Cinematic pop artist GRAY stopped by to explain why music was always the right path for him, something he’d changed about the music industry and the best advice he’d give to his younger self.
To anyone new to your music, name 3 words that best describe your sound.
Soulful, cinematic, textured
What made you decide that music is the right path for you?
Realising that a well-placed song at the right time can change someones life. I’ve had a history of asking myself if making music alone can give back enough to a world in which some people save lives with their bare hands. I think if the intent is there, and if you truly put all your soul and empathy into all aspects of the music-making, with the angle of getting it in front of people that would benefit from hearing it, then it is more than worthwhile. At its best, music can be one of the most powerful communicators, catalysts and tools of escapism/reflection on the planet.
What’s your writing process like? Do you write the music or lyrics first?
Lyrics first, as from my limited experience, the way two notes in a melody make you feel as they move from one to another can be a) completely redefined by the harmony underneath them, and b) can be made a million times more impactful with words that match perfectly to them, in contour and tone. Therefore, trying to write a well-structured sentence that fits a melody that so happens to feel a certain, vague way, seems far less natural and far more convoluted than the alternative; starting with a meaningful, unique, emotive phrase (which is hard at the best of times) to conjure up a melodic interval that fully engrosses and encapsulates the tone of the lyric/theme. Then supercharging that with the implied emotion of the chord/harmony behind it. I think this way better lends itself to fresh writing, and avoids generic themes more easily. There is no ‘right way’ however, and when you are inspired, the reverse tactic can surprise you.
If you could change about the music industry, what would it be?
Like Hollywood (which has been far less original and is a little stale now, in my opinion), I would have a decent budget set aside by every label etc to facilitate more risk-taking ventures on acts. It is far too risk averse now and so we end up missing some truly inventive, creative and genre- defying genius from unknowns. Also, the top 40 would be more akin to 2013-15 with regard to a mix of generic hook-pop and also more variety genres (soul/r&b/EDM/indie rock etc). We have very few defining acts (superstars of the era) as of late; most are pulled from the 00’s and early 10’s still, because so much of todays mainline industry budget seems based around a quick risk-averse, engineered cash grab. Bleurgh. For such a human and emotion-centric art form, the industry seems increasingly numbers/statistic based and thus increasingly soulless. We are imprecise, imperfect and often unpredictable creatures, us humans, and you never know what magic someone, or a group, can pull out when given the budget and environment to blossom. Case and point: prior to 2000, Coldplay as a developing act were once given months in Rockfield (financed by the label, Parlophone) to conjure up their debut record, Parachutes. It wasn’t swimming along as expected, and the label were tactfully starting to say, ‘okay guys’ we need you to write the big one now or it’s not gonna happen for you’ – or words to that effect. But given the space to breathe, in a rural Welsh field, surrounded by creativity and vibes, Chris Martin and then the band unpredictably knocked out ‘Yellow’, and the rest is history. It was the risk taken by the label; that the band may or may not produce the goods – but they’d compassionately leave them to it with the faith and hope that they MIGHT defy the odds, that I’m sure it was a success. All of a sudden, Parlophone had a string of outrageous successes on their hands.
What’s the best advice you’d give to your younger self?
Don’t be so obsessed with ‘finding yourself’. It’s more about seeing what’s left after years pass and you’ve tried to work through the things you don’t like about yourself. Don’t put identity on a pedestal. It’s all a bizarre mix of nature, nurture, societal/cultural expectation and a potentially misplaced concept of how you’d like to be seen anyway. Finally, in a world of 7 billion, you don’t have to be liked by them all.