Gretta Ray plays Lion Arts Factory Friday night having released her sophomore album Positive Spin, an album that comes to you bathed in golden light, a hazy sunset of love and heartbreak, growth and understanding… a project full of beautiful moments of classic and emotive pop. 2021’s Begin To Look Around captured the magical sound of an artist coming into the world. Positive Spin matches the energy and melodic-high of the critically acclaimed debut with a new layer of complexity. Ray’s confidence, and capacity for reflection and grace resonate across her second full-length release. Positive Spin is charged with the rosy glow of optimism and Gretta speaks to Hi Fi Way more about the album and tour.
Congratulations on your album, it’s such a vibrant and positive album. Do you think it’s reflective of the fact that there’s no barriers delays such as Covid and everything will go to plan now?
Yeah, it’s definitely very different to the last album campaign in that regard. A lot of the lightness of the record and the positivity was inspired by the energy of last year, which did involve two really rewarding tours for me. One was a headline and one was with Gang Of Youths. Then I also got to travel overseas to write a lot of the songs for the record. Whenever I was traveling it was really beautiful weather and I just got very lucky. That was kind of the inspiration that I worked with. A lot of it was from that post Covid year of 2022.
I got to see you support Gang Of Youths here in Adelaide and it was amazing. I thought you were outstanding, and it was just quite an incredible concert experience all around.
Thank you so much. It was seriously, that tour was the time of my life. I think I’m always going to look back on it fondly and remember it as just this really special time where everything felt very exciting and the band, they’re very good friends of mine and that album of theirs is incredible. It was just such an honour to get to play those rooms. It was amazing.
It definitely seems that you have come of age as a singer songwriter and performer and the album seems like a significant turning point?
Totally. Thank you. Well, I’m glad that came across, I feel like the campaign of Begin To Look Around was a real kind of learning experience for me in terms of how to step into who I was in this particular genre of music and just allowing that to empower and embolden me. I feel like the following year, 2022 was when I really got to display that in my live shows, which was very fun.
Were you ever worried about the second album blues?
Oh absolutely. I mean, you can make your record turn out very aesthetically pleasing and bright and yellow, but the sophomore slump will exist nonetheless. I have learned, it’s probably less about the blues and more so just the pressure. A lot of it is coming from me from within. I want this album to really impress people and of course I would love for it to reach things that maybe Begin To Look Around didn’t. The sophomore album can make or break a career path sometimes. I want to do this forever, I worked really hard on this album so it can be a step in the right direction for me and so I’m feeling the pressure for sure, but I’m also trying to balance that out with the excitement and really appreciate the beautiful engagement that I have from my fans right now. They’ve never been so engaged and so supportive of me and of my project. So, that’s been a really positive force in this time.
When you look back was there anything that stood out as being significant in terms of influencing this record?
I was really heavily influenced by Muna, which is an incredible band who are super successful now from America. I just learned of them and was obsessed with their second record and that led me back into Imogen Heap’s discography, because they’re kind of reminiscent of Imogen Heap in a way. One of my collaborators, Carol Ades, was a really big influence, her whole discography was something I listened to religiously while making the record and the confidence of RAYE, what’s happened with her career. Her release of her debut album, My 21st Century Blues, just really seeing a woman own her presence in the music industry in such a bold way, and she’s so talented was very heavily influential. Then I guess Lizzy McAlpine’s songwriting as well. My friend Maisie Peters has really brought me out of my shell in terms of the boldness and honesty of her very intelligent songwriting. That’s been a real inspiration to me. So there’s a lot of inspiration for this record.
So how would you compare both albums?
I think Begin To Look Around is very much a coming of age album for sure. I was very much consumed by the feeling of growing up, heartbreak and feeling like a victim to that feeling, just being like I’m getting pulled in this direction and I’m just going to see where life takes me. It’s very naive I think, in a lot of ways. I think with Positive Spin it’s like, okay, these are the emotions that I’m feeling and this is what’s happening and this is how we’re going to move through it. There’s like a little bit more of a sense of intention in terms of how I’m talking about the scenarios in the songs. I cut to the chase a little quicker than I did on Begin To Look Around. I’ve probably exposed a bit more. I think that it captures like a lot of my early to mid-twenties experiences, so it feels very vulnerable, possibly even more vulnerable than the previous record. It also feels a lot more honest and a lot more bold. It’s a lot more pop as well.
Did it go everything go to plan right from the original idea that you had in your head to how it actually came out at the end?
A little. I mean, things kind of do change a bit along the way, but I had written a lot of the songs for this album before I had wrapped it up in a concept and in a theme and title. I wrote the title track pretty close to the end of the process of writing a record. I wrote it on my final overseas writing trip in Nashville. I knew at that point how I was going to present it. I’m really pleased with how things have gone so far. I think engaging in being very dedicated to an aesthetic for this album and bringing it into this kind of yellow pink palette and seeing how the fans have engaged with that has made things a lot easier in terms of just creating a universe that is accessible for my audience. That’s been really fun. I feel like since I released the last single Don’t Date The Teenager I’ve felt every emotion under the sun.
Did you think as the songs are starting to take shape in the studio, that you had that special group of songs?
We wrote a lot for this album because of the pandemic and the fact that I didn’t ever really stop writing in between albums. The oldest song on this record was something I wrote at the beginning of 2020, so that was pre-Begin To Look Around even came out into the world. That part of the process of making the album was completely unpredictable and took us over a span of three years essentially. What was really satisfying, think I wrote like eighty to ninety songs over those three years, and then in terms of narrowing it down to twelve, what was a big relief was the fact that my team and I were all on the same page as to what the strongest or standout songs were amongst that collection. There’s obviously still a lot of songs within all of the ones that didn’t make it that I love dearly, but because I had such a theme for the album, I knew what would make sense and what wouldn’t after I’d gotten that title track.
What did you think when you listened to the album for the first time start to end?
Oh man! It’s crazy when, because we had a very kind of intense like three months period at the beginning of this year where we were in the process of finalising the production, I was re-doing all of the vocals and finalising the arrangements and then getting it mixed and mastered. When I listened to it for the first time, without obsessively taking notes I felt really proud. I remember feeling really proud of myself. I want it to make people feel excited and I want it to evoke a sense of reflection and gratitude in people because I think they are two very key themes on the record. I have looked at life through this very glowy lens I guess, focusing on the silver linings of life. I want it to be able to do that for my listeners as well. I wanted to bring them joy. I think there’s so much up beatness to the album itself that I think it’s a hard album to listen to and sit still. I think there’s a lot of opportunity to get up and have a dance, which is really fun.
Are you looking to play the album in full on this tour?
I want to play as much of it as I can, but I think with the case of releasing Begin To Look Around only the year before last, I also definitely want to spend some more time with those songs too. I think it’ll be interesting to see how the set list comes together. I’m definitely certain that I will play a longer set than usual just because I love playing live so much and for the kind of artist that I want to be in terms of how many shows I would love to be playing, I’m eager to be on that stage for as long as I can. It will mean that we get to experience the songs from both of the albums, which will be really fun.
Interview By Rob Lyon
Catch Gretta Ray at Lion Arts Factory on Friday 29 September…