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Reigning Sound is steeped in the sounds of Memphis

Greg Cartwright
Greg Cartwright

Greg Cartwright started the band Reigning Sound to get something out of his system.

After years in garage and punk bands like the Oblivians and the Compulsive Gamblers, Cartwright wanted to express a different side of his muse.

“I wanted to do something very subdued and melancholic,” he said, “something folk rock, introspective and atmospheric. I’d never had a platform for that kind of music.”

That was 13 years ago. In the time since, Reigning Sound has released five studio albums, including “Shattered,” which came out this year. With every album, Cartwright has tweaked the band’s sound, imbuing each album with what he grew up with in Memphis: rock, soul, R&B, country.

From his home in North Carolina, Cartwright, 42, recently talked to The Star about the music he grew up with, the city he grew up in and Reigning Sound, which will perform Friday at the RecordBar.

Talk about your upbringing and how it influenced your music tastes.

I discovered a lot of music through my dad and my grandmother. She had a great record collection. She raised four kids, three boys and a girl. They all grew up in the 1950s and were graduating in the late 1960s and they left all their records at her house.

I spent a lot of time there growing up, because both my parents worked. I listened to all those records. And then as I was growing up, my dad continued to collect LPs, and I was turned on to whatever he listened to.

And then I started going to garage sales looking for things connected to what I’d already been listening to. You reach a point when you’re a teenager or in junior high when you want to assimilate to what other kids are listening to. But I realized quickly that nobody knew the records I listened to, except for maybe the Beatles.

Most of what I listened to was off the beaten path. I tried to get into hardcore music and punk and other stuff people were listening to but most of it I didn’t get.

What compelled you to start Reigning Sound?

My punk band the Oblivians had folded. I did some other bands for a while but they petered out and I wanted to do something different.

So I found a drummer who eventually introduced me to a bass player. Then a friend of ours, Alex Greene, returned home after a study abroad. He joined and played keyboards and guitar and that was pretty much the final touch. We’d already had all the songs together and had been practicing when he came aboard and we pretty much went straight into the studio and recorded (“Break Up, Break Down”).

It was exactly what I wanted it to be. It did not rock in any way. I really needed to make it. It was like a palate cleanser. Once I got that out of my system, I wanted to start to reapply different elements of rock ’n’ roll and R&B to build it into this other thing.

After that your sound just kept evolving and changing from one album to the next.

Yeah, there was some moodiness on that next album (“Time Bomb High School”), but there was more rock ’n’ roll and pop and more R&B in places. Then the record that came after that (“Too Much Guitar”) was as aggressive as anything I’d done with the Oblivians but more dynamic.

The Oblivians had this very percussive, kind of silly, tongue-in-cheek punk aesthetic. On this record, I was looking to make something more dynamic and complex with the same aggressive approach but … like we really meant it.

After that record, the original band split and I moved to North Carolina. So I kind of started all over again. I found new players and found another dynamic to touch on.

What was the intent when you went into the studio to record “Shattered”?

On all of our records, we did covers of songs I’d heard by Memphis groups or written by Memphis songwriters. So there’s always a Memphis connection. It’s a sound I’m very in tune to, a very Memphis sound: a mix of R&B, soul, country.

This record is more rocking country and R&B sound, like Memphis in the mid-’60s — the American Sound Studio production. Like Charlie Rich in his Mercury period. It has the real stylized country sound I love. That’s what I was aiming for on this record.

Several years ago you had the opportunity to help produce and perform on a record by Mary Weiss of the Shangri-Las. What was that like?

Super fun. I was asked to submit some songs for an album she was thinking about making. She was leaning heavily toward songs I’d sent and she was told to listen to some of my other stuff. She became a fan of the band and said, “Maybe these guys can help me make this record.”

I was flattered and in awe. She’s one of the greatest.

To reach Timothy Finn, call 816-234-4781 or send email to


Greg Cartwright’s Reigning Sound performs Friday at the RecordBar, 1020 Westport Road. Spider Bags and the Josh Berwanger Band open at 9:45 p.m. Tickets are $14.