Internet sensations the Gregory Brothers Auto-Tune the world

EntertainmentMusicArts and CultureMedia IndustryJoe BidenYouTubeUniversity of Hartford

There's a passage at the end of "Auto-Tune the News #4," one of the Gregory Brothers' slightly less popular videos (it's been viewed roughly 750k times, compared with 30 million views of their "Double Rainbow Song"), when former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is arguing with Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., over regulating Jacuzzis.

"This bill actually has the secretary of energy regulating Jacuzzis," croons auto-tuned Newt, his airy tenor outlining an undulating, minor-key recitative melody. He continues: "Now the idea strikes me as close to being nuts."

The Angry Gorilla, one of the Gregorys' recurring characters (he plays Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., in this clip), initially agrees with Gingrich: "I agree, I'm an angry gorilla, and that makes me angry."

Inslee retorts, and the gorilla is torn: Who to side with? He buckles. The music breaks down. He sings a descending, wordless, auto-tuned embellishment, rising to ask, "What's this? A single tear that is wet that I shed." Another wordless flourish. "When an angry gorilla cries... [the music picks up again] … who's gonna be there to dry his eyes?" The aria goes on for another 40 seconds, then the credits roll.

"Every single one has one tiny moment that we love," said Evan Gregory, by phone from the Gregory Brothers office in Brooklyn, where the quartet — brothers Evan, Andrew and Michael and Evan's wife Sarah — crank out hit after Internet hit.

Originally from Radford, Va., the brothers — and Sarah, who's from San Antonio, Texas — started making videos in 2008, when Michael was a production intern. The first "Auto-Tune the News," posted on YouTube in April of 2008, was featured on Rachel Maddow's MSNBC show and was subsequently picked up by the YouTube channel Barely Political. Dozens of viral videos and millions of views later, the Gregorys are an Internet smash. They'll be in town on March 13 to deliver a Humanities Center Lecture at the University of Hartford, talking about how they've managed to piece together intelligent, complex music, social media marketing, technical know-how, an unshakable grasp of current events, and (of course) humor.

But the Angry Gorilla moment in "ATTN #4," for Evan, is a deep cut, a little-known moment that inspires genuine pleasure when revisited. "It's an extended cadenza that we've started calling the 'Angry Gorilla's Lament,' informally around the office. As people are getting angry about how to regulate Jacuzzis, this is so distressing to the gorilla that it becomes a cadenza of sorts."

Even though they work in video, the Gregory Brothers primarily think of themselves as a struggling, grass-roots musical group (music-nerd words like "cadenza," a virtuosic passage usually found at the end of a classical movement, and "lament" give it away). "We all grew up playing music," Evan said. "Both Michael and I have degrees in music. Andrew has the most live touring music experience as a solo folk artist. But we've all played live with a ton of bands."

Although they've worked hard to master the technical tools of their trade, what hooks people is the quality of the music; the Gregorys appear in their videos, creating new characters and lyrics around the words of the unintentional singers, adding editorial voices and shaping the musical structure. "ATTN#4," for example, is a collaboration between the Gregorys, Messrs. Gingrich and Inslee, Rep. Henry Waxman, CBS news anchor Katie Couric, Vice President Joe Biden, MSNBC personality Joe Scarborough and a few other unknowing Internet stars. It wouldn't make sense without the Gregorys' contributions.

"It's something we think is fun and interesting," Evan said. "We can help craft the perfect chorus or verse. If you think of the great songwriting teams — Gershwin and Gershwin, Gilbert and Sullivan, Elton John and Bernie Taupin — there were always two partners. In our case it could be Gregory and Biden, Gregory and Gingrich... I'd really like to see Gingrich and Biden... That man, Biden, has a silver throat."

A number of factors go into what the quartet will work on next. "There is an element of 'How timely is this?' The more timely it is, the more people will want to search for it," Evan said. "But there's also the element of what we think is fun and interesting. There might be a story or a news item that's catchy that didn't become a blip on the national radar. We might sit on something like that for a while before we use it." As the GOP primary race lumbers on and election season approaches, the Gregorys will most likely have their hands full.

"When Newt Gingrich won the primary in South Carolina," Evan said, "we got excited around the office. We were looking forward to him releasing a number of singles. Our incentives are aligned in a very strange way." In terms of who's left in the field, Evan said, "Gingrich is the particular favorite, not only for his outstanding lyrical work but also because he has a particularly sonorous voice." And although his chances of winning the GOP nod are slim, Ron Paul is another go-to character they won't have to part with anytime soon. "Even if he doesn't go on in the race," Evan said, "he's in a singular position to continue and make speeches, just because of the nature of his stature and his message."

There are a few ways to piece together a living from this (true of anyone who is trying to make a living as a musician): selling of songs on iTunes, live performances, people watching YouTube videos with ads on the side of the clips (though not so much for the Gregorys, who work from copyright-bound materials). These five or six revenue trickles, Evan said, add up to "one medium-sized rivulet."

At the University of Hartford appearance, audience members will get to ask questions about the process behind the videos. Although they haven't done too many speaking engagements, the Gregorys really enjoy the lecture-based format. "We've done some touring behind our videos and original music, and that's a ton of fun, to have fans come out and see us in person and sing along," Evan said. "That's a really great thing to do. But we found out by meeting fans that there is this appetite for how this is done."

"In some cases," Evan continued, "it's almost a discussion format, where fans just ask questions about how we do it. We mostly want to share some of our experience. We'll share video clips from the vault and talk about them, share insights about what it means to be creative online. We will still always do musical performances for sure, but the lecture style: that connection is really fun for us."

Things haven't changed much for the siblings, although occasionally they will get recognized in public. "Someone will come up to you and say, 'You are strange, but I respect you,' for example," Evan said. "More often we'll be walking in the mall and someone will yell, 'Double rainbow!'"


Humanities Center Lecture: The Gregory Brothers

March 13, 7:30 p.m., free, Wilde Auditorium, University of Hartford, 200 Bloomfield Ave., West Hartford, (860) 768-4100, hartford.edu

 

Related:  The Gregory Brothers' 13 Most Popular Videos

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