One summer night, Marty Gray casually walked into a Marquette bar and unexpectedly experienced a life-changing conversation with a random stranger.
The Ann Arbor indie pop artist, multi-instrumentalist and producer went to Flanigan’s Bar with high school friends to sing karaoke and decided to get a drink. Right away, a 36-year-old regular sitting at the bar started chatting with Gray.
“This whole conversation happened the summer before the pandemic. We went on a Wednesday, and there were maybe four people there. This guy says, ‘You have a great voice. Where are you from?’ I said, ‘I’m from Ann Arbor, but I grew up here, and I just wanted to see what this bar was all about,” said Gray about that infamous night in 2019.
“For the next half an hour, the guy starts telling me everything he’s thinking about. His demeanor was friendly and non-weighted. He didn’t present the information like he was suffering or in a bad spot. It was literally, ‘Hey dude, this is what I’m doing. As long as you’re gonna listen, I’ll just keep telling you.”
The regular told Gray about missed opportunities and regrets in his life, including breaking up with his fiancée, being stuck in an unsatisfying job, longing for the carefree days of his youth and feeling scared about the future.
“He clearly felt like he had missed his life, and it was too late for him to experience those early thirties things that all his friends had experienced. The whole conversation left me in a very different mood. It was really nonchalant, but really heavy,” Gray said.
For some reason, that 30-minute interaction resonated with Gray and later served as the inspiration behind his soulful, introspective concept album, The Regular. It beautifully recounts that memorable conversation and glides through the regular’s experiences, preoccupations, choices and uncertainties.
“The whole very human thing that hit me so hard in the gut was that mentality. This guy had been backed into a corner so many times in the last 10 years of his life, and he was in such a desolate, horrible spot where he was just drinking alone at the bar every night or with a couple of friends,” Gray said.
“There’s something about the way he was talking about leaving and the way he was talking about changing something. The whole sentiment was human and on the same wavelength as a fight-or-flight response. You can either lie down and die or give up, or you can make a drastic change.”