LABOR OF LOVE: GRETTA RAY

21 year-old singer-songwriter Gretta Ray is based in Melbourne, Australia, and is renowned around the world for her catchy, yet intricately-woven tunes that'll have you tapping your foot while deep in thought. Her album Here and Now is an indie-folk odyssey that is intimate yet expansive in its scope. We had the opportunity to sit down with Gretta after she ran through a stripped-down version of her song "When We're in Fitzroy."

How did the making of music become your life?
I grew up immersed in music. My parents, particularly my Mum, are both avid music listeners, so I was soaked in the sounds of the best possible singer/songwriter records when I was a kid. When I started to learn how to play the piano when I was around 7, writing my own music was a bit of a hook, like and sinker moment. It just made immediate sense that if I was going to be learning how to play songs, I was going to be making my own as well.

How did you get your start?
I feel like one of the most significant “starts” for me was actually when my family made the decision to put me in a community choir when I was 5 years old. That’s when I started training as a vocalist, learning how to harmonize, sight read music, perform in front of audiences, touring even… it all started with classical training for me; I was a part of that choir up until I was 18. When it came to my career as a songwriter, that start was due to my High School singing teacher introducing me to a producer than she knew. This producer, Josh Barber, would then go on to produce both of my EPs Elsewhere and Here and Now. We worked so well together, and I have definitely found a life long friend in him. I was pretty lucky in that regard!

In these times it's an incredible challenge getting by making music, everyone at CME has found a happy home here to support our passion for music. How do you make it work?
I definitely feel like I’m still in the ‘sacrifice’ years of my career. There are a lot of opportunities that are so amazing and I wouldn’t think twice about taking up, but I know a lot of the time I won’t financially profit from them. I’m very fortunate to have really wonderful management, both in Australia and in London, so we all discuss together what things we’ll say yes to and what experiences we may have to pass up for the moment, simply because it’s not yet something we can afford to do. I don’t worry too much about it though. I’m just working on writing the best songs that I can, playing the best shows that I can and keeping in touch with my audience. That’s what is most important to me at the moment.

How does it all come together?
In terms of writing the music, going through the production process and then eventually releasing it, promoting it and taking it on tour, I would say it tends to take a while for things to “come together” in this job! I think this industry has taught me to be a much more patient person than I used to be. Once you release something out into the world and people respond to it, it’s easy to feel the weight of their expectations of the next thing you’ll do. What will it sound like? Will it be better than the last thing you created? I’m still learning to block out that noise and just focus on the work, and trust that when it’s time for people to hear it, they’ll still be waiting. And if it’s good work, hopefully they’ll stick around and wait for the next thing after that!

Who were your major influences?
I feel like my influences change quite frequently. When I was a lot younger, I grew up listening to artists like Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Paul Simon, Missy Higgins… really great writers to aspire to be like. As I got older I discovered Laura Marling and Blake Mills who both had a huge impact on how I approached writing music. Over the past few years, as my music has moved into more of an upbeat, pop genre, I have turned to pop music of all kinds for inspiration in that regard, whilst holding tight to my love for writers who solely prioritise incorporating sophisticated words into their songs. The story-telling element of a song will always be hugely important to me.

What guides your playing style?
I feel like as a guitarist I’m a pretty rhythmic player. I started learning guitar when I was 9 so it could be another instrument (in addition to the piano) that would support the songs that I was writing. I’m drawn to writing melody and lyrics first, so when I would be writing a song and using the guitar to help guide it towards becoming a finished piece of work, I would usually opt for strumming patterns as opposed to fingerpicking in order to solidify the shape of the song, if that makes sense. I would say, to more directly answer the question, that my love for melody and lyric is what guides my playing style, on both the guitar and the piano.

What's your rig?
Currently, when I play a full band show it’s a 4 piece. So, electric guitar, drums, bass and me (lead vocalist/acoustic guitar/keys.)

First guitar?
I played my Mum’s Takamine for years before getting my own first guitar, which was a Monterey. It served me well in my adolescent years when I used to busk a lot.

Current guitar?
I play a Martin guitar mostly. I usually play acoustic, however I did recently purchase my first electric guitar from Chicago Music Exchange - a 1958 hollow body Guild. It's such a beautiful guitar; I fell in love with it instantly and pretty much refused to leave the store without it.

Any gear you can't live without?
A capo. Couldn’t play a show without it. I suck at bar chords so there’s no hope for me if I don’t have a capo at hand.

What do you have coming up? Albums? Tours?
I’m spending most of my time at the moment writing as many songs as I can. I’ll hopefully make an album some day, but for now I’m just focusing on accumulating that work so I can be ready to delve into the process when it begins!

Photo by Sam Porter

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