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The Gregory Brothers—Auto-Tuning the pulse of the nation
YouTube’s premier family band talks politics, side projects, and making viral videos out of “threads of conversation that are floating through the universe.”
Do the Gregory Brothers hope that this year’s presidential campaign will yield some top-line fodder for their signature franchise?
The short answer: “Yes.” The long answer is actually quite political.
“Our hope and our dream is that some of the rhetoric and politicking that we can look forward to over the remainder of this year will provide some sort of lyrical structure for some songs that could be coming out in the next couple months,” Evan Gregory, the family band’s eldest and herein most diplomatic member, told the Daily Dot.
The Gregory Brothers—brothers Andrew, Michael, Evan, and the latter’s wife, Sarah—know the power of an action-packed political season. Four years ago, the presidential race between John McCain and Barack Obama inspired the New York City group’s YouTube breakthrough, the indescribably original Auto-Tune the News.
Since then, the Gregory Brothers have grown from an Internet phenomenon to almost a household name. The group headlined YouTube’s 2011 DigiTour, premiered an original piece at the 2011 Academy Awards, collaborated with the New York Times, and produced online videos that have received more than 100 million views. They are bonafide superstars in the YouTube community and have every Republican and Democrat who’s grabbed a microphone throughout this administration to thank.
“We have very perverse incentives when it comes to the political process,” Evan said. “We’re really rooting for those guys out there that aren’t necessarily the best policy makers but rather have the most hilarious voices.
“Great potential figures really do cross the partisan divide. It can seem unbalanced, but it’s really about the source material. We were excited about how long Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum stayed in the race, because they’re both such great lyricists. Newt Gingrich had long ago established himself as one of the hall of fame singers from Auto-Tune the News.”
Now that Mitt Romney has all but sured up the Republican nominee, the Brothers are looking forward to turning their attention towards the recently mum Democratic party—though youngest brother Michael told the New York Times last August that the incumbent Barack Obama is not exactly the easiest to turn into song. (“He’s just. So. Thoughtful,” he said.)
“We have been hoping to produce an Obama companion piece to that video we did with Mitt Romney a few months back,” Evan said. “At the time, the theme of that song made Romney’s penchant for liking things jump out to us, but that’s because Romney was hot on the campaign trail at the time.
“President Obama has not necessarily been in that mode lately, but now that the campaign is heating up, we’re hoping that we can include President Obama in something. If not a duet, then definitely a solo piece.”
That piece, along with any other Auto-Tune the News segments the Gregory Brothers may produce between now and November, could wind up being the foremost exposure that YouTube’s younger viewers—the ones who consider Rhett and Link and viral videos must-see TV—get of the 2012 election process. And thus, the Gregory Brothers’ material becomes just as much about the education as it does about the entertainment.
“We would never think that we’re providing comprehensive coverage of what’s going on in the world and in the media, but there is some aspect of, we like to capture a moment or an issue,” Evan said. “If we can successfully create a catchy song or a catchy chorus out of a topic or a speech, because music is so culturally important, it can introduce that political topic to a totally new audience.
“I don’t want to inflate our importance, because ultimately what we’re doing is fun, but there are some cases out there where kids or teenagers who were not engaged have been introduced to political figures or issues that they otherwise wouldn’t encounter.”
The Gregory Brothers can’t control the news they dissect. They can only control how Auto-Tuned that news may get. And for that reason, the group are not so much political pundits as they are court jesters: bringing a laugh to the crowd while managing to bring the pulse of the nation to light.
One thing the Gregory Brothers can control is the original works they put out through various other channels, both on the Web and off. All four members were active musicians before they struck gold at the knobs of an Antares Audio Technologies plug-in.
They’ve performed and toured in various groups—including Sarah and Evan’s Sarah & the Stanleys, whom I had the pleasure of seeing debut the melody of “Double Rainbow Song,” a song with 30 million views, at New York City’s Rockwood Music Hall in June 2010—and they’ve made efforts to ensure that those ventures can continue amidst the mounting views to their “Schmoyoho” channel. Most recently, middle brother Andrew released a covers EP that includes remakes of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Only Living Boy in New York,” Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” and Lana Del Ray’s “Video Games.”
“All four of us are musicians from different genres for some time, and we’re going to continue to pursue a lot of other projects and tab them alongside everything that we’ve done,” Gregory said.
“Because we have this thing online, it provides you as a musician or artist with such a great platform. Even if only one percent of the people following Auto-Tune the News really like what Andrew’s doing, that’s still a great stepping stone for building an audience.”
Such outlets are essential to the betterment of the Gregory Brothers’ operation, one that’s growing more and more administrative by the minute. Evan said that a typical Gregory Brothers day includes nearly as much paperwork as it does songwriting.
“Because it’s turned into a real enterprise, there’s definitely time when we get together and do officey things and try to be diligent about the business side of things,” he said.
“But mostly, we sit around and make jokes, bounce ideas off each other, and try to create melodies out of these threads of conversation that are floating through the universe.”
Sound like fun? Take it from the eldest Gregory himself.
“It ain’t digging ditches.”
Photo via The Gregory Brothers/Facebook
Chase Hoffberger reported on YouTube, web culture, and crime for the Daily Dot until 2013, when he joined the Austin Chronicle. Until late 2018, he served as that paper’s news editor and reported on criminal justice and politics.