned melodic run on the cow’s mooing. I’ve heard it’s easier to auto-tune a long, drawn-out monotone sound (such as a moo) than a person who talks with varying pitch. Is this true? And how does the frequent use of Katie Couric, who delivers fairly dynamically in spoken word, factor into all this, since she seems to be another “favorite” for you guys?
GB: Yes, long tones are easier to “tune” than rapid-fire varying pitches. But the most important variable is simply the clarity of the speech, and that’s why Katie Coo is a favorite. She speaks deliberately and with a clear tone. Compare her with Dick Cheney and you may start to get the picture.
OSV: Our own opinion of your videos is that the background music you compose for the video segments are very catchy and fun: the rest of the audio (the voiceovers), as well as the video, exists only to bolster humor. Do you want to keep doing “comedic” work, or do you eventually hope to aspire to the rank of a “serious” musician?
GB: We’re already doing all of the above. We’ve recorded plenty of music with other projects, and released our own EP of original music this spring (See thegregorybrothers.com … CD also available for purchase on amiestreet.com or iTunes). We have a lot of different outlets for our music and for the time being we’re going to keep going on all channels.
OSV: Any chance we’ll someday hear Michael Gregory composing music for television, film, or games?
GB: There is…a chance.
OSV: Thanks again for talking with us.
GB: Our pleasure!
Michael, Evan, Andrew, and Sarah have a lot going for them right now, and we thank them for taking the time to answer our questions. We also wish them the best as they continue to bust out hilarious, catchy content on the ‘net.Tags: Auto-Tune the News, Interviews, Martin Luther King Jr, The Gregory Brothers, YouTube