Heavy Holism: Greg Fox and the Rhythms of Life

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Greg Fox sipped on his own blend of green tea, honey and nettles while speaking of their shared loft in Gowanus, which he describes as “as professional as a bedroom studio”. The large, sunny room is filled with drums and other instruments, recording equipment, and the working musician and drum teacher’s ephemera. More recently, the room has taken on another function, as a counseling room for his latest step into personal coaching.

He’s also made a home on stage, touring with a variety of bands – from the pinpoint black metal of Liturgy to the sprawling psychedelia of Guardian Alien to the hyper-powered “post-everything” band Ex Eye to the more hypnotic experimental Rock by Zs (to name a few). He also plays solo sets on drums or, more recently, electronics and synthesizers. Whatever the environment, his game is stunning. If “machinelike” is meant to be a compliment to a drummer, Greg Fox is like an organic being that came out the other side: a precision engine brought back to a very human expression.

He had his synth on hand for a solo set at Ridgewood’s Trans-Pecos last month. Armed with an analogue synth and pre-recorded samples of his own voice, he pushed layered vocals through bits of digital distortion before dropping a deep bass beat underneath. The looped and distorted vocals against jungle breakbeats felt like a Maori ceremony turned into a cyborg prayer meeting.

Crossing ideologies are the order of the day at Fox. When he received his personal coaching certification from the Open Center last year, he didn’t hide it as an isolated business or separate revenue stream. “Transformational Coaching” is listed on his website alongside his availability for bookings, session work and drum lessons. And indeed, the coaching came from his music lessons.

“A lot of my students kept coming back and starting to talk about what’s going on with them,” he said. “It felt like drum lessons wanted to be something else.” He now has coaching clients, music students, and a few people who do both.

Fox found a role model for his holistic approach to music and wellness in Milford Graves, his fellow drummer who, at age 78, spends at least as much time studying cardiology and herbal medicine as he does making music. Fox first heard the free jazz legend on records from the 1960s and, with a little asking around, was able to find an email address. He has been a regular visitor to Graves’ home in Queens since 2013. On one of those visits, Graves made the audio recordings of Fox’s heart that became the skeletons for Fox’s 2014 album mitral transmission.

A new solo album, due for release later this year, ties into the unity of mind and body mitral transmission. The new album combines acoustically and digitally triggered drums with electronics into what Fox called “everything I do, in one place.” And if a new-age album seems OK for Fox in 2020, it might be, though it’s far from audio mayonnaise. The album manages to be meditative and driving at the same time.

“I kind of separated the things that I do, I tried to break down that wall,” he said. But the new album is “very vulnerable. I’ve never done anything like this on my own with a really well miked drum kit.” His live solo sets, he said, are “fast and heavy and a little bit sustained. That is different. That’s calm.

“Solo is interesting and fun and a cool way to explore new ideas,” he added, “but I think I enjoy making music more with other people.”

To this point, Fox plans to record with a new trio and septet this year, while continuing work with brilliantly named Black Sabbath cover band Rehearsal, which is exactly what it sounds like. The tribute to metal’s grandfathers includes Krallice’s Mick Barr (interviewed in the January RHSR), Dirty Projectors’ Angel Deradoorian, Blood Orange’s Chris Egan, Interpol’s Brad Truax and Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner. They debuted at the People Festival in Berlin in 2018 and played a handful of gigs at St. Vitus (and will return to the Greenpoint stage this month). This summer they return to Germany for the Monheim Triennale, where Fox will also perform solo and with his jazzy group Quadrinity.

“That might be my favorite band,” he said of the Black Sabbath project, then paused halfway. “This is my favorite band at the moment. You don’t have to be smart. Just play the songs really well.

“For the past few years, I’ve dissolved everything I did,” he explained. “A lot has changed. What hasn’t changed is making music is my favorite thing in the whole world. I think playing music with people I really love is more important to me than any kind of commercial success.”

The Black Sabbath Coverband rehearsal is on February 21st at St. Vitus.

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