The Voice's Jonny Gray Talks Beatles, 'Message' Music and the Girl-Group Jam He Almost Covered
You might not have noticed it at the time, but Jonny Gray‘s collected Season 5 performances on The Voice doubled as a journey through rock-music history.
“What was cool about my time on the show is that I got to hit every era of music: I did the 2000s with The Killers, I did the ’70s with Petty, I did the ’60s with The Beatles, I did the ’90s with The Verve and then I finished it off in the ’80s with Phil Collins. I hit the last 50 years of music!”
TVLine caught up with Jonny to dish his Season 5 highlights, his focus on “music with a message” and plans for his post-Voice career.
TVLINE | Your cover of The Killers’ “All These Things That I’ve Done” was one of the definite standouts of the Season 5 Blind Auditions. How did you wind up settling on that song?
Thank you. I’ve been playing that song for a while with my band back home. I love The Killers and I love that song — it speaks to me. It was cool that I got to actually open up my TV career with that.
TVLINE | This is a show that loves pairing up people with similar backgrounds. Did you and fellow military veteran Shawn Smith expect you’d be going against each other in the Battle Rounds?
You know, Shawn did. Right before we got our pairing, he said, “Jonny, I know you and me are going to be against each other,” and I told him he was crazy. I was like, “They’re not going to do that. There’s no way they’re going to do that!” Then, of course, we did, but it turned out to be one of the best times I had on the show, actually. Music is not a competition, and even toward the end of [my time on the show], I never looked at it like that. It’s an art and it all comes from within. It was always me against myself. I even told Shawn before we went on, “I want both of us to stay here, so let’s do the best that we can, so somebody can at least get stolen.”
TVLINE | You took on The Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out” for the Knockout Rounds. Did you have any fear of covering a band that iconic?
I felt privileged to be able to get to play The Beatles because I’m such a huge fan. But no matter what Beatles song I picked, I knew going into that you don’t want to mess with it too much. I stayed pretty true to the original version. I didn’t want to get hammered by Beatles fans who’d be like, “Hey, you just ruined a perfectly good song!” There’s no need to mess with the formula. And of course Cole [Vosbury] did an amazing job on that Passenger song ["Let Her Go"], too. The coolest thing about that matchup was as soon as it was done, Adam Levine said, “You don’t have to worry, boys. I’m going to steal whoever doesn’t win.” That allowed us to chill out for a little while on stage; we knew we had nothing to worry about.
TVLINE | Several times this season, Cee Lo said he thought you excelled at songs with a message behind them. Did you get what he was saying? And was that part of the reason for covering “Another Day in Paradise”?
You know, I try to do the same thing with my original music as well, convey a message. When you write these songs, you’re talking to somebody — even if you’re only talking to someone about your relationship or somebody that you lost. The Phil Collins tune was another big message. I really love the lyrics he sings in that. “Bittersweet Symphony,” too — I love the lyrical thought in that.
TVLINE | I wish the judges had given you a little more of a shout-out for rearranging the Phil Collins song. You took a pretty big risk there.
Yeah, I did change the arrangement. I’m a huge fan of Dave Matthews Band, and I was trying to make the song more of my own, acoustically. I had Dave Matthews in my mind the whole time — “How would Dave do this?”
TVLINE | Were there any other songs you wanted to tackle if you’d gone deeper into the competition?
If I would have stayed another week, I was going to do The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” actually, but modernize it a little bit. I might put that cover up on YouTube. That’s a cool song.
TVLINE | So what can your Voice fans expect from you musically going forward?
I’m going to finish up a record I had been working on that I put on hold right before I went on the show, and I’m definitely going to hit the road 2014, probably hit up South by Southwest in March and release my CD. [The Voice] is a good platform to get out there and let people see what you’re doing, but that’s not me playing my music, it’s me covering my favorite artists. So I’m real excited about America being able to hear my songs. I’m just bringing back real music — you know, somebody sitting there with a guitar and just singing — no Auto-Tune, no fake songs. You’re going to hear me live in concert the exact same way as you do on CD. You know, no tricks. Just kind of get back to the way rock and roll used to be back in the day with Bob Dylan and early Beatles, just that whole organic sound.