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Getting To Know:
Bill Binkelman, 53, has been writing about, reviewing, and interviewing artists in contemporary instrumental music genres since 1997 when he launched the grass roots 'zine, Wind and Wire. Through the years that followed, his reviews have also appeared on various websites and in other publications.

Bill began reviewing for New Age Reporter in winter of 2006. When he's not working at a small private university in St. Paul or buried in his reviewers' thesaurus, he enjoys spending time with his partner, Kathryn Heinze, and their black-lab mix Mamie in a quiet residential neighborhood of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His other passions include cooking and the Green Bay Packers.

Other Getting To Know::
Getting To Know: Peter Buffett, Jul. 2009
Getting To Know: Jeff Pearce, Oct. 2008
Getting To Know: Wayne Gratz, Jul. 2008
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Bill Binkelman
Getting To Know: Wayne Gratz
July 2008
During my eleven-plus years of reviewing music, I've seen more than a few "one hit wonders," i.e. talented artists who release one or two good recordings and then disappear, either out of frustration that they didn't "make it" or maybe they just realized that this wasn't meant to be for them. Then there are the artists who have been persevered, having first emerged during the early years of contemporary instrumental/new age music, weathering the vagaries and ups and downs of both the genre and the industry in general. Pianist/keyboardist Wayne Gratz is one such artist. Releasing his first album (Reminiscence) in 1989 on one of the eminent labels of the era, Narada, Gratz wasted little time in carving out his own niche, stamping his many albums with his unique style, Avoiding the more typical solo piano music of his contemporaries, he sometimes fleshed out his compositions with both synthesizers and occasional accompanists. Like many artists have done in recent years, he has launched his own label on which he has released his newest CD, Light Lands and Shoreline, an album inspired by the paintings of Thomas Kinkade. The following interview was conducted via email.

Wayne Gratz
Bill: Let's set the way back machine for1989. Talk a little about how you came to be one of the first artists on the Narada label. Did you contact them or did they contact you and, if so, how did they find you?
Wayne: I originally sent Narada Records a cassette tape with 3 songs. I heard from them about 5 days later and they asked me to send more songs. I didn't really have another demo to send them so I had to do some quick composing and recording. At the thought of getting a record deal, I was inspired to start writing a lot of music. After about 3 months and 12 songs later, they signed me to a 7 album deal.
Bill: What was it like to be there "at the beginning" when the "new age" (or whatever you wish to call it) music genre was launched and enjoyed its era of widest popularity?
Wayne: Actually, I would have liked to have seen more. I felt as though I may have been a little late. At the time, there were so many releases coming out of the Narada label, I think the promotion budgets where spread too thin. As far as getting my music out there for people to listen too, it was the best thing that ever happened my career.
Bill: There was a three year gap between Panorama and Follow Me Home. What was going on during that time? Were you doing other things, e.g. touring, or was it something not related to the music?
Wayne: I'm not sure why Narada waited so long. I think it was probably a scheduling issue. At that point, there were a lot of artist on the release schedule.
Bill: Follow Me Home is one of my favorite albums, not just of yours but it's among my personal faves in my entire collection. For me, it has a different sound than most of your other music. "Southlands," "The Water Song," "The Lighthouse" and "The Dancer" are all quite uptempo and cheery all embellished with electronic keyboards. It's not that there arenít some lively songs on, e.g. Blue Ridge ("Pathway to Waterrock") but a lot of Follow Me Home is almost closer to instrumental pop (and I mean that in the best possible sense of the word). Was this intentional or did these uptempo tunes just emerge on this particular album by chance?
Wayne: I wanted this album to be a little different than the previous ones. I definitely had a more pop sound in mind. I'd grown up playing pop rock music, so I thought it would be nice to integrate a new age and pop style.
Bill: I mentioned in my review of Light Land and Shoreline that I think Follow Me Home, Blue Ridge, and A Gift of the Sea may be the best three consecutive recordings ever released by any artist in the instrumental piano genre. I guess Iím curious what your take is on my assessment (modesty be damned!) and if you felt at the time that you were on a creative roll.
Wayne: Thanks, that is a wonderful compliment. At that point in time I had found a different way of composing. I guess it was due to the fact that Narada advanced me the funds to put a studio in my house. This gave me the opportunity to record and keep all my improvisations. I had a lot of songs, let's say in the back of my mind, that I didnít know about. To be able to record at any time during the day, month or year was great. So, I would say, the addition of my home studio opened a lot of channels for me. ".. the addition of my home studio opened a lot of channels for me."

- Wayne Gratz
Bill: What happened in 1997 to divert you from recording originals to releasing four straight "cover tune" albums? Was it motivated more by declining sales in the genre or did you want to take a break from writing your own music for awhile or was it something else instead?
Wayne: That was a Narada idea. At the time, I thought it would be a challenge and a good way to diversify.
Bill: There was another gap in your discography between your last Narada release (A Place Without Noise) and the first recording from your own label (Sleepy Baby Suite). Can you talk a little about your reasons for leaving Narada and why you chose to start your own label rather than try to get signed to another one instead? I imagine the dynamics of the music industry played a part, right?
Wayne: After the release of "A Place Without Noise", my contract was up and Narada was being sold to "Blue Note", a jazz label. I did approach other labels, however they all seemed to be in the same situation, a declining market. My girlfriend Kyra and I were rollerblading one day and she suggested that I compose a lullaby album. So I did. We did not have a record label to promote it to, so we started one. "Wayne Gratz Music".
Bill: Let's turn our attention to your latest release, Light Lands and Shoreline. Did Thomas Kinkade (the painter whose work is the inspiration for the music on the CD) reach out to you or was it the opposite? Are you a fan of his artwork (I would assume so, of course)?
Wayne: The Kinkade project came about through a friend of Kyra's family who was friends with someone at a company in Seattle called Gallery Player. They create HD DVD's for high definition TV's. The contact at Gallery Player was familiar with my music and thought it would work well with the Thomas Kinkade DVD. I found that viewing the paintings on my laptop, while composing, was very inspiring.
Bill: The song titles sound like the actual titles to paintings. Is that the case or are they merely inspired by the paintings themselves? On a sidenote, do you title a song after you compose it or the other way around?
Wayne: The titles come from what I see in the paintings as well as the music. I think on this particular album the music came first, however, that's not always the case. Many times a title will come first.
Bill: Unlike some of your contemporaries in the genre, you don't record only solo piano pieces but also employ electronic keyboards (quite adeptly, I might add) and you sometimes use accompanists as well (as you did to great effect on Blue Ridge). Personally, I love that about your music. What prompted you to go against the grain (a statement I make based on how many more solo piano submissions I receive versus the style of music you record) and take this route rather than the more traditional solo piano path?
Wayne: I've always liked working with synthesizers and I usually hear more than just piano. I have also enjoyed working with other people on my projects. They often offer a different prospective that adds to the music.
Bill: Okay, time for my version of "Twenty Questions" which is the part of the interview where I ask artists the same questions in each interview. Here goes:

What would you be doing if you were NOT playing music professionally?
Wayne: I would probably be involved in software design.
Bill: What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do as well as the least satisfying/most stressful part?
Wayne: The most rewarding, being given the opportunities to share my music. The least satisfying and stressful, the business end.
Bill: Who has played the biggest role or who had the most profound influence on your life, both in general and, if it's someone different, on your music career?
Wayne I would have to say my parents. As a child, I was always given the opportunity to follow my passions. As far as my music career, if it wasn't for the Narada Records and the people there, I would never have written and published so much music.
Bill: Lastly, what is your highest aspiration for your music, i.e. what level of success and how would you define success for yourself personally?
Wayne: I would like to be involved in composing for movie soundtracks. My personal definition of success: playing and composing music as a livelihood.
Bill: Wrapping things up, what looms ahead for you, both in the immediate future and looking down the road?
Wayne: I plan to perform in more concerts and continue to compose more albums.
Bill: Finally, to quote the character, Bear Claw (played by Will Geer) from one of my favorite movies, Jeremiah Johnson: "You've come far, pilgrim. Were it worth the trouble?" So, has it been worth it for you so far?
Wayne: I've always said to myself, I will always be a musician, where ever it takes me, so be it. And yes, it has all been worth it!
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