Interview: Gretta Ray on the power of songwriting

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Things are busy for Gretta Ray at the moment — just after the release of her sophomore EP Here and Now and supporting James Bay during his Australian dates, she's about to embark on a tour to celebrate the release of her EP. We caught up with her at Melbourne's Royal Botanical Gardens to discuss the importance of friends in music, songwriting and being inspired by the world around her. 

Congrats on the release of your EP Here and Now. I saw you had a party to celebrate, which is fun! How was it playing the EP for the first time in a room full of people?

I was actually a little bit nervous. It was a small little intimate listening party. It was less of an extravagant celebration, and more of a quiet thing with a handful of people — a lot of them have been part of this journey to get to where we are, including people who have supported me along the way musically — including some musicians I’ve met and befriended. I really wanted to create an opportunity for those people to hear it for the first time before it came out. 

I had my friend Emilee South, who is a musician, interviewing me in-between songs, so I had the chance to talk about the writing process and how I produced the songs in the studio with my producers as well. I could give them an insight into how those songs came together before we listen to them in silence together — which was a little bit strange for me, but at the same time, it was pretty cool as it was a comfortable environment — everyone was very relaxed and having a good time, so it was good.

With writing, as well as creating music, it’s a process that’s done a lot in solitude and alone, so is it always exciting when you get to take your music and finally show it to people?

Yeah, it is. I’m so excited as I’m about to head on tour and I’m getting the chance to perform these songs in front of people and will look into the crowd and recognise the fact that amazingly, some of these songs have connected with those people, and they’ve taken them and interpreted the stories to resonate with their own life experiences and their own relationships and friendships and that for me is the most magical part of the process. It reminds me that we’re all here on Earth doing the same thing, having similar experiences and going through emotions together. When I get to perform and people get in a room together, we’re all friends and we’re all on the same page and singing about the same things.

That’s a good segway into my next question... in Australia, and especially in Melbourne, there’s a real sense of community in music. How have you found having great friends in music as a support for you in your own craft?

It’s very special. Someone I can think of that I became very close friends with when I was quite young and very new to the industry was my friend Gab, whose stage name is Japanese Wallpaper. We met at a show of mine, and we ended up becoming friends and then eventually he asked if I could come on tour with him as part of his band — so that was pretty amazing, and with that relationship, I can always turn to Gab in a time of need or when I have a question on music I am working on. Every musician doubts themselves from time-to-time and second-guesses their work. Gab has been a supporter of mine and I absolutely champion him and I think he’s a legend. So we get to exchange ideas and talk about things going on behind-the-scenes. Having relationships like that is very sacred and it makes you feel less overwhelmed and less alone.  


That’s so awesome.

As I was listening to the EP, I got this feeling of time as being an important factor. Is that something that you considered when creating the EP?

I did. There are two songs in particular that discuss the concept of time in a very big way — one of them is called ‘Time’ and the other one is called ‘Radio Silence’. I think I wanted to write about time in a way that personified it as this nurturing maternal figure that guides people through scenarios and leaves when she is no longer needed — as everyone looks at time as a positive thing and get frustrated when they run out of time, or that they need more time and are very dependent on it. I think a lot about time in the process of songwriting as well. Because if the experiences that I am writing about are things that I’ve experienced, I really want to do justice to those narratives and I look to spend as much time as I possibly can reflecting on them when I write about them and doing them justice through the lyrics that I write. So I don’t always write songs super consistently, because if I start something and the narrative that I am writing about is really important to me, then I want to be able to describe it in the best way that I can so people can get a sense of what I was going through and can talk about that feeling in a way people can connect to. 

The EP has this story like aura to it — it’s like listening to a series of observations. Do you draw inspiration from observing the world around you?

I do! Yes, I do. I’ve always been a bit of a weird person in the sense that I love people-watching. I have such a fascination with watching people’s reactions in the street. I remember being in LA for the first time and driving to Malibu and looking at all these glamorous and beautiful tanned people, and I’m thinking, gosh this lifestyle is so fascinating to me — and it’s this thing I don’t know much at all, and you get very invested in these characters you don’t know. It could just be me, it sounds like a weird and nosey thing to say (laughs). 

But I guess having that kind of perspective on people around me encourages me to write and focus on little details of how people interact or how someone’s face lights up when they see someone they care about from across the room — observing moments like that and writing it down and finding a way to put it in a song. I definitely do get a lot of my inspiration from those moments and experiencing those things myself, or when I’m talking about them with friends. Every now-and-then, I’ll be talking about something and someone will say something about a person or situation that they’re going through, and I’ll be like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s such a cool way to think about that’ and might end up using it later. So yeah, songwriting is pretty amazing as it’s new every time and you always incorporate new ideas that you have.

It sounds like from what you’ve said that your approach is quite literary-focused. Do you source any inspiration from other artforms outside music?

Oh yeah! I have two songs on this EP that came a long time before the others — ‘Drive’ and ‘Towers’ — and they were the first two songs you’ve heard from the EP. I could of probably left them separate from this body of work, but then I thought, actually, they’re coming from the same place in my heart, even though they were written a year apart. The thing about ‘Drive’ and ‘Towers’, is that what separates them apart from the rest of the songs is that they’re directly inspired by poetry that I was studying at the time. I was studying Christina Rossetti’s poetry and all the poetry I read in the collection was about being completely consumed by the idea of a person, or the idea of love and what that does to you. It was written in a time where that was something that wasn’t very celebrated — it was this kind of secretive, passionate, seductive, beautiful collection of poems that I loved so much. So it was something that found its way inside of my music. That’s probably the most direct alternative artform that I can think of right now that has inspired me.

For my last question, you mentioned earlier you’ve got the tour starting this week. You’ve played so many shows from your own shows to supporting shows, to festivals. How do you ensure that you feel cool and collected between rehearsals and all the preparation? What are some of the things you do to feel grounded?

I don’t really have a lot of strategies as of yet, I feel like I’m going to learn them over time as at the moment, it’s kind of all-systems-go and I’m just trying to get as much work done as I can. Before I was playing the James Bay shows I played recently, I was so nervous, and it was the first time I was playing solo shows for a long time and the way that I relaxed before going on stage was that I just danced to Odette’s ‘Take It To the Heart’ like a million times alone in my green room before I went on-stage and I was actually a lot more relaxed once I got there. A lot of it is being comfortable in your body when you perform, even standing still playing the guitar the whole time — not being tense and being relaxed in your own self is really important. 

So yeah, I’m probably going to try that more on this tour actually. No-one come into my green room, or else I’ll be embarrassed (laughs).

Written by Amy Smolcic (@amysmolcic)
Photography by Kristy Smolcic (@wickeddkristysnaps)

Gretta Ray's sophomore EP Here and Now is available now. You can purchase it here.

You can also catch her on tour starting this week at the below dates:
Thursday 16th August - The Corner Hotel, Melbourne (w/ Al Parkinson & Nancie Schipper) (SOLD OUT)
Friday 17th August - Jive Bar, Adelaide (w/ Ollie English & Connor Black-Harry)
Saturday 18th August - Jack Rabbit Slims, Perth (w/ Jacob Diamond & Al Parkinson)
Thursday 23rd August - Oxford Art Factory, Sydney (w/ Feelds & Connor Black-Harry) (SOLD OUT)
Friday 24th August - Woolly Mammoth, Brisbane (w/ Al Parkinson & Asha Jefferies) 
More information is available here