Before Billy Norris could even get out of school to start the often long, arduous search for a job, he landed an amazing gig with Gavin DeGraw. Billy’s responsibilities with Gavin DeGraw have continued to grow for the last 8+ years. Learn more below and get a nice look at Billy Norris’s pedalboard.
What kind of pedalboard is this, and what is your signal path?
This is the same Pedaltrain PT-Pro that I’ve been using for the last eight years. It’s yet to fail me and holds up like a tank. The signal path is:
Peterson StroboStomp 2, JHS Pulp ‘N’ Peel, Boss OC-3, JHS SuperBolt, Jetter Red Shift, Jetter Gold Standard, Fulltone Full-Drive 2, Ernie Ball VP JR, Strymon Mobius, Eventide TimeFactor, Strymon BigSky, Category 5 A/B/Y switcher. Separately, there is a Morningstar Engineering MC6 MIDI controller that runs into the TimeFactor, thru to the BigSky, and thru to the Mobius. There is a separate Boss TU-3 that is used for my acoustic line, and sent to an Avalon U5.
You are not only playing guitar with Gavin DeGraw—you are also his musical director. Can you tell us what you do as a musical director?
As Gavin’s musical director, I’m responsible for anything and everything that has to do with the actual performance of his songs. I conceptualize our live shows, write arrangements, manage and edit our playback rig, rehearse the band, and interface with the record label and management to make sure that we are always representing his music and vision the way he wants it done. Gavin gives me a lot of creative freedom within the context of our shows, and trusts that I will always be bringing new ideas to him. As an artist, he’s extremely talented, but he doesn’t always know the technical terms for what it is he wants to hear, or how he wants something to sound. It’s my job to act almost as his translator, and manifest his ideas into something we can put in front of a crowd. It’s an exciting challenge, and it keeps me very engaged.
How did you decide to pursue being a musical director?
I didn’t really decide to pursue it, per se—it kind of pursued me. I’ve been working with Gavin since the end of 2008, and after a few years on the road with him, I kind of naturally fell into that role. I have a formal musical education (from Manhattan School of Music in NYC, with a jazz background), so that has kind of helped prepare me for some of the unexpected challenges we’ve faced. For example, last year, we did a month-long festival residency in Europe with a full symphony orchestra accompanying us, and we had to work with the orchestral arrangers to find the right way to represent his music in that setting. Fun stuff!
You are in the studio right now working on some new Gavin DeGraw tunes. Can you give us a little insight in how your recording process works?
We actually just finished the new record! It’s called Something Worth Saving and will be released on RCA Records on September 9th. As far as my role goes, I was involved fairly early on in the process, tracking and engineering demos for a few of the songs (one of which was actually the title track of the record). After Gavin writes and produces the majority of the songs, I will usually come in to the studio to add some little things here and there. Guitar overdubs usually happen fairly late in the game, and it’s all about finding the little spots to add some color or texture that may not be there already. It sounds so played out to say this, but less really IS more in the studio.
You play some massive venues. What are some things that you do to make sure your shows are flawless?
Honestly, I have very little to do with it. We have a fantastic crew that really takes care of every little thing for us. My tech, Darrin Gagliarducci, is a gentleman and a scholar. He stays one step ahead of any problems that could arise, and he listens to my mix on a set of in-ears so he can hear if something’s amiss even if he has his back turned. Our FOH guy, Mitch Vanhoose, is an audio wizard as well, so between the two of them, I rarely have anything to worry about, whether we’re playing for 200 people, or playing at Fenway Park.
How do you utilize your Strymon gear in the studio and on stage with Gavin DeGraw?
My BigSky is one of those pedals that I never ever turn off. I have a setting for a short plate reverb that is one of my always-on settings. Situationally, I’ll use some of the more colorful ambient verbs for effect, but that pedal is a workhorse. I’ve also used it in the studio as a buss reverb return for vocals and instruments sent from my DAW (I work in Logic). There are some reverbs in there (particularly the Cloud algorithm) that I’ve literally never heard in ANY plugin or hardware device before. That’s incredibly useful to me. Also, I use the Mobius primarily for storing time-synced tremolo, and that incredible Leslie emulation. The stuff just can’t be beat.