The Frst works on the mantra that there’s “No ‘I’ in the Frst”. The band’s rotating cast of collaborators includes the likes of Andrew Leahey, Nathan Cogan (Taking Back Sunday), Jeff Hutchins (Insane Clown Posse) and Justin Smith. Their latest single, “Cycles”, debuted in the top 10 of the Soundcloud USA Rock Chart, and they have plans for more music to come out this summer.
I got the chance to talk to the band’s founder Mikei Gray about how the band culminated into what it is now, what their experience creating music in Nashville has been like, their single “Cycles” and so much more! Keep reading to see what he had to say!
For those who might not have ever heard of you, can you give us a brief history of the band and how it culminated into what it is now?
I had been a hired gun for years and developed some amazing friendships with incredible musicians along the way. I noticed that in an “off the cuff” environment, like sound check, the creativity and freedom really seemed to flow, but at times the gigs felt constricted. Therefore, the thesis of The Frst became very simple – play music that actually feels good to play, and have a blast doing it! That’s it. It should feel natural and inspired, but never forced. Everyone is sick of being sold some product as a “song”, as well as artists taking themselves so seriously, and in the end rehashing themes that have been beaten into the ground. We definitely had zero commercial expectations with The Frst, which ironically I think is what drew people into the project.
Where did the name The Frst come from?
Really, music IS The Frst. It’s the thing that gets us all out of bed in the morning and able to function like a human being. As for the spelling, freedom and fun were the goals here, so there was that “no I in team” mentality which for a one man band, at times, is a necessary reminder. All in all, when I decided to turn my solo project into a musical collective, The Frst was just too obvious to ignore.
I’m always genuinely curious about what artists want to convey to listeners with their music. You classify your sound as rock, but if you had to describe it without using genre names, how would you describe it?
We’d like it to convey real life as much as possible – dangerous, slinky, dirty, sexy, fun, conscious, maybe a little anxious at times. We’re all energetic people so you likely won’t find more than 1 ballad out of every 10 songs or so.
You guys are based in Nashville, which is typically known for its country music but is growing and expanding to include music of all genres. What has your experience creating music there been like? How has being surrounded by so much diverse music impacted the music you’re creating?
Great question! Nashville has really transcended the country format in a lot of ways; for example, on the larger scale, Jack White, Kings of Leon, The Black Keys and a ton of other rock bands have all setup camp here. Nashville is also very much the meeting point for collaborators from NY and LA, because of its affordability and obvious geographic convenience being located directly in between the two big music meccas. But make no mistake, big country still owns Nashville and probably will for a long time.
Let’s talk about your new single, “Cycles”. What’s the story behind this song?
I had this lyrical concept for a long time. Without being too cryptic about it, if you look closely, you’ll see our society and culture tends to follow cyclical patterns in terms of highs and lows and basically what’s hot and what’s not. There’s some math involved, some common sense, and some generational nostalgia, but also the natural evolution of time it takes for any entrepreneur, not just musician, to get inspired, develop technique, find a voice and then find an an audience. I’m writing about this process from a journalistic point of view.
Musically speaking, it was built around a guitar riff which eventually became the chorus and intro sections. The verses were sort of a stripped down version of this riff, where the drums carry the section and the vocals do a call and response type structure.
I always love hearing about the songwriting process so I was wondering if you could give me a glimpse into what it was like specifically for this song?
It was written in the studio, very unintentionally. After the response to our debut
“Another One”, where I was somewhat nervously playing all the instruments on the record myself, I was really encouraged about getting more creative with different arrangements. I wanted a follow up song that was fast and aggressive pretty much the whole time. Once the track was rocking, I knew it’d be a perfect backdrop for what I wanted to say lyrically.
Do you tend to write by yourselves or do you like collaborating with other writers and artists in co-writes?
I do love co-writing and have written a lot of singles for other artists, but currently with The Frst, I am writing all the material, at least for our debut album. It’s just too much fun, and again freedom was the name of the game with this project. The second album though is already written and roughly half of the songs on it were co-written.
Was there any major changes to “Cycles” that happened once you got into the recording studio, whether it be in the lyrics or something sonically?
It was actually written in the studio, but yes, the lyrics changed really up until we handed it off to James (Wisner – Paramore) to mix. The music was pretty fleshed out, and the vocal melodies and everything were present, so then it was sort of like fill in the gaps lyrically. Finding a balance between being too abstract and too literal is a hard one to find, so that required the most attention. Overall, it was just fun; I think listeners can feel that.
I know you guys have a run of new singles set for this summer. What can fans expect from them when they’re released?
Each single will be very different from the last one, as we’re painfully committed to evolution. The videos are just as important to us as the music, so every song gets a video. Quite honestly, even if listeners don’t enjoy the track, they all still seem to love the videos. We also have some really exciting collaborators from bands like Taking Back Sunday, Insane Clown Posse, and a whole lot more coming up in a few releases from now..
You guys are still relatively new to the music game. What are some music industry-related goals or benchmarks that you’re aiming to reach in the next couple of years?
Well, we’ve taken a short hiatus from touring to record full time, so Ideally growing our fan base to the point where writing for them is a full time focus. We have all been very blessed in this industry, but for the obvious reasons, the freedom of restrictions that comes with a passion project like this, is very different than a hired gun situation. We’re also working on a live video screen to enhance the shows with our videos, because again that’s an equal medium to us.
Last question — we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner nerd so what is something that you’re currently nerding out about?
What I am NOT nerding out about? [laughs] Algorithms and vinyl records (more of an addiction). I’ve continued studying drums and rhythm, which of course is all number based. Currently addicted to Joe Rogan’s podcast, and nerded out on the Elon Musk episode. More than anything else lately, though, was designing two vintage team uniforms for one of our upcoming videos.