He has been making waves on the scene for a while ago but this was the first time here at Think Country we got a chance to sit down with Michael Ray! We spoke music, tattoos and what it means to be country!
Amy: All right! How’s it going?
Michael Ray: Great.
Amy: Enjoying the trip so far?
Michael Ray: Yeh, it’s been awesome, it’s been great. We were in Glasgow yesterday. This is my first time over here so all new.
Amy: When did you fly in?
Michael Ray: Well we flew to Glasgow yesterday. And then bussed in last night from Glasgow to London today.
Amy: So you managed to sleep all night on the bus!?
Michael Ray: Yeah! Thank god for bus drivers!
Amy: So, I don’t believe we have interviewed you before.
Michael Ray: I don’t think so.
Amy: For our readers, can we just get like a brief overview of you and your music?
Michael Ray: Yeah, I am from a small town in central Florida. My family had a band growing up and my grandfather Amos, who i named my record after, taught me my first three chords when my parents going through divorce and I was just kind of off to the races after that. I was playing every weekend with him and his band. It would eventually lead to me playing bars and trying to discover who these songwriters were that I saw on the back of records. Trying to find my way to Nashville and moved to Nashville when I was 22. Did the struggle, you know, I was living in two bedroom, two bathroom with five different guys. Driving my tour van for a vehicle and just trying to do whatever we could do to get us to the next club and the next spot and figure it all out. That that would eventually lead to me having a record deal and crazy that it’s brought me all the way to London.
Amy: That’s pretty good timing for Nashville if you moved at 22!
Michael Ray: Yeah! I mean there was about five years before that we were playing a lot of bars all over Florida. Yeah. So we’ve been grinding for a while.
Amy: Nice! You also answered one of my other questions in that which was gonna be about title of your album, so now we can skip over that! Your music, especially in Nashville right now, there’s so many different versions of country music all coming together. I feel like you really embody almost like a throwback back 90s feel, which I love!
Michael Ray: Thank you.
Amy: For me that was one of the best times in country music was it’s really nice to hear to hear that kind of being brought back a little bit. In terms of when you’re writing was that intentional or is that just naturally what comes to you?
Michael Ray: Both. I think I’m naturally always going to go more traditional or more 90s, you know, I guess would be a throwback time now! Just ’cause that’s what I grew up, because of my grandpa and my family’s band, I grew up on music that was before my dad’s time and that’s what I loved. But also a product of the 90s and so when I’m learning guitar I’m learning, not only was I learning Merle Haggard and Waylon and George Jones and those guys, I was also learning Gary Allen and Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson, Randy Travis. So I think I just naturally gravitate towards that. I understand I get that and I you know and so I think that on a lot of it, it was just where I go to. But then also it was intentional because I do think that there is there is a cool blend that we’ve discovered here and that we’re being a part of of, there’s a few of us. That have found a way to keep that 90s feel and what was the heartbeat of that and those lyrics with today’s sound and I think I think with all the packaging all the different ways that people were saying it’s country music… To me country music is the lyric of it. I think of that lyric is as true and honest that’s why we can take country music around the world. So some people’s country music their lyrics might be to more of a hip hop beat for two more to an RnB beat, you know, whatever it is but as long as that lyric is honest and true and you can put it in your car or however you listen in and go there. I think that’s a country song.
Amy: That is a really good point actually. There’s obviously a lot of arguments at the moment as to what is country and what isn’t. But I think that’s very true, there’s one thing that holds throughout every country song and that is lyrics. regardless said a voice being played tape.
Michael Ray: Yeah, the country or not country thing that’s been a debate since… I mean they were saying Hank Senior wasn’t country and then the next generation comes across, well they’re not country. Then the outlaw movement comes and that’s not country and the funny thing is the outlaws record with Waylon, that’s the first country to ever sell a million copies. I think that that’s going to happen. I’m sure 20 years from now my generation will be like, that shit’s not country! It’s just going to be that everyday debate that we’re going to have so I think that as long as those lyrics are real and honest and true to who you are. I think that’s country music.
Amy: So on that same sort of vein there is also a particular look people, over here especially associate with country music. Now if someone just saw a photo of you, I feel like the last thing people would be thinking is country!.
Michael Ray: [laughs] Yeah I get it!
Amy: Is that something you’ve ever been conscious of when marketing yourself and building that career in Nashville?
Michael Ray: No, because I think that once anybody talks to me that they realise that my foundation is country music. I grew up my family had tattoos and everybody rode motorcycles, you know, and so that was just part of what we did growing up. I think that you’re seeing more and more of the tattoos come through. I remember when Gary Allen first showed his hand tattoo. I was like, oh I’ll be good! He broke the mould, he tested it. He got the hand tattoo and Gary Allen has always been one of my biggest influences. I just felt like he was the Dwight Yoakam of our generation with that whole Bakersfield sound, California… Just his lyrics and voice and then he came out with his tattoos and I was like this is the coolest dude, I just want to be him! When I was getting them I remember my tattoo artist going are you sure you won’t get all these? I was like, Yeah! All my tattoos have meanings. My sleeve with all the tribal stuff on, my dad has the exact same sleeve on his right arm. I got a penny from my grandmother who just passed away, got an old ink pen with the day that my grandfather passed away. So everything that I have is personal. I think that as I’m getting older, as my career’s growing, as we’re crazy busy… Thank God! With that comes a lot of time away from home and people that you love, so I think now in a way I kind of just keep them with me. I do always joke that I know I’m probably not the guy think that grew up listening to Ray Price but he’s actually in my jeep right now! His music’s in there, I promise! I think, you know, be yourself be unique. When Willie Nelson grew his hair out and you know and did this stuff it was. That’s who he was, he was the guy that wrote ‘Crazy’ on a napkin in his car. So I think it’s cool. I think it’s a good conversation starter too for me to be able to speak about country music. Yeah people go ‘What do you do?’, not think the country music!
Amy: Speaking of being away from home, now you’re over here. When did you find out you were first coming over?
Michael Ray: October, November of last year when we found out.
Amy: So you’ve have a few months to get ready. Have you heard anything about the festival from people who’ve been before? I know that a lot of artists that are coming over, maybe not so much in Glasgow because you were in Scotland and they are a little bit rowdier!, but especially here in London people are very attentive and I know sometimes that can kind be a bit nerve racking for people because we are very quiet and proper, almost a little too much!
Michael Ray: [laughs] I have heard that! Yeah I’ve heard you know that just everybody really just makes you feel at home when they hear your music. That they’ve embraced it made it a part of their life. So having a lot of friends that have come over here that told me just wait ’til you go over there. It’s. crazy, as far as people know your lyrics to everything. I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve heard because it blows us away because we’re in such a singles driven world that the fact that you go further than what radio’s told you…
Amy: We don’t have we don’t have country radio. There is one country radio station over here called Chris country. He has a digital station but that is the only thing really. All of our stations basically are just a mix of genres. On one of the stations, BBC Radio 2, there is a 2 hours show with Bob Harris. But it’s just two hours once a week and that’s it. So for the most part when people go out and they listen to country music, they’re going to go and they’re going to buy the album or stream it and they are going to listen to every track and they’re going to find everything you’ve ever done!
Michael Ray: I’ve noticed that. Yeah. Yeah I think that’s incredible. Even that like weird obscure album track… That one you hope no one will ever… You’re like dang London, you know it! [laughs] Don’t go that far back! Yeah I think that’s awesome. I think that’s that’s, like I said, I think that’s what probably blows the majority of us away. Like last night, in Glasgow, we’re playing the afterparty and I am singing album cuts and they’re singing every word to it. Some of these songs, you know, in the states they’re just now singing these album cuts. So it’s just it’s a really cool really cool experience for us and it kind of makes us excited and ready to get back over here already.
Amy: So there are plans to come back over!?
Michael Ray: That’s why we came over. We’ve been trying to get into C2C and just try to find the right timing for us to be able to. I believe that this was the right time for us to come and so we can get in front of your biggest crowds and then come back as soon as we possibly can and continue to grow to where we can come over here and tour on our own for a month or two. Really build a fan base and show everybody over here what we’ve been doing in the states.
Amy: I don’t think you are going to have a problem. I think people are going to love it!
I really do appreciate it.
Michael Ray: With that unfortunately we have to wrap this up! Finally, is there anything in particular you want to say to the UK fans?
Just thank y’all for welcoming me into your home and to your country, let my music into your life. I’m excited to get my career started to C2C and hopefully we’ll be headlining one day!
Amy: Fingers crossed! Thanks so much! This has been a great chat, enjoy your shows over the rest of the weekend!