Content, Creation, Come-Up: Gregory R. Smith III ’25

Kobe Thompson ’24 sits down with Gregory R. Smith III ’25, a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter who has recently risen in popularity, to discuss his process and his journey as a self-made musician.

Content, Creation, Come-Up: Gregory R. Smith III ’25
Smith, whose unconventional style is "moody and spacious," is active in Amherst's community of student musicians. Photo courtesy of Eric Shelby.

“...So I sent him a screenshot of the Fantano tweet and I said, ‘Fuck you, look at me!’” Gregory R. Smith III ’25E is an outspokenly confident musician with many achievements under his belt. I had the opportunity to speak with Smith about the “Context” of his guitar-playing, the “Creation” of his live and recorded performances, and how he sees himself on the “Come Up,” as he gains more appreciation and recognition both online and on stage.

Going by “Suga Fingaz,” “Street Whisperer,” “He Who Stalks the Night and Devoureth Whole,” “Black Pinocchio,” or just “Greg,” Smith’s choice of name reflects his personal mix of humor, creativity, and defiance, traits that are emblematic of his music. “I think aliases are hilarious. Who’s going to tell me I can’t [have them]?”

Smith shows a particular love for the name “Suga Fingaz,” a suggestion that came from an Instagram poll nearly a year ago. The name sits firmly alongside Smith’s real name on his account, and has emblazoned posters and announcements for the various live performances he’s done.

A multi-instrumentalist, Smith says that his first love was the guitar. “My second semester of freshman year of high school I was dating a girl and she played the guitar. I was like, ‘Damn, I’m trying to impress shawty.’” An interest that outlived his relationship, Smith’s motivation to play guitar eventually changed, from wanting to be better than his sister at the guitar, to wanting to make music just for the sake of it.

“At 16 I wrote my first song, it was awful. I’m not even gonna tell you the name of it, but it’s out there.” Regardless, the song motivated Smith to play more and more, leading to songs he described as “Art Pop… Dream Pop… Bedroom Pop kinda stuff.” Greg’s musical progression was accompanied by consistent, four-hour-a-day practice sessions on the guitar and lessons that were available to him at the School of the Arts in Tacoma, Washington. “I took a really good theory class. I took audio recording, that’s how I learned how to mix as an engineer and set up mics. Then I took classical guitar which is also really important because it’s good for [technique].” And the extra time afforded to Smith during the Covid-19 pandemic gave him the opportunity to learn other instruments, such as the bass guitar and drums, and to master the art of mixing music. Smith admits that his virtuosity across multiple instruments was born out of impatience. “I don’t like doing everything myself. But I’m a very impatient person so I don’t want to wait for people to get shit back to me.”

Smith had more to say on his repertoire of self-taught instrumentation. “I’m always a guitarist, I will always have the most fun playing the guitar. Except sometimes I really like playing the drums and recently I got a killer bass … Once you know one [instrument], you kind of know them all.” He attributes his ability to learn to instruments to the patterns present in music, translating sounds between instruments, how the guitar voices a lick versus the bass. Listening, Smith notes, is also an important part of learning how to play. He explained his influences, which starts with “A lot of Neo-Soul. I was born in Philly in like 2002 and my parents were… going around listening to Erykah Badu, Jill Scott –concerts and all that.” Smith’s soulful playing, with emotional and at times mournful singing, highlights these inspirations. Through a strong emphasis on rhythm and a personal exploration of the Black struggle, Smith mixes R&B, soul, and funk in his music, following his stylistic admiration of artists and bands like Funkadelic, Jimi Hendrix, D’Angelo, and Lianne La Havas.

Smith’s style of music contains touches of all these genres but is still a far cry from sounding truly similar to these artists. “I suppose I didn’t strive to be unique, I suppose I ended up being unique. It’s not like I want to go around playing guitar like other people. But I wasn’t trying to play like myself, I was just trying to play the guitar and I knew how because I taught myself. I played by myself in my room for six years so it was nobody’s style, but the way that I came up with that works for me.”

Speaking from personal experience, Smith’s playing style is unorthodox, using hand positions and finger techniques that the average guitar instructor might frown upon. But Smith more than makes up for it with the inventiveness of his unique approach to the guitar. Since his days in his childhood bedroom, Smith elaborates on how his style has changed. “I went from, in 2018, emo music, which is really funny, to really laid back R&B with really big vocal stacks. Weirder harmony, crazier guitar solos, wider mixes, as well as a little more variance in song structure and funkier basslines. Crazier drums, if I had to guess. If I had to describe my style it would be moody and spacious.”

Songwriting is an integral part of Smith’s music, which provides him another avenue of expression. While capable of harnessing emotion with his stringed instruments, the ability to explicitly explore topics through lyrics is a muscle he enjoys flexing. “I like writing and I like the strength of language. I like figurative language, and for a while I was a big philosophy guy, a big poetry guy.” While Smith does get creative with his songwriting, he says “all of it is real.” It comes from a place deep inside him, experiences and emotions that are sincere regardless of an inevitable shuffling-around of events.

Smith also professes to have a predilection for live performances. “When I’m outside busking, I just play like I would play at home, but I get to turn my amp up louder.” Smith’s playing was a common sight on campus, in and around whatever dorm he’s living in. He also busks as a side hustle when he is back home in Seattle.

In the past few months, Smith has received a surge of support and appreciation for his work. He had the chance to play on stage with R.A.P. Ferreira (FKA Milo), an alt hip hop artist who is a personal favorite of both Gregory Smith and myself. Smith was pleased to have secured a follow from the artist on Instagram, prompted by a positive review in a retweet from popular music reviewer Anthony Fantano. “I was chilling in my room and I looked at my phone and I was like, ‘No way!’ But the Milo-follow happened because I’m a little asshole. I DM’d [Milo] before the Fantano tweet, but he didn’t respond but he read it, because he’s reachable. So I sent him the screenshot of the Fantano tweet and I said, “Fuck you, look at me!” and then he followed me. While Smith didn’t notice an uptick in listeners, he was happy with “all the positive feedback. People telling me they really liked [my music]. That means more than any amount of plays.”

But Smith says he doesn’t do it for the recognition. “I don’t make songs for other people to like, but I do make songs and I would like to be heard.” Above all else, Gregory Smith is grateful for all the support he gets, maintaining a humility and self-awareness that stood out to me. “I receive positive feedback, and it feels like I did something right. I’ll just bite the bullet when I receive negative feedback. I always take it into account, because I want my own expression of myself to be as good as it can be.”

Smith takes this negative feedback seriously, and is always searching for problems within his own music. “I critique myself a lot. I will listen to a song I made that day [for the rest of the] day, and the following four days, literally the only thing I’ll listen to and I’ll keep tweaking it. It’s a really arduous process but I enjoy it.” He also holds the opinions of his good friends close, noting his friend Ryan, a “snob” who’s also “really shy. He doesn’t know what advice to give that’s positive, he only ends up giving negative advice.”

Putting this to good use, Smith elaborates on the process of actually making songs and entire projects. He likes to gather ideas for a song, basic sonic cues like bass lines, drums, and melodies that he loops. He continues with improvisation over the loops until he finds something that feels right. To me, this technique makes his recordings and their subsequent live performances feel like bolts of lightning captured in a bottle, small moments of time that represent immediate events yet paradoxically feel so timeless. “It works itself out because the timing in which I made [these songs] is how I was feeling for that period of time. It’s a genuine reflection of myself. I make music in bursts or a very long continuous lot of songs.”

At the time of this interview, Smith has one released project so far, “Weight in Gold,” which can be found on all streaming platforms. He shared his feelings about the project and its reception. “[I felt] very good because I knew it was killer. The EP was done for 2 weeks to a month before I turned it in. I was listening to it that whole time and I really liked it. Despite his years of experience as a musician, Smith’s delay in releasing more music is split between apprehension — “I was scared to put out an EP before because I criticize myself too much” — and a self-admitted laziness. “I really could be releasing so much music — I’m just lazy. I make the songs and I just, [laughs].” While he has the desire to release his music, Smith confesses that his true desire is to make the music. All of the other aspects of the sharing process are a necessary evil. “I’m really bad at promoting my [music]. I’m telling you, I’m so lazy. If all I had to do was make music, that is all I would do.”

As a self-made artist, Smith had some things to say about the beginnings of learning how to make music like he does. “Why not? If you want to, do it. That’s all it has to be. Listen a lot, play a lot if you want to be good. It’s about how much time you put in. I don’t think talent is a real thing, quite frankly. I think that if talent is anything, it’s the amount of dedication you naturally have towards the task.” That dedication can be “split among different things” as development continues, like how Greg started solely with the guitar but has accumulated more skills:  producing for himself and others, song writing, learning the drums, and playing the bass with an increasing number of strings. He views the release of his first EP, “Weight in Gold,” as a milestone in the timeline of his sonic development. Smith emphasizes that these improvements are not a result of anything unique to himself, but stemming from his many hours of practice and a dedication to pushing his own boundaries, even when it feels difficult to venture into new territory. “You just have to listen to stuff you didn’t listen to before, and you steal ideas from other songs.” Smith finds a lot of value in being able to inherit things from one’s surroundings, taking inspiration from all sorts of things.

If the past and present of Smith’s work has looked promising, his musings on the future of his music are even more expansive and forward-moving. At the time of this article, Smith is producing an album for Alex Russell ’23, an artist I interviewed previously on 3C’s. Smith is a part of the N.O. Collective alongside Russell, a group that features a diversity of styles from Amherst artists. Smith’s involvement is as a solo artist, but he also puts his mixing and mastering skills to use to aid in the production of others’ projects. Smith has played several smaller gigs at local venues in Seattle, and frequently performs original pieces at Coffee Haus in Marsh Arts House. Alongside Zavier Cordell, a good friend from home, Smith has formed a two-man band named “Da Truth” (on Instagram which released the single “Bravado” on all streaming platforms. Smith’s music can be found on all platforms as Gregory R. Smith III. You can find extra snippets and early versions of songs on his Instagram @gthreetimes or his TikTok @g.whiz. Cordell’s handle is @Zavedawave on Instagram, and aside from being lauded by Smith as “The best drummer and producer I’ve ever met,” when asked for what artists he wants to shout out, Smith emphasized his appreciation for Cordell. Knowing Smith, this endorsement comes straight from the heart.