Early in his career, indie singer—songwriter Gregory Douglass got too pieces of advice that would serve him well.
The first came during his high school graduation. During an awards ceremony, the principal announced to the gathered families and friends that Douglass was the first student he would ever recommend skip college. Douglass was a rare talent, he said, ready to make his mark in the industry.
“Even when I was younger, I had a feeling that I knew what I wanted to do. My school was advanced with technology and had a recording studio. I had a lot of support from the students and the faculty and I think that is what prompted him to be so encouraging,” he recalls. “And, at the time, things were very different in the music industry. The surge of independent artists was beginning.”
A couple of years later, Douglass, who had been out since he was 14, received a second piece of advice from an unexpected source, a prominent Burlington, Vt. drag queen.
“I was having coffee with Yolanda six or eight years ago. She was very connected with people in the major labels and she told me she felt it might be premature for me to come out professionally,” he says. “That was a practical thing to say at that time, but we’ve come a long way.”
While he doesn’t particularly regret postponing the decision to come out today, his place in the LGBT community is one that he values.
“I embraced the community at a time when I felt comfortable doing so,” he says. “It’s been a wonderful thing for me as an artist, almost by default. My music speaks for itself, but in a world with so many independent artists, it’s great to have a ‘niche market’, so to speak.”
As a young, gay singer-songwriter, comparisons were inevitable with perhaps one of the most successful gay performers, Rufus Wainwright.
“I think it’s interesting when I hear those comparisons because I don’t know that I would describe myself as a Wainwright fan,” Douglass remarks. “Personally, I listen to a lot of females, like Tori Amos and Fiona Apple.”
Musically, Douglass cites Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel as major creative influences. “They are consistent writers. Every album is like a major motion picture. I would definitely peg myself as that type of writer. I get into periods of inspiration and each album is different from the next.”
His latest project is inspired by dreams. Douglass says he has experienced “quite a few anxiety dreams” lately and had always wanted to do a concept album about the dream world. Humans spend half our lives sleeping, he points out, and dreams create powerful, intelligent images.
Douglass has also found his upcoming marriage becoming more influential on his creative process.
“It definitely has already influenced my music,” he chuckles. “There are a few songs out there and I’m sure it will continue.”
Douglass will be bringing his music to the Broward Center on Tuesday, March 23 as part of ArtsUnited’s Performing Arts Series. While Douglass is playing with a band—or in a few instances, a cello—he will be performing solo.
“I think that I have a pretty emotionally charged, powerful show. I take more pride in my vocals than anything and definitely think I can hold my own as a solo performer,” he says.
Ten years into a blossoming career, the 29-year-old is hard-pressed to offer his own advice to a hopeful young artist.
“I’ve been an independent artist for nearly 10 years and I do feel like I’m reaching expert territory. The irony of that is the nature of the industry is constantly changing,” says Douglass.
“The advice I would give today would be different than a year ago. It’s important to work hard and keep releasing new material to remind people that you’re there. It’s also important to keep up on the trends and not be too stubborn, especially given how quickly things change. Constantly ride the trends to keep in touch with people.”
Gregory Douglass with Richard Cortez
ArtsUnited Performing Arts Series
Tuesday, March 23, 7:30 p.m.
Broward Center for the Arts, Abdo River Room
201 SW 5th Ave | Fort Lauderdale
Tickets $15 at (954) 462-0222 or BrowardCenter.org