After being thrust into the spotlight following winning Triple J’s Unearthed High competition in 2016, Melbourne-born and based Gretta Ray has shown wisdom and musical clarity beyond her years. With smash hits ‘Drive’, ‘Towers’ and ‘Time’ among some of her most known work, Gretta is also a hard worker dedicated to releasing honest music in her own unique style.
Backyard Opera caught up with Gretta to talk her new EP, her experiences in the music industry and if she ever gets sick of playing her own songs.
BYO: You’ve just released your second EP, Here and Now. Tell us a bit about how this EP came together!
GRETTA: Here and Now came together as a body of work over the course of two years. I went into the writing process and the recording process kind of wanting to make an album. That was my initial intention. I just kind of romanticised the concept of the whole debut album thing. So I was keen on making that happen, however, I kind of wasn’t writing as consistently as I imagined I would be when I finished high school! I had all this time and I thought ‘Oh I’ll be able to write heaps of songs,’ but it didn’t end up working out quite like that. I think it was because of the fact that I had released a couple of singles while I was still in school, and people had heard them, so the fact that there was now people listening intently to my music put more pressure on me as a writer. I wanted to write really good songs, so I only managed to get a couple out. After a while, it kind of became pretty apparent to everyone involved when creating Here and Now that it was going to be an EP. I didn’t know I wanted to call it that, but I wanted to make it a direct follow-up to Elsewhere which was my last EP. So that’s the story of that!
BYO: What is your favourite song on the EP and why?
GRETTA: I think my favourite song on the EP changes, depending on the day that it is. I think all the songs have their own character, and there’s something that connects them all together. But there are a lot of things about the songs that set them apart from each other as well. The first one that springs to mind when you say that today, though, is probably the last track on the EP which is called ‘Blue Minded’, and I think it’s because that was a song that came together in a really beautiful, organic way. I was very directly inspired by a place that I was in at the time when I was writing the song. I was in the Australian outback and I was by the ocean and that’s what the song is about in a big way; being present in that place.
BYO: Who or what influenced your recent single ‘Radio Silence’ the most?
GRETTA: ‘Radio Silence’ was influenced by the frustration surrounding a lack of communication, I guess. I kind of went through that for the first time in my life, with someone who was quite important to me – all of a sudden we weren’t speaking (even though there was reason behind that). I feel like everyone can relate to this song in some way, shape or form; everyone is going through relationships and friendships or anything really. I wanted to approach writing about radio silence in general; its exploring the frustration of not being in contact with someone, and that being a brand new experience. There’s a lot of sadness there, but the song itself ended up being this very apologetic, confessional song, in some sense as well. I guess it was a balance of expressing frustration and owning the responsibility and the guilt, and acknowledging this sense of taking the blame as well, and that being quite important to the song’s narrative.
BYO: ‘Radio Silence’ and your EP is reminiscent of a nostalgic country/folk vibe; would you say you have some country influences in your music?
GRETTA: Well the first EP that I wrote ended up a bit of an indie/folk record, you could say. I would say that I grew up with a lot of country and folk music, as a kid my parents played a lot of it, probably more so folk. I got really into country music when I was a young teenager, I guess. But the biggest change for me, with this EP, in comparison to the last, was that this one was heavily influenced by pop music, and I came to an understanding that my song writing and my melodies that I was writing was very pop influenced, and I kind of wanted to work with that as well as keeping those country and folk influences as well.
BYO: You’ve been playing music for a little while now; what would you say are the best and worst parts of being in the music industry?
GRETTA: The best parts about being in the music industry is probably meeting some really wonderful people! I have a really great team of people around me that I’m very lucky to be working with. They keep me inspired and hardworking and grounded and I think that’s been the best part of the experience for me; meeting the right people and making the right connections. Also just coming across these artists and musicians that I love and being friends with them, and being able to support and love each other’s work and inspire each other’s passions is really great. I also just love performing as well. Getting to play such incredible venues has been such a privilege for me, as someone who has loved performing their whole life. That is a big benefit for me, I love playing shows.
In terms of the worst parts of the industry, I would say I’m still fairly new to all of this, so I’ve been very lucky and haven’t really had any negative experiences thus far. I think it can get a bit overwhelming sometimes. After a show, getting off stage and switching from what I interpret as work mode into this more social space, and trying to find a balance in those environments when talking to the audience and things like that. I remember one time, getting off stage after my headline show, and it was one of my first headline shows last year. I was pretty overwhelmed and a lot of my friends were at the gig, and I wanted to communicate with them as I usually would but then I also wanted to talk to people in the audience who were coming up to say hello. I guess it’s finding that balance in terms of how you interact with people in that space. I’m just conscious of being as grateful as you can be in situations like that; that is a priority of mine, making sure I acknowledge everyone who comes to the show.
BYO: Random question: do you ever get sick of playing some of your songs?
GRETTA: Not really! It’s quite exciting to play new songs, like that’s quite a thrilling experience to be able to rehearse these songs and nail them with my band and show what we’ve been working on to the audience. But at the same time there is something that is so special for me when I play, we’ll use my song Drive as an example; we close every show with it because that is the song that a lot of people discovered my music through. But I would say that it actually gets more and more exciting each time, because of the fact that people sing along, and I can look out into a crowd and recognise that that song has actually been really important to those people! They have taken the song and put it into their lives and sung it with their friends, or its meant something in their relationships, and I don’t think that will ever be something that I will get sick of.
I’m constantly trying to improve my performances as well, so I guess, playing one performance and listening back to a recording of it or watching videos and stuff, it’s like ‘Okay, I really wanna do what I did on stage last time, but I wanna change a little bit, so I can include this element or this lyric or moving a bit more.’ So, in that sense I can always try to make it better or make it more exciting, and so it never really gets old because there is that excitement of trying new things every time.
Gretta Ray will be playing the Oxford Art Factory in Sydney on Thursday, August 23. Tickets are still available here: https://www.moshtix.com.au/v2/event/gretta-ray-w-special-guests-feelds-connor-black-harry/103794.
You can also stream Gretta’s new EP, ‘Here and Now’.