Already The Stars' DJ, Grubes Now DJs For The Mavericks, Too. What's His Plan? We Asked.
Coming off a completely winless pre-season, your Dallas Mavericks kick off their 2015-16 campaign tonight in Phoenix with the first game in a three-game road trip. As for their first home game of the year? That won't come until next Tuesday, November 3.
For many a Dallasite, that game next week will serve as their first real, in-person look at new acquisitions like Wes Matthews, Deron Williams, Zaza Pachulia and JaVale McGee. The team's also added retro green and fan-designed blue skyline alternate jerseys to its rotation this year, too.
Less noticeable, perhaps, is a big change coming off the court: Following the the tragic passing of beloved Mavs DJ Whiz T last season, the team's brought on Dallas Stars music director and former KTCK 1310-AM The Ticket board operator Michael “Grubes” Gruber to handle its integral game presentation duties.
Ahead of his first regular season game as the official Dallas Mavericks DJ, we caught up with Grubes to find out what to expect at Mavs games this year, and how a good playlister can give a team a real home court advantage.
First of all, can you tell us how you landed the Mavs gig?
Unfortunately, it came about because DJ Whiz T, who'd been the Mavs DJ since 2007, passed away last February. The team planned on keeping him on board for as long as he wanted it because he was so good and easy to work with. So I hadn't even considered the possibility prior to that. Scott Powers, who had previously DJ'd for the team before becoming their full-time IT guy, took over the rest of the season but elected not to continue past that due to his aforementioned job, plus a young family. When Scott made it known he wouldn't continue, I started hearing from friends with the team that the Mavs might be interested in me. In August, Jonathan Kornblith, the Mavs' creative/game day director, contacted me and asked me to come in and interview with him and Steve Letson, the VP of operations and arena development. It went really well and we got along great, and I got the official offer a couple weeks later.
Between the Mavs, Stars and RoughRiders, is in-stadium music directing your full-time thing these days?
Not to bog, but I don't actually DJ for the RoughRiders — my buddy DJ EJ (Erik Jorgensen), who also DJs for the Cowboys, does. I'm more of a human mascot with the RoughRiders. Come see me on Thursday home games for Groovy Grubesday/Thirsty Thursday! Having said that, the three teams do keep me pretty busy. But I also do freelance audio work for Fox Sports Southwest on most nights I'm not working games. So I now have four part-time/freelance jobs somehow. Wouldn't have expected all this when I left The Ticket, but I wouldn't have it any other way!
How do you plan on filling Whiz T's shoes?
I can't think about it like that. Whiz was absolute greatness at the job and, like I said, he had the job for as long as he wanted it. I'm only in this position because of very unfortunate circumstances. So I try not to see it as filling his shoes. I'm just trying to do this job in such a way that hopefully would make him proud. We'd been friends since he took over the Mavs position, and I sent him drops while I was at The Ticket. When I took over the Stars position, he was one of the first to contact me to not only congratulate me, but also to show me how to use the music system, as both teams share the same audio computer. I can't thank him enough for everything he's done for me, so this whole situation is very bittersweet.
How did working with the Stars prepare you for this job?
I'd never DJ'd a live sporting event — or anything else — before the Stars gig. I learned how to read a crowd and how to use the dynamics and styles of songs to bring the energy up and down as warranted to make the big moments more powerful.
By that same token, how did working at The Ticket prepare you for the Stars gig?
It certainly helped me develop my timing, both in terms of quickness and context. Shows on The Ticket and games both move really quickly. I have to pay full attention to what's happening in real time, while also thinking ahead of what could happen next and being ready to act on it. It's a very weird mental state that I never would have developed without The Ticket!
How much leeway do you have in picking songs? Will there be a more local presence at Mavs games this year, much like there has been at Stars games in recent years?
I can bring in whatever I want, but obviously it has to make sense and fit the presentation. The Stars still “play the hits” — classic rock and heavy metal — but we've also taken things in a weirder direction where video game music and more obscure songs make sense for the presentation. With the Mavs, I'm honestly still figuring out what exactly to bring in. Dance and pop music seems to fit really well with the presentation, so I'm listening to a lot more Top 40 stuff than I had before taking over. There should be some local music, too. There are a ton of amazing artists in this town, so I'm definitely making notes on what songs I want to use.
What kinds of changes have you brought to the music/production at Stars games since taking that job over a couple years ago?
I can't claim full credit in the slightest. The team was already going in this direction when Jason Danby took over as game entertainment director a year before I came in. Plus, Jeff K — who is currently the P.A. guy, but was previously the DJ — has plenty of input because he's forgotten more about music than I'll ever know. Between the three of us — and tons of great suggestions from Stars fans — we've made things a lot sillier while still retaining the feel of a hockey game. My job is to try to add to the experience of the fans, so I listen to every suggestion and try to find a place for it. Not everything makes its way into the show, but a lot does — and that makes it a much more personal and fun experience for fans!
What changes can people expect at Mavs games this season? And at Stars games?
Honestly, I don't plan on changing much of anything with the Mavs. Whiz set a great roadmap for me to follow, so the only thing I really need to do is just continue adding current songs that fit with the show. He played a huge variety of stuff, so I intend on doing the same. With the Stars, I feel like there's still so much more I can do as I keep learning the game and becoming quicker on my toes. I hope to play a lot more drops this year, as that's something the team and the fans — and me! — expected when I took over. There aren't as many opportunities for drops at a basketball game, but I know I can play more than I previously have.
How does what you do help give the teams a home court advantage?
The game will always truly dictate how the fans are reacting and how loud they are, but if I can play a song that fits perfectly with the situation, it makes it feel that much bigger and can kick things up an extra gear. I'm still learning how to do that with the Mavs, but I know that will come with more games.
How does the Mavs job differ from the Stars job?
With the Stars, I'm playing music between plays and whistles, so there's no music going on during gameplay. With the Mavs, I'm playing stuff all throughout the game, except when play is stopped during a foul. So with the Stars, I'm always building momentum to a puck drop. With the Mavs, I'm trying to keep the crowd in the moment without exhausting them because the game transitions from offense to defense so quickly.
Are you any closer to discovering the origins of “The Darkness” song that plays when a Stars opponent scores a goal?
Ha! I can't say I am. I just know that I hate playing it! But this is what the great Ty Wubker, the Stars' original music guy, has to say about it.