Australia’s most exciting new pop artist Gretta Ray has released her debut album Begin To Look Around which features new single Love Me Right. Begin to Look Around is a bold, layered, colourful pop album made over 2019-20 in Melbourne, Sydney and Gretta’s adopted home of London with a stellar array of writer-producers working at the vanguard of modern pop. A thoughtful, crafted, hairbrush-singable body of work that celebrates the bravery and trust of laying bare the bones of your life with fellow creatives and the thrill of new paths, with killer hooks at every turn.
Begin To Look Around boasts an A-list team of creatives working together to bring Gretta’s album to life. Produced by Robby De Sa (MAY-A, The Veronicas), Dylan Nash (Dean Lewis, Fergus James, Azure Ryder), Kyran Daniel (G-Flip) and mixed by Dan Grech-Marguerat (Halsey, Lana Del Ray, Troye Sivan) and Rich Cooper (Banks, The Temper Trap). Gretta tells Hi Fi Way more about the experience.
Congratulations on your album, you must be relieved and excited that it’s finally out all things considered?
Yeah. It’s a weird time. I do feel excited about it. I really couldn’t wait for people to hear it, and it has definitely felt like a long time coming. Strange time for it to be making its way out into the world, but I hope people like it.
Did you ever lose faith or belief that you’d actually get to a position where it’s finished? I’d imagine the complexities of making an album are normally right up there anyway, but with the whole COVID mess, that would have made things even harder again?
It did. It definitely did, but I think it was less so, I didn’t have any faith loss when it came to finishing it. I knew that was going to happen. I had faith in the creative process and production, and everything like that. I think it was just more so how it’s going to be received in a time where music is digested in a really strange way, at the moment, I think, because there’s just no live scene here in Australia.
I think it’s been a big shame. Not just in a financial sense, but in a trying to connect with my audience. I hadn’t really been playing headline shows for a while anyway, and so going into this campaign, I hadn’t really seen my audience for so long, and making that connection with the slight genre shift as well. I think it takes a little bit of an extra push with all of the stuff for the campaign being online rather than in that physical live show space. That’s probably been the thing that’s made it challenging at times, but it’s okay, we’ve still done it and eventually we’ll get live shows back, so it’s just a patience thing in that regard.
Do you get a little bit worried about how much effort it’s going to take to start reconnecting with that audience, and the audience actually starting to have a bit of confidence that it is safe to go out again in bigger crowds?
I guess we’ll just see. It’s kind of hard to predict how that is all going to be. The only thing that I really can do is just encourage people to listen to the record, and hopefully when it does get to a point where people do feel safe going out again and going to shows, they’ll have had some time with the songs. There’s not really much that’s in our control. I think with the situation, I just have to hope that the music itself is something that resonates with people, and that’s really all that I can hope for in this weird time.
Did you learn a lot about yourself and your own sort of personal resilience making your debut album?
Yeah, absolutely. I think, in a couple of ways. I mean, it’s a pretty formative time in my life anyway, just being in my early twenties, but I think the resilience with this record came mostly from the fact that when I was writing the music, I was going through a little bit of a challenging period in my personal life. A lot of the songs on the record kind of discuss this breakdown of a romantic relationship, and that was kind of happening real time, as I was writing the album. You do really just have to pull it together and keep going into the writing sessions. I think obviously, they serve such a purpose, because they were a way for me to have a creative outlet to process how I was feeling in that time, but I think that whole thing of like, okay, well you actually need to just try and put your emotions on hold for a moment, because you’ve got to go on stage, or you’ve got to go into this meeting.
I think that that probably taught me a little bit of resilience and I’m quite an emotional person anyway, they were just the moments where I just really had to suck it up, and keep going, and keep doing the job. When I was kind of in this quite sad time in my life, I guess. I think that was probably where I learnt the most resilience. I was often traveling when that was happening. I was in London playing shows, or America, or something and you just have to look around and be like, “Look where you are. Look what’s going on, this is really exciting. This is a huge opportunity. Throw yourself into it.” Yeah, I think ultimately, it definitely made me learn a thing or two, so I am really grateful for that period of time in my life.
Even on reflection, did you think, with the songs being so personal in nature that it would be as therapeutic as what it was?
Yeah. I think that I knew pretty instantly that the songs would serve or writing the songs would serve as a form of therapy. I think that the thing that’s so funny about having written songs since I was about seven is when I was twelve or something, I would have probably said, “Oh, song writing’s so therapeutic,” and it’s like, you don’t know what that word means when you’re twelve. I think that when I actually started writing songs like Cherish, The Brink and The Cure, and some of the songs on my record that are more personal I realised like, “Oh, this is actually what it means when people say this about song writing being this thing that gets you through tough times.” I’m actually feeling that now, in real time properly. I think that definitely brought about a huge sense of comfort to me, that I would have that outlet. It was really reassuring to have that.
Do you think that, particularly being your debut, that it is the hardest album to make because you’re still trying to work out what your sound is and pulling together the songs that you think that are going to best represent yourself?
A little bit. I think that what I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to do was, because most of this record was written in 2019. It was a time where I could meet and work with a lot of new collaborators, like co-writers and producers, and just kind of throw paint at the wall and see what stuck in that creative sense. I was co-writing for the first time pretty much, when I was writing this album, so that was a big change for me, but I guess the great thing about going to write this record was that I knew that I wanted to make a full length album. I knew I wanted to learn how to structure pop songs better and make a record that was more sonically in that pop space. I knew that I wanted to work with lots of different people and see what they brought out of me, and just learn a lot more about song writing.
So I think in a sense, it gave me like a task to complete. It was a challenge that I’d set myself. It meant that I had a little bit of structure going into to making this album, but I think that the closer it got to the release date, the more I’m realising just how much it is very, very true when people say, “Oh, you’ve got your whole life to write your first album,” and then, the next one’s going to be like a couple of years. I’ve anticipated writing a full length album since I was a tiny child, so this definitely does feel quite large, and weird that it’s happening now, but also really exciting. I think that Begin to Look Around, is very much a coming of age record, and I’m really proud of it. Yeah, I’m looking forward to people hearing it.
It must have been really exciting being able to collaborate and work with the list of people that you got to work with?
It definitely was. There was a lot of really brilliant writers and producers on that list. Yeah, I think the thing that struck me the most about those sessions was just how you can bring in really personal feelings and experiences into those writing rooms with people that you might’ve only met a handful of times, or you might just be meeting that day, and because you both so want to serve the song that you’re making, it’s a really open and vulnerable space, and a trusting space as well. I had a lot of incredible collaborators that were often on the receiving end of me rambling about something that I was going through, and how they just invite that conversation into their studio space and then turn it into something that’s really therapeutic for me to have. Co-writing has just been one of the best changes that I’ve made to my creative process in the last couple of years.
Does that kind of set a bit of a blueprint too, when it becomes time to start thinking about album number two and who you might want to collaborate with?
Definitely. I think that it’s made me think about what kind of places, I mean, this obviously hasn’t been something I’ve been able to think about, but maybe in six months time, or whenever it’s possible again, I can actually think about, “Oh, maybe I can go to this other part of the world and I can write there for a bit.” Those kinds of opportunities will slowly but surely start to open themselves up again, and so I’m looking forward to being able to, when we do start thinking about the possibility of writing outside of Australia again. I think that that’s going to be really lovely to explore that again.
Working with Gang of Youths must have been a great experience, and in particular working with David Le’aupepe?
He’s incredible. All of those boys are like big brothers to me and we’ve been on the road together a couple of times now, which has been really amazing for me to open for that incredible show. That was not really something that we did in person. They did additional production and Dave did backing vocals for that song from London. They made that in a studio in London and then sent through stems that we could add to the production of that song Worldly-wise. I think it’s really lovely. I feel like Dave’s influenced me a lot, and I feel like we have a really similar approach to writing songs and storytelling. We are often on FaceTime and dreaming of the day when I can come back to London and see those guys again, so it feels very fitting to have those boys on the record, for sure.
Are you hoping that you might be able to go on tour before the year is out when things settle down?
I am. I’m so hoping for that. You have no idea. That was something I was able to do before the pandemic was to grow my live audience with the support shows that I was playing, whether they be here or other parts of the world. I’m really, really missing it, and I think I’ve played one show since the pandemic started. I do have some shows for October, but I have no idea what’s going to happen with the situation here in Victoria. Either way, as soon as it’s possible I’ll be playing shows, and I’m just really grateful for how patient people are being and how understanding it is for audience members who have had to hold onto their tickets for so long when the shows have been moved so many times. It’s going to be a really fun time when that eventually can happen.
Interview By Rob Lyon