Rising Music Star Bray Gurnari: “Come prepared.”

What if everyone volunteered one day per month to an organization of their choice — focused on helping others? If this is done in groups (friends, family, etc.), it could become a regular activity. As a part of my series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Multi-instrumentalist Bray Gurnari. Bray […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.

What if everyone volunteered one day per month to an organization of their choice — focused on helping others? If this is done in groups (friends, family, etc.), it could become a regular activity.

As a part of my series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Multi-instrumentalist Bray Gurnari.

Bray is the principal of San Francisco-based band Bray & the Dens, a unique blend of alt pop-rock mixed with Bowie-esque hooks and crisp, driving grooves a la Queens of the Stone Age. The band’s music is a blend of syncopated propulsion, sly hooks, and poignant lyricism. It’s rhythmic, hooky guitar-driven rock, to be sure…but it’s also cinematic and clever, with funky beats and lush pop sensibilities thrown into the mix.

Bray’s music is influenced by David Bowie and Prince and has been compared to the Foo Fighters and Arctic Monkeys. His songs have been featured on 11 national TV shows to date, including MTV’s “Road Rules,” VH1’s “Old Skool” and the syndicated reality series “Bad Girls Club,” among others, and his videos have garnered more than four million YouTube views…in fact, two of Bray’s recently released videos, “Long Gone” and “Clone Me,” have each garnered over two million views on YouTube to date.

Bray tours Europe on a regular basis and also performs regularly at San Francisco’s top venues. He’s performed to over 500,000 at San Francisco’s Pride Festival and has shared stages with Slash, Scott Weiland, Joe Satriani, and members of the Doors and The Sex Pistols. Bray has been noted as an “Artist to Keep an Eye On” by the San Jose Mercury News, “Best Live Band” by the San Francisco Herald, and voted in the Top 100 Unsigned Bands in the Nation by Music Connection. Tracks from two of Bray’s previously released studio albums, “Independent Film” and “Pins and Needles,” have enjoyed heavy rotation on over 150 CMJ stations nationwide, charting as high as #3.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Bray! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

Iwas born in Vallejo, CA. I was more of a thoughtful loner in the very early years. Soon, I became aware of performers on television… talk shows, MTV, etc. I was electrified by all types of art; painting (yes, Bob Ross), comedy, and music. I started doing impressions for family and friends. This became a way to connect with people and break the ice. I went to a different high school than most of my friends, so I had to then start over — and there again, art and performance were my tools of survival.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I used to draw for hours as a kid. Creating something from my imagination was soothing and fulfilling … even I didn’t yet know what that meant. At the same time, I was always fascinated by the way people talk and behave. I started to do impressions, which got me some attention. Everybody loves attention.

Then I saw Michael Jackson, and I was transfixed. I wanted to be a part of that pure positive energy. Soon I discovered David Bowie and Prince, and they sparked my mind on an even deeper level. I wanted to live my life in the midst of art. I wanted to live my life AS art.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

For me, this involves my friend Matt Fink. Matt is known as “Dr. Fink” in the music world. He played keyboards with Prince for something like 20 years. I met Matt at a show called San Francisco Legends — Past, Present, and Future. Matt watched our set from the wings and spoke to me right after we finished. He said we “blew the doors of the place!” Coming from one of my childhood heroes, this was a huge deal to me! From there, we developed a friendship, leading to writing and recording on multiple projects together. We attended NAMM together one year, and I was just beaming. He is such a great person and has a great family. Matt is hilarious, so of course, we laugh a ton. We are all just people in the end. Some just happen to ignite the world with their innovative approach to the synthesizer!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

We were playing at the Hard Rock Café in La Jolla, CA. They had a tall stage, so the ceiling was closer in that part of the room. I was jumping around like a maniac, and I slammed my head into a light bulb in the ceiling. I knew something was wrong but was too lost in the madness to know what happened. I turned to the bass player, and he had this look of horror! “You’re bleeding!” I started checking around my body, and he said: “No, your FACE!” I’m lucky I wasn’t hurt too bad, but I did learn to watch the hell you’re doing. (I still forget sometimes)

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Finishing a new album and video! The album is called Stingray. I love the direction — we’ve been listening to baroque and spaghetti western — and it’s found some ways into our sound. The video’s first single is called Be Your Own Surgeon. I’m thrilled because we are really capturing a certain feeling. Plus the message to face ourselves and fix what’s broke… It helps me do just that.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

Without diversity, things become inbred and deteriorate. We need to experience new things to survive and grow. This is true in art and really, everything. Each time I tour overseas, I feel a connection and understanding with humans as a whole. Films and TV, music, politics — these are conversations. The more we can find ways to relate to each other, the more we can understand our fears and learn to share. We see that how we treat others is how we treat ourselves.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. “Come prepared.” I put on my own version of “Lollapalooza in high school, and spent most of my time planning, booking, and promoting. My band only rehearsed once, and it showed. I vowed never to make that mistake again.
  2. “Be nice.” My sound engineer recently wanted to write off a venue because — let’s just say they weren’t meeting our needs. He was angry, and I understood his side! I visited the venue owner and spoke nicely — asking how we could work together on these issues. Turns out, it was just a misunderstanding, and all were easily solved. If I had gone in there, guns blazing, I can guarantee it would not have worked out as well.
  3. “Be Yourself.” Most of us grow up emulating someone we admire. At some point, we must shed this and find our own voice. This is another area where diversity really shines. Listening to Bartok and Carl Stalling and Georgio and Weird Al. This variety scrambles my eggs, so I can break through the comfort of habit, and reach maybe … just maybe… authenticity.
  4. “Sometimes you say No.” I was offered work by a very influential person, and my first instinct was to fall all over myself and say yes before he mentioned compensation. I’m glad I didn’t. The offer was too low, so I declined, asking if they might consider a much higher (but appropriate) rate. Their response: “Sure. Let’s do it.”
  5. “The 80/20 rule” It’s easy to get mired in the details… and I love the details! But they can sneak up on you, and before you know it, it’s 3 hours or 3 years later. The 80/20 rule says that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. With songwriting, for example, we need to keep writing and writing and writing. If I spend a half-hour on the lyrics and 6 hours on drum tones, I’m not focusing on the things that lead to the results I’m looking for.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Take breaks. Go for a walk. Watch a comedy. Call your mom. Drink water!

Balance is the key.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

What if everyone volunteered one day per month to an organization of their choice — focused on helping others? If this is done in groups (friends, family, etc.), it could become a regular activity.

I just booked a performance at the Senior Center in Suisun, CA, and signed up to help youths at the Monument Crisis Center in Concord, CA.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

This is a good one. I’ve had so many people help me along the way… it’s staggering. The first that comes to mind, is a man named Jeff. He was a neighbor of mine, and we barely knew each other. During a heavy economic downturn, I was laid off and lost my home. As I was moving out, Jeff came to my door and asked if I was ok. We had a great talk, he left, and I continued working. A few hours later, he came to my door with $10,000 cash in an envelope. He said he wanted to help me, and I could pay it back whenever I was able. Believe me, I was in tears. It took me a few years, but I paid back every cent. Jeff, I will never ever forget this.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My dad has a great one. “The hardest thing to do is usually the right thing to do.”

I used to work for both Oracle and Sun Microsystems. When I moved to the sales department, the dollar signs started beckoning. My boss at the time, how was pulling down a half million a year, wanted to take me under his wing. He said I would need to quit music completely, as this new job would take 80 hours per week. I spent 2 sleepless weeks thinking about it and decided to pass on his offer. Some would say I was foolish. Maybe. But it turns out that I would have likely been laid off within a year anyway. The important thing was I chose to follow my heart.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Barack Obama. Yes please tag him. ☺

Among other questions I’d have for him, I’d ask his opinion on your earlier question. What movement could help the most amount of people, and how could be of most value to that movement?

How can our readers follow you on social media?





This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

Thank you. This was one of the best interviews I’ve been a part of.

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...


Is AI Changing the Role of the Pop Star?

by Enrique Cadena Marin

KAATO: “There is so much creativity and great ideas that are shut down; we want to influence people to live with less worry”

by Yitzi Weiner

Rob Dexter: “Open your ears and close your mouth”

by Ben Ari
We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.