As musicians go, Michael Gross is a bit of a late bloomer. He didn't play music or harbor rock and roll aspirations as a kid growing up in Salt Lake City. He sang in his school choir for a year, but recalls that it “wasn't really for him.” Mostly the self-proclaimed jock played sports, eventually earning a scholarship to play junior college basketball in Walla Walla, Washington.
It was here he realized that as a five foot ten white guy, his chances of being drafted into the NBA were slim at best. He thus turned his attention to music. “It was a surprise,” he says, “when I realized I was good.”
Not just good, but legitimately talented, with a penchant for guitar and a voice that's equal parts Julian Casablancas and early Bono. Post-college Gross, now 31, honed his skills, spending five years with his group The Brobecks before recording a solo album, Tales From a Country Home, in 2008. From this project grew his current act Michael Gross and the Statuettes.
With tendencies towards rock and roll both anthemic and wistful, Gross found his group's sound a bit out of place in Salt Lake, a small market music scene still largely dominated by post-grunge bros. “The bands that draw the best crowds are the partiers and the people that have the most friends,” Gross says. “It's a lot of 'YEAAHHH! Let's rock and ROLL!'”
Gross and the Statuettes' sound is a bit more subtle than a Friday night of beer-soaked Creed covers. The group's sophomore LP Sunset Beach, out last week, is straightforward rock packed with rich melodies and contemplative lyrics. With the album, Gross aimed to make a cohesive collection of tracks that captured the realization that his destiny may not be rock and roll fame, despite efforts like repeatedly driving the 700 miles from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles in order to develop the group's big city fanbase.
“When you form a band, you have certain goals you'd like achieve and you work hard to achieve them,” Gross says. “Sunset Beach is about getting older that facing the fact that sometimes dreams don't come true. It's about considering what I'm going to do if music doesn't work out.”
It's a valid question for Gross and the legion of similarly talented but relatively unknown acts faced with booking their own shows, playing for no money, scrambling for studio time and other less than sexy practical concerns involved with being an indie rock upstart. “The reality,” Gross says, “is that you're paying for your own gas.”
Gross recalls a recent gig at Seattle's Conor Byrne Pub: The bar was packed. The band was on. The crowd was into it. The next night at another Seattle venue, but no one — not one person — showed up to see them play.
Though by day Gross is a special needs teacher in Salt Lake, he says he can see himself falling back on education. But, of course, that's not actually what he wants. “I don't have any aspirations to have, like, Maroon 5 level commercial success, but I'd love to be able to write, record music, play shows, tour — make ends meet doing that.”
And what of his family and friends in Salt Lake, most of whom are married with children and nine to five stability? “They're supportive and they always have been, but I don't think they really understand everything that's involved in this. People will say, 'Oh Michael has a fun little garage band that he plays in.' Some people look at it like a side hobby. To us it's a lot more than that.”
Michael Gross and the Statuettes play the Silverlake Lounge tonight, August 20 at 9pm along with The Pocket Rockets and East of the River. “It's a free show.” Gross says. “You've got nothing to lose.”