Novy Græy of {in-boxes} on Spirituality and the Creation of a Personal Musical Mythos

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Novy Græy is an enthusiastic young man, talented and spiritual. While emerging with Quarter Horses as an intricate, self-described "Gospel Noir" outfit, he's also been the main driving force behind the technical and experimental project {in-boxes}.

We had a chance for a lengthy discussion about spirituality, music and the creation of a personal mythology with the former Bear Nine member and the result was a layered and rich conversation that mirrors his musicality.

See also: Miami's Five Best Music Venues for Local Acts

Crossfade: Tell us first about Quarter Horses and {in-boxes} and how they work for you as their musical link.

Novy Græy: Well it's important to know that {in-boxes} and Quarter Horses are very different bands with very different goals at hand. However, when it comes to both these projects, if you were to boil them down to their main essentials, at heart some of them may overlap with one another. With {in-boxes}, I've created a platform for me to have the freedom to be me, as whimsically neurotic as that may be; in that freedom I can be as eclectic musically as I am as an individual. In my opinion, I've found that oftentimes people sadly go about categorizing each other, in order to have some peace of mind in convincing themselves that they understand who those individuals are based on their established labels. I can only speak for myself, but I feel that when it comes to me (or someone like me), most people have a very hard time figuring out what kind of person I am, and that freaks them out because it seems that if I can't be easily categorized then I can't be easily understood.

For example, as a believer in Christ people expect me to act belligerent or be narrow-minded, but when it's evident that I have many secular friends whom I love dearly and respect, or that I enjoy the solemn spirit of post-punk/goth music and fashion, it throws people off. Many Christians think I'm extremely weird, and see me as a black sheep, but that doesn't faze me anymore. While on the other hand, many who don't believe what I believe in are taken aback by the fact that I actually treat them with kindness and love; they get to see another side of the faith I have in "this so called loving God that loves them." Therefore, in an analogous sense, since I've been trying to create a body of work that is a reflection of who I am, the aforementioned notion is what I've been trying to sonically explore through {in-boxes}, and people either hate it or love it for that reason of not being able to be easily pigeon-holed.

That project is perhaps the most personal project I'm working on, because in a performative way I've gone on with the intention of documenting a large segment of my '20s, by creating albums that serve as chapters in a specific volume of work. The lyrics are extremely personal, so I often work in creating sound that reinforces the mood the narrative is trying to portray. The concepts also come from me, and while I'm open to feedback and creative input from the various musicians I'm working with, in the end I get the final say, so as to do justice to what I feel a song may need in order to stay true to its spirit or the spirit of the moment it is documenting. That may mean that a song could be quite lengthy or short, minimal or heavily layered, dissonantly cacophonous or rich in catchy melodies.

When it comes to Quarter Horses, it's a totally different dynamic. Quarter Horses is not led by me at all. I often cringe at the fact that I tend to be the lead singer of most of the projects I've been in, because there is this inclination for people to pay too much attention to the person at the mic. Anybody that knows me personally would most likely say I'm a very introverted and soft-spoken individual, in fact most are shocked when they see me perform. So with that being said, I'm relieved that Quarter Horses is actually led by my friend/bandmate/drummer Emile Blair Milgrim. I may be the lead singer, but I'm not the one that calls the final shots. Up to this point it's been a humbling experience to have Emile trust me to write lyrics and create the bulk of the music being played, yet at the end of the day, my biggest concern is making sure that she is happy with every little bit of the product at hand. My aim is to support her dream and vision as she's done with me a while back with {in-boxes}.

Emile even had a part in collaborating with me on this recent album by {in-boxes}, she played some percussions on the tracks "Wall-In My Heart" and "Jupiter," and contributed train samples which were used on the song "A Bob Dylan Kinda Girl." It's also interesting to note, that our third member, Jonathan Trigoura is also a core member of {in-boxes} and is a versatile musician. The first show we had with Jon was at Gramps in July, and it was great, because he played second guitar and keys. After the show, our bassist at the time felt he needed to step down in order to really pursue sound engineering instead, so Jon gladly stepped in on bass. I have to say, that Emile and Jon are the real musicians in the band, I'm merely a storyteller and at best and interpreter of sound, I just gotta trust God and that helps me interpret those sounds properly.

How did you guys hook up the Book Fair gig and how did it go? What's it like playing non-mainstream music to the literary masses at ten a.m.?

We were able to play the Book Fair because we were blessed to have Steven Toth see us perform on at Gramps for their 4th of July weekend bash. He apparently loved what we were doing, and had a great deal of faith in our music, enough so that he spoke to his boss who works for the Book Fair and got us booked to play at The Swamp this year. I really wish my other band mates, Emile and Jonny were here to help me answer the second half of this question, but for me, it was interesting, because I wasn't so concerned with "oh man I really hope people like us" vs. "oh God I really hope people come... please wake them up Lord! Ha Ha." It was a little odd playing at that time of the day, because I feel most of the music I've ever had a hand in, lends itself to a specific moment in which light or the absence of light affects the way one perceives sound, so I tend to associate what I do to dusk, the evening, early morning, or gray rainy days.

Regardless I was excited, very sick, but excited none-the-less. That being said, I must also say that sometimes people mistake confidence for arrogance, so I hope people don't misinterpret what I'm saying, but I have a lot confidence in my bandmates; what we are trying to achieve, our chemistry and how hard we've practiced, that I've figured "The people who will come to support will come. From that point on, the people who will like our music, are the people who were meant to be reached by it, so don't worry, just do whatever it takes to stay true to the integrity of the music we've created."

This new album, Corner #1: An Apiary for a Swarm of One (The Honey-Be[e] S[t]ung Sessions) is a continuation of the last EP, an effort I found enjoyable and ambitious with three songs clocking in at over 40 minutes. Tell us about the EP's creation and why such largesse?

Yes Corner #1... is a continuation of the EP that came out two years ago. Initially I had no real intention of releasing an EP for {in-boxes}, instead Corner #1 was meant to be the first official album in my mind. However, we were confronted with the good problem of having a project that was beginning to get recognized as a live act. As a live act though, most of the songs that we were playing, were songs that are now currently on Corner #1, but back then we were still figuring out how to finalize the songs and execute them live before we could record them. So, the peak of that problem was that people were beginning to ask where they could find the songs or buy the album, because they wanted to support what we were doing.

That's when I decided to record an EP with three songs, that would assuage the wait for our fans, but I didn't want to cheat them of their money, patience, time and enthusiasm with three, five minute songs slapped together. I wanted to make sure to create an EP that could actually stand on its own as an actual album, a first album, a prelude to what was to come sonically, conceptually, lyrically and spiritually. Think about it this way, what The Hobbit is to The Lord of the Rings, that's what Nook & Cranny #1 is to Corner #1 and any future {in-boxes} scheduled to be created if I'm alive to release it. Ironically, the EP took 2 years to create, and by the time it was released in April of 2012 we stopped playing live shows because of our individual schedules. So in the summer of 2013 I figured that I should begin recording Corner #1, which was finally done and released in August 2014. Miraculously though, when the EP came out we had no album release party, yet I managed to sell enough copies to break even, finance Corner #1 and have some money left over in the fund.

How did that translate to the compositions/arrangements of this full-length?

Well just like the Hobbit/LotR analogy, I knew that the EP needed to somehow tie into this follow up. So one of the things I did was work with the symbolism of the EP, to create recurring motifs that would be found in future albums (even some outside of {in-boxes}... hint hint). For instance if you listen carefully to the first track on the EP you can hear me reciting a monologue that lays out like a bunch of Easter Eggs, the semantics that are not only present on that album but that would permeate throughout future albums: the number nine, the color græy, the sea, the "Analogirl," love vs. lust, God, the honeybee, the rose, etc... I played with song titles "Cold-War[M](isc. Sea Sickness Prologue)," which would resolve with the song "Pagan Wave (Misc. Sea Sickness Epilogue)" on Corner #1; I also used approximately the last 30 seconds of sound on the EP to be the first couple of seconds to open up the new album. These are just some of the ways that both albums correlate with one another.

In fact I have every intention to use the last bit of sound on each album to open the next one, that way it insinuates the fact that yes each album is a different chapter capturing a different mood and style, but chapters none-the-less to a bigger volume of work. If I'm alive to achieve this feat, then I feel listeners will be rewarded to find that all this time Nook & Cranny #1, Corner #1, Corner #2, Corner #3 and finally Corner #4 were pointing to something much bigger, not only as a musical piece, but as a performance art, time-based piece that they now own; especially when most art pieces are expensive for most people to obtain in this economy.

I know you've had a tough year, how much of your personal experiences influenced the record?

Well to be honest this new album documents the events of a romance I had in the fall of 2008, so the events of this year didn't really affect the lyrical content. However, I did have a pretty tough year, I've lost two family members and I found myself at the end of a relationship that in my heart of hearts I wanted to see age with me, but these things happen. Perhaps someone reading this would either empathize or say so what who cares. I think if anything the physical death and emotional death that I've personally been experiencing has given me more of a sense of urgency to get things done, and you can sense that on this album. I have this overwhelming desire to produce this material that is burning in my spirit in the uncertain time that I'm given. I don't want to procrastinate, but I also don't want to rush and have nothing but rubbish to show for it.

Time is a tricky thing because you don't have a lot of it, so while you're trying to work rapidly, you also encounter the fact that you need to invest time to produce quality work that you feel at peace with, however weird it may be to the world. Then there's also the issue of how do I balance investing time to create what I'm passionate about, but be subject to others' schedules and not neglect the time that I should also be investing with/into the lives of my loved ones? I constantly find myself asking God and myself this question.

Is there a deliberate bend towards the operatic and theatrical? I see a folky/bluesy touch here and there but I mostly walk away with cinematic feelings, is there more of a "musical score" attitude afoot?

I'm not sure what you mean in relation to operatic and I really am curious to understand what you mean by it, but if by theatrical you mean synonymous to cinematic, then yes that is deliberate. As I've said before I'm a visual artist and lyricist before an interpreter of sound. I'm telling my story, that I hope to document with the aid of lyrics that will paint a picture in one's mind, symbolism that will keep them searching and discerning, vulnerability to create empathy and a plethora of sound, as eclectic as possible so as to build a rich and varied set of psycho-geographical landscapes for which the listener can journey through.

With music like yours, I find that it opens itself up to re-envisioning/reinterpretation when performed live. How much of that is true for you and how selective were you as to what made the "final cut?"

Yeah, this did and still happens quite a bit under the {in-boxes} moniker. When we were a live act, I would often have a frustrating time trying to figure out what was going to be the essential elements to present live. It would work out for a bit, but then of course it was difficult because some of us had to play two to three things at once, or swap instruments in between songs. It was convenient when we had seven people performing, then it went to six, then five, till eventually I just said to myself a live performance will never really do justice to what I envision in my head, which ultimately is what you hear on the albums. Sometimes, I do solo sets with a guitar to promote the music, but I decided it was in the best interest for {in-boxes} to go back to my original idea of being a conceptual recording-based project that serves more as a sound art piece.

It's just more practical that way, I mean, all the core members are extremely busy with their own lives, work schedules and their own personal projects that they are trying to achieve. As much as I like them, we are not, nor can be Arcade Fire, we don't have a record label that says "hey we are going to pay you to focus on one thing." I've been blessed by my friends to support me up to this point with what I've been trying to achieve and now I want to be supportive of what they want to do and not bog them down by having them make time to play live sets that just aren't practical. Yet, as long as I'm alive {in-boxes} will exist in one way or another, in similar but different ways like Trent Reznor with NIN. I just think it's in the best interest of the project to remain a recording based, art music collective. This makes things easier because I can now make more efficient decisions on how to intentionally create songs that will remain as recorded songs until the end of time. It may be an eerie way to approach it, but I think about the albums of several of the artists I love that have either passed away or no longer exist as a group, The Birthday Party, Joy Division, Jeff Buckley, Nick Drake and there is almost a timelessness to them because they cannot be recreated live anymore by those people.

Since, I'm dealing with material that challenges me to face the past in order to make the best of it by creating future material, I feel that it really isn't necessary to perform them live in the context of a band anymore and that in a sense, is its own way of definitely letting go of the past in order to grow. There's a quote by Lawrence Durrell that says: "There are only three things to be done with a woman. You can love her, suffer for her, or turn her into literature." The same could be said about our past, in any art form, in this case music.

What's next for you and Quarter Horses and {in-boxes}?

As I've mentioned before, I do intend to release at least three more official albums under the moniker {in-boxes} Corner #2: The Hermit's Patina (The Fugitive Heart Sessions) along with numbers three and four. Most of the material for these albums have roughly been recorded on cassette tapes years ago, and it's just a matter of time before they see the light of day, or in my case the light of the moon. Outside of these officially planned albums, I wish to begin collaborating more with other visual artists in which I can lend my time and inclinations in sound to enhance what they are doing. If and whenever I do this I want to use the moniker of {in-boxes} instead of my name, that way different people can collaborate with me in making music and be a part of {in-boxes} for that season.

While at the same time establishing the name {in-boxes} as a project that is accessible to other artists to work with. For instance I'm working on creating music for a series of photos I've collaborated on with my friend Sean Banton. Perhaps there will be enough material to make a future OST album, I don't know, but I want to let other artists know that I'm willing to support them and their craft. As for Quarter Horses, since I don't have the intention to have {in-boxes} play live anymore, I want to put all of my creative energy in helping Emile and Jon with a band that will be terrific live and equally as great at putting albums together that will stand on their own as pieces of music. That being said, we have enough material for two albums already. We are currently working on our first album, a six track EP entitled Sub Rosa Victoria, which is halfway done. Then the follow up will be an LP Leitmotifs. Beyond this I have some other surprises at hand that will soon be revealed, but all in due time, if I'm still alive ha ha, if not Emile and Jon know where to find "the tapes."

Both {in-boxes} albums can be purchased at Sweat Records, or you can contact me at the {in-boxes} Facebook page and message me that you want an album.

Follow Crossfade on Facebook and Twitter @Crossfade_SFL.

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