Corey Graves has been a longtime staple of NXT. However, it hasn’t only been in the ring where he has made an impact. The Savior of Misbehavior has taken the time to work behind the scenes for NXT this year and truly loves his experience. Corey and I had an incredibly insightful conversation about not just NXT, but music as well.
Alex Obert: What have you taken out of working behind the scenes lately with NXT picking up on the WWE Network and getting the most exposure it’s ever had?
Corey Graves: It’s been really eye-opening for me from a talent perspective just because I knew there were all these people that you always saw, but you were never really sure what they did. And being able to see the other side of the wall and how much work goes into every aspect of production and preparation and putting these shows together. From the guys that put the lights up to planning events and promotion and things like that, I’m finally getting to see firsthand that whole other side of the business which I’d never really been exposed to. There’s so much more than actually goes on behind the scenes than on the scenes.
Alex Obert: What are the touring live events like for NXT?
Corey Graves: It’s really cool and it seems to get better all the time. They’re growing and the Network’s definitely given us exposure to new fans that wouldn’t have known about us. It’s building the brand. It’s small and intimate, it’s like going to see one of your favorite bands in a cool little venue, bar or theater, as opposed to a full arena. Everything’s right up close and you see the same talent you see on television. Sometimes you get to see a little more, they get a little bit more time to work with and everyone works just as hard. They all have a really great time. It’s definitely a team atmosphere, everyone in NXT is working towards the same goal and that’s to grow the brand as big as it can possibly be. To me, it’s kind of like a rock show. You get there and the lights go down, the spotlights come up along with the music and the energy, it’s a really good time. It’s really exciting.
Alex Obert: What do you think is effective for character development in NXT?
Corey Graves: That depends on the talent, some guys come up with things on their own. I remember watching Bray Wyatt develop when he was down here and almost all of the things that became Bray Wyatt came from his head. He would come every week with a different aspect of the character of. And sometimes it can be a group effort where everyone kind of sees the same thing and everyone chips in a little bit. It can be as simple as one of the talent saying, “Hey, why don’t you try that out?” Next thing you know, someone does it on a promo and a close up and becomes a thing. Like the Bo Dallas thing, that was literally one of the most organic things I’ve ever seen happen. He was originally portrayed as a good guy, as a white meat babyface and the crowd turned on him, the crowd hated him. He just kept going and be evolved in front of the people and then it turned into Bolieve and everything. So it doesn’t always come from one source, there’s no one way to build character. There’s so many different outside influences, it’s just really cool to see all the different ways that happens.
Alex Obert: Aiden English debuted on NXT and then it all transformed into the Vaudevillains. How did that all come about?
Corey Graves: I’m not really sure, I wasn’t privy to all the meetings. Sometimes a lot of things happen like, “Let’s just try something.” They want to throw it against the wall and see what sticks. And I know a lot of people thought that Simon Gotch was very interesting. I talked to both those guys and they first wondered how they could make this work. Then they started trying it out and they meshed really well. Now they’re inseparable. I think it’s one of the most entertaining things on NXT TV, they make me laugh and they truly entertain me every time I see them.
Alex Obert: With character development at the Performance Center, how would you approach someone who comes from a much different background such as football, bodybuilding or whatever the case may be?
Corey Graves: It depends, some people come with ideas in mind. There’s a lot of guys that might’ve come from a football background that have been fans their whole life and they have some idea of how they’d like to be. Sometimes, people have no idea. You find unique quirks about their personality. It sounds cliché to say “be you with the volume turned up”, but that has a lot of success. Some of the greatest of all time such as Stone Cold and The Rock, they are who they are in their day-to-day lives and they just crank the volume to eleven. And a lot of times that works. Once you have a raw idea, you can tweak it and play with it a little bit. That’s a pretty surefire way to find something for someone.
Alex Obert: What are your thoughts on the Full Sail environment with the fan interaction and all of the clever chants?
Corey Graves: It’s its own entity. I’d hate to compare it to ECW because that was so unique and I’ve had the opportunity to wrestle in Philadelphia in the old ECW Arena. And that place has an aura so unique to itself. Full Sail’s really become its own entity where the crowd is as big of a part of the show there as it is anywhere. We have a lot of the same fans, the same faces in the same seats, and they’re so passionate and vocal. I’ve wrestled all over the world and a bunch of different places and Full Sail has to be one of the most unique atmospheres. I think the fans feel like NXT is their own because since day one when NXT started, the fans and crew and everybody has grown together. It’s such a mutually beneficial relationship as opposed to fans just coming to watch the product, they’re actually a part of it there. It’s so small and intimate.
Alex Obert: In the WWE, I know that social media is very important. What do you take out of being on Twitter with your commentary on the programming?
Corey Graves: That is something I started doing more or less to entertain myself. I would make a funny comment about something, next thing you know, I’m getting people from WWE saying, “Hey, are you gonna tweet about Total Divas this week?” And I said, “I wasn’t planning on it, but I guess I will.” I’ve become close with the social media guys here. And next thing you know, it’s become part of my role here, ironically enough. I never planned on it, it was just something that the company values a lot. I seem to have a little bit of a knack for it and I actually have a lot of fun with that. That’s one of the things I have almost free creativity with, no one really tells me what to do or what to say as long as I don’t upset anybody. I’ve always been a fan of standup comedy and having clever little one liners in there is a fun little release for me.
Alex Obert: We were talking about character development earlier and I came across the promo of you for NXT with the highlights of your tattoos. What was that like for you?
Corey Graves: That was really cool. I remember being really excited because for all the years I’ve been around wrestling and as many promos as I’ve cut, it was the first time I ever had any sort of production team behind it. And I remember being blown away that I had a script to read from and I had producers to make sure the lighting’s right and the shots are right with a whole crew. I remember doing it and I remember thinking to myself, “Oh my gosh! This is is almost surreal. I feel like this is a real thing, this is a real promo.” And then I remember the first time I saw the rough cut of it with making my tattoos glow and things like that. All the verbiage was mine, I actually got to write that. I wrote that stuff myself. But as far as letting the production guys and the video guys play with it and put their spin on things, I remember being absolutely blown away. I was so excited when they did that. First thing I did was I sent it to my dad and I was like, “Oh my God! I had a real WWE promo!”
Alex Obert: While behind the scenes for NXT, what’s it like picking the brain of veterans such as Dusty Rhodes?
Corey Graves: It’s unbelievable, especially for a fan like myself. For as long as I can remember, since I was three or four years old, I’ve loved wrestling. And I’d watch all these guys that I work with on a daily basis such as Bill DeMott and Norman. These are guys that we work with day in and day out and I think we sometimes take it for granted. It’s a thrill for me. It means a lot to me that they look at me the way they do and show me the respect that they do as far as our points of view on the business. To sit down and discuss ideas with Dusty Rhodes creatively or just sitting and listening to him tell stories, it’s so much fun. Everything’s such a thrill for me. And sometimes I have to take a step back. If I have a day where I’m frustrated or I’m in a bad mood, sometimes I’ll call my dad or one of my friends and start venting to them about something and my dad will say, “Listen, you just told me that you got into an argument with Dusty Rhodes.” Then I take a step back and I go, “Oh yeah, I forgot. This is where I’m at.” So it’s really cool, definitely a thrill all the time.
Alex Obert: What is the preparation for the NXT specials like? How does it differ from the regular tapings?
Corey Graves: I think compared to the first one, everyone’s a little more prepared because the first time for anything never quite works out like the way you planned. Everyone has a better idea now, but it’s definitely fast and furious and chaotic. Things get changed and everyone’s always trying to get on the same page. It’ll change up until the day of the show, people will have better ideas or someone will think they can do something better. But everyone’s working towards the same goal, we’re all just trying to put the best product out and make it entertaining for the fans. It’s crazy how fast things change and its seemingly without rhyme or reason, but there’s always a reason at the end. Things will get changed and they won’t tell you why, you just go with it. But then you watch the finished product and you say, “Oh! Now I get it.”
Alex Obert: So we all know that Triple H is heavily involved with NXT, but what did you think of having John Cena in the crowd during the first special, NXT Arrival?
Corey Graves: It means a lot having John or anybody from the main roster coming down because it lets us all know that they’re paying attention to us. Sometimes you feel like we’re in this warehouse in the middle of Orlando and you kind of feel like you’re in your own little world, but then someone like John Cena shows up. And even on a regular day at the Performance Center, you never know who’s gonna show up at the door. Ric Flair will just show up or John Cena, we’ve had countless numbers of people just show up. It’s really cool, you feel like you’re part of the machine and it’s an honor to be able to perform in front of those guys and to pick their brains and get their input on things. It really makes you feel like you’re a part of the team.
Alex Obert: How did you go about developing your look? Were you given any tweaks for your look where you were suggested to try something a little different?
Corey Graves: I’ve looked this way for a long time. (laughs) I’ve been getting tattoos for about twelve years now. I’ve changed a few things on my own like my hair’s slightly different from when I first got here, but a lot of it is, “Let’s try something out and see what sticks.” And I’ve had suggestions to try this or change that, making your gear a different color or things like that. But a lot of it is suggestions and guys just trying to see what works, you’ll get input to make the most complete package. But myself personally, I’ve had a lot of freedom with what I do and that’s cool. I haven’t had any real strong direction as to do this or do that. It’s always been kind of, “Hey, did you ever think about…?”
Alex Obert: What did you think of having your entrance theme changed?
Corey Graves: I’m actually a big fan of the new stuff. I like the old stuff and I don’t remember whose decision it was to change it, but that process is always exciting. There’s this library of seemingly millions of songs we can pick from. You sit down for hours and just listen to different tracks, you get a feel for what fits and you can play it over the stereo system here at the Performance Center while walking through the entrance to see how it feels. There’s actually a lot more that goes into it than you think. I’ve been a fan of all of the songs I’ve had, I think I’ve had three or four songs since I’ve been here. I’ve definitely been a fan of the last two. Sometimes guys request it and they think, “Hey, something else might fit me a little better.” Someone on the production side sometimes goes, “Hey, you look this way, I’ve got this idea. Let’s try this.” Most of the time, it does work, but every once in a while, it doesn’t. That’s how that process is.
Alex Obert: Though you mention the music library, NXT previously had Welcome Home by Coheed and Cambria as the main theme. What did you think of having such a well-known song like that being a part of NXT?
Corey Graves: I remember being really excited about that, I’m actually a fan of Coheed and Cambria. And I remember the first night that they showed us the video of the complete intro package. I remember sitting with Seth Rollins and he was also a fan. When they played it for us, we both looked at each other and lit up. We were thinking, “Wow, this is so cool! We have a real band that we actually recognize and enjoy. This is ours!” I was a way bigger fan of the Coheed song than the song we have now since I’m such a fan of Coheed and Cambria. That was really cool to me.
Alex Obert: What are some of your favorite entrance themes on NXT at the moment?
Corey Graves: I’m a fan of Sami Zayn’s new one, it’s got a ska vibe to it. The new Tyler Breeze theme that he sings himself is incredibly catchy, I’ll find myself singing the lyrics to it or reciting the lyrics at inopportune times for whatever reason. The very first few notes of Tyson Kidd’s music stick in my head. Off the top of my head, those are the ones that I like right now.
Alex Obert: Getting into music, I understand you worked security for a number of bands back in Pittsburgh.
Corey Graves: Yeah, it was just kind of a side job I fell into. I got a job with a promotional company that promoted rock ‘n roll shows in the greater Pittsburgh area and I started doing security for bands. They’d come to town and this isn’t anything terribly exciting, but you’d take them off the bus and get them through the fans to the backstage area and then to the stage and back to the bus, that’s basically it. It was pretty cool, I got to meet a lot of guys. I remember the first show I worked was Paul Stanley from KISS. It was just a little surreal walking alongside and talking to him like he’s a normal guy. The guy’s one of the biggest rockstars of all time. I got an opportunity to work with more bands than I could ever remember. Just to be able to stand and watch the show from the side of the stage, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do as a music fan. In a weird way, it was fulfilling to get a different bird’s eye view of the bands that I worked for.
Alex Obert: What’s your advice for handling yourself in front of a big name musician in a respectful manner?
Corey Graves: Just treat everybody like they’re normal people. There was one woman, she was a one-hit wonder in the nineties, and I didn’t even know who she was. Her name was Suzanne Vega, she had a song in the nineties, and I only remember her name because she was incredibly rude to me. She was the only person I ever worked for that was rude. You have Paul Stanley, I worked with Social Distortion and Mike Ness, Megadeth and Dave Mustaine, all these really huge stars that I’m huge fans of. Just talk to them like they’re normal people, they just have really cool jobs. I don’t think any of them are looking to be treated a certain way, I’ve never really encountered anybody that was too much of a prima donna. It’s just small talk, “Hey, how was your day? Can I get you anything? Everything’s cool?” And more often than not, everyone was really cool.
Alex Obert: Who are some bands that you have seen perform this year?
Corey Graves: I was telling my friends last night that I’m going to see The Afghan Whigs for the first time in the next few weeks. I’m really excited about that. I saw AFI a few months back. I’ve been checking out some local bands lately in the Orlando area, just to find a cool little dive and see what’s going on there. I found this girl named Kaleigh Baker, she was amazing. It was just her and her guitar, she had a blues thing going on. I saw the Dropkick Murphys not too long ago, within the last few months. Dropkicks and AFI were the last two national acts I saw. And a friend of mine, he’s called Amigo the Devil, he’s from around the Miami area. He’s one of my favorites right now, I’ve gone and checked him out recently. Our schedule has been kind of crazy with running as many live events as we do on Fridays and Saturdays. When some of these bands are in town, it’s kind of hard to find the time.
Alex Obert: What are some of your most cherished albums that you own?
Corey Graves: I like A Perfect Circle’s Mer de Noms. That’s one of my favorites from start to finish. Social Distortion’s self-titled is probably one of my favorites. I have a really eclectic taste in music. I’ll listen everything from Michael Jackson to Slayer. It kind of depends on the mood I’m in at the time. Marilyn Manson’s Mechanical Animals is one of my favorites. That’s a really awesome one. Rancid’s …And Out Come the Wolves and Let’s Go. Rancid’s one of my favorite bands, that always stays the same. My single favorite of all time though is Cheating at Solitaire by Mike Ness.
Alex Obert: Which NXT Superstars do you bond with over music?
Corey Graves: I probably have the most in common with Sami Zayn when it comes to music because he likes a lot of punk rock, so do I. And we are kind of in the minority when it comes to that, there don’t seem to be a whole lot of punk rock fans in the Performance Center. But it depends on the day. One of my favorite things is when we’re all working out in the gym, I’ll put on a playlist or put shuffle on my iPod. I remember Bayley ran up to me a few weeks ago and she was so excited because of some song and she told me, “This has been the best playlist!” There’s so many different personalities in the Performance Center, I’m sure there’s probably a lot of people that I have music tastes in common with that I don’t know. But definitely Sami, as well as Baron Corbin. They’re the two guys that I’ve actually been to concerts with.
Alex Obert: Before we wrap up, what are some of your favorite NXT matches?
Corey Graves: Off the top of my head, Sami Zayn and Cesaro from NXT Arrival. That was one of my favorite matches. I kind of make Cesaro uncomfortable because I tell him all the time he’s my favorite wrestler. I’ve known him for a long time, I think he’s absolutely amazing. He and Sami tore it up that night. Also, I was part of a couple six man tags, one was myself, Neville and Xavier Woods against the Shield, the other was Neville, William Regal and myself against the Wyatt Family. Those were a lot of fun. I had a couple matches with Seth Rollins that were a lot of fun as well.
Alex Obert: What do you have to say to readers who are about to check out NXT for the first time?
Corey Graves: I want to tell them they’re already late to the party, but welcome. Keep your eyes on NXT because as NXT grows, you’re gonna see more of a crossover. They call this Takeover for a reason, we’re takin’ over the Network and I think the eventual plan is for us to take over the WWE. It’s already started to happen, you’ve got the Shield, the Wyatts, Big E, Bo Dallas, Adam Rose, all these guys that started right here at NXT in our small little arena at Full Sail. And they’re now international superstars, you see ’em week in and week out. It’s only gonna continue, there’s gonna be more and more. You’re gonna be seeing a lot of these guys for a lot of years to come. And it’s really cool to know where we all come from.
Alex Obert: Big things are indeed coming for the future of NXT and its impact on the WWE. I’d love to thank you so much for your time and for a great interview with a lot of insight.
Corey Graves: Cool, man! Thank you for your time, I really appreciate it.