Navigating the music biz is a brutal endeavor. And few know that better than Vermont songwriter Gregory Douglass. Though arguably the state’s best-known musician not named Grace, Anaïs or Trey, last year he all but gave up playing music. A disastrous tour left Douglass disillusioned as youthful dreams of stardom fell prey to the cold realities of life as a working artist. He subsequently fell headlong into a deep winter depression.
Douglass has since reemerged with a powerful new album in hand, Battler. Though it bears many of the earmarks fans have come to know and love, the disc — his seventh — reveals a wiser, more mature artist. And one perhaps finally at ease with the harsh challenges of his chosen profession.
In advance of his CD release party this Thursday at Higher Ground, Seven Days recently chatted with Douglass by phone about the winter blues, his new album and the rejuvenating power of a show called “Six Feet Under.”
SEVEN DAYS: So I take it the last tour didn’t go so well...
GREGORY DOUGLASS: Yeah. My mom actually called me recently because she read my new bio and said, “Should I be concerned?” (Laughs.)
I was responsible for that tour not going well. Because I had just sort of given up in my mind. I barely promoted it. I just sort of went through the motions. And it was kind of a rough year.
I felt like I’d been following this Ani DiFranco mentality since high school. Just trying to constantly release albums and be a tour hound and constantly remind people that I’m still there doing my thing. And it’s definitely gone well. But I felt like it was sort of flatlining, in terms of doing everything I’m capable of doing on this indie shoestring budget. So I was just trying to reevaluate.
I’m also at the age where everyone around me is making big decisions like getting married, having kids, buying a place. It’s just crazy to me, because I’m still living vicariously through college kids, trying to entertain them, which at times can be very depressing. And it’s like, “Wow. I’m almost 30 and I don’t have any money saved.” I felt like, something’s gotta give. There’s got to be something that really changes the course of things in order to take a step up to the next level, whatever that means. It’s a mystery. It’s always having blind faith that it’s always going to work out. And I just ran out of steam.
I seriously considered stuff like, “What the hell else would I do?” I’ve been doing this since high school. I chose not to go to college to do this. And I never would have dreamed at the time that the music industry would take such a turn and still not quite know what to do with itself. So I just gave up and decided to wallow in my depression.
SD: You credit the HBO series “Six Feet Under” with pulling you back.
GD: It was so inspiring, and I didn’t expect it. There were so many parallels, with almost every character. I can definitely relate to the type of dysfunction that was going on and really struggling through so many things that I have felt. There were a lot of gay issues that I’ve dealt with and that really hit close to home with me; growing up, your family coming to terms. There was a character who was dealing with sexual addiction, which I thought was one of the first times that that was in the forefront [on TV]. And I was really appreciative of that.
There were just so many issues that I realized I hadn’t really dealt with. It was a good, full-circle effect. I just felt there were certain things I hadn’t dealt with and I needed to. That helped me get my shit together.
SD: Maybe I watch too much TV, but I’m picturing a moment of clarity when you decided to get back on the horse.
GD: I don’t know. I’ve had so many other moments when I’ve hit rock bottom and needed to jerk myself out. It’s like when you hold it all in versus actually letting yourself bawl your eyes out, you feel so much better. And I did so much crying this winter just watching the show...So the show is intense on its own, plus all of the conversations my partner, Glen, and I would have after watching...I think I just felt, like, “All right. Enough of this.”
SD: So it’s fair to say the show informed Battler?
GD: Totally. Almost every song. There was a plug in The Advocate I was really thrilled with. It said something like, “Stephen King’s Misery minus the hatchet, plus ‘Six Feet Under’ equals Gregory Douglass’ Battler.” I was like, “Wow.” I didn’t realize how true that must be.
SD: That’s a pretty good description. But it seems like maturation is missing from their equation.
GD: I feel like my goals have totally changed. I was a lot more naive [when I was younger]. But I think it would be naive to think that the playing field is totally even. I think that we’re all just trying to think outside of the box and do different things. I want to be able to keep doing this full time and just sustain. I don’t even really care about getting rich and famous anymore, because I don’t even really know what that means...But because of that, I don’t have that naive thirst for stardom. I know how it works.