“I’m almost weirdly addicted to putting myself under pressure.”
Early exposure to excellence instilled high standards in Gretta Ray. A number of all-time greats—Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Sheryl Crow—soundtracked childhood and inspired stories of her own. If timeless songs captured Ray’s imagination, concerts solidified her future. The communal feedback loop that makes or breaks a show—art created and consumed in an instant—sold the ambitious Aussie on life as a performer. Now, she’s living it daily, tackling learning curves left and right.
The newly minted 20 year old has already graced festival stages and opened for established acts, continuing a path to success that first took flight in high school. Her second EP, Here and Now, released August 10, packs charm, maturity and heartfelt hooks into a brisk 29-minute runtime. The project lifted Ray’s monthly listeners to the 550,000 mark. Inspired by her rise, AWAL spoke with Gretta about lessons on the road, the Melbourne music scene, and what it takes to build a trustworthy team.
Your music synthesizes this perfect blend of pop music, folk and poetic literature. Do you think of yourself as a storyteller first and foremost?
Thank you for saying that! I do think of myself as a storyteller yes, but probably not first and foremost because I really love to perform, and before I started writing music I was already hooked on the idea of one day becoming a performer. Songwriting followed as a very close second and I think that now, the two go hand in hand in terms of priority.
I’m currently in the middle of touring around Australia and although I’ve only played two shows so far, it’s definitely serving to remind me how important the element of performance is when it comes my project. But then again, when I’m on stage I’m doing my best to express the narratives behind the songs through the way that I communicate with the crowd. So yeah, it’s kind of like one can’t function without the other if that makes sense!
Here and Now packs a lot of awesomeness into seven songs. What in particular about “Towers” brings you the most pride?
That’s a really interesting question about “Towers,” I wrote and recorded that song so early on in the process of making this EP, and am still head over heels in love with how orchestral and anthem-like it became in the studio. Each verse or chorus is so sonically different from the last; it takes you on this really unique and exciting listening journey with all of those production elements, I think. But I actually think what makes me the most proud of this piece of work is that I was able to utilise perfect rhymes and alliteration within the choruses. I spent a long time searching synonyms for various terms so the beginning consonant of some words were the same, such as “noble” and “knight,” and then “lucent” and “light.” I don't know, I’m a bit nerdy when it comes to the language side of things when I’m composing, but I think having achieved those things definitely reflects just how thoroughly I worked through that particular song of mine.
Who fostered your love for writing?
The music I listened to as a kid, without a doubt. As well as the fact that I was attending gigs and concerts from an early age, observing the way that songwriting and music in general brought people together. There’s this universal understanding when it comes to music; we go to a show to feel good, listen to songs we love and relate to, and witness an artist we admire. In that little bubble whether it may be at a packed out Corner Hotel gig or a Rod Laver show, there’s the same feeling in the atmosphere of the room. This relief, joy and trust that everything is going to be alright, even if just in that space of two hours or so. I’ve always loved that reassuring, nurturing nature of music and songwriting.
My parents played a huge role in influencing me to begin writing my own songs. I don’t think it was something they initially imagined me doing. With singing it was a given, as I was singing pretty much as soon as I was talking, but I think the whole writing thing took them by surprise. I don’t know what they expected though, I mean they were immersing me in all of this great music while I was growing up… my most cherished memories as a child were singing in the back of the car harmonising with my Mum as Sheryl Crow played over the speakers, it’s no wonder that I wanted to solidify that same feeling in my life by writing my own music and sharing it with as many people as I could. I also had a handful of wonderful, talented and experienced musicians as family friends, so when I was nine years old playing my guitar in my room and they’d come over and validate my songwriting and encourage me to keep working at it, how could I not do just that? I respect and love those figures in my life so much.
You’ve spoken highly about your team and the mentorship they provide. What boxes have to be checked for you to feel confident in someone who supports you, perhaps things other artists might find helpful to know?
I mean, one person doesn’t necessarily have to check all the boxes I don’t think. When you’re surrounded by a team of people who want to help you grow, they will all approach trying to achieve that differently and I think that’s great. The one thing that is crucial to me is that I have a positive, honest and open relationship with everyone who works on this project, and that I feel comfortable turning to them for advice. But, for example… all of the producers involved in creating the Here and Now EP have wildly different personalities and ways of working, and when we all collaborate on a song together we end up meeting somewhere in the middle and as a result we get this really eclectic sounding piece of music. So, some people will push you and challenge you with their feedback, others may be more gentle and therefore adopt the role of being someone you confide in when you’re feeling particularly vulnerable or sensitive… either way you’re going to benefit as an artist. I wouldn’t be the artist I am today without each and every member of my team, as well as mentors and teachers of mine that I’ve met along the way. I’m very lucky!
What’s your earliest performance memory?
Probably performing as a part of the Young Voices of Melbourne. I joined that choir when I was five, and my first showcase as a part of that choir was at a venue called the Choral Cafe. That was most likely the first time that I stood on a proper stage and looked out into a crowd. At the time, I would have had no idea that I would be doing just that as my job 15 years down the track.
How have the realities of touring compared to your expectations?
I don’t think I had a lot of expectations initially, when it came to touring… Naturally I didn’t anticipate that it would be as tiring as it is, because when you’re in the moment of playing a show, you’re running on this insane adrenaline that carries you through the whole night, and then you’re over at the merch desk with the fans, and it’s still doing it’s thing. You make it through this physically and emotionally demanding evening which doesn’t seem that challenging at the time, but you feel the result of having used all that energy the following morning. Doing that multiple times over definitely takes it out of you, but I’m saying this with very little touring experience thus far. I think the true challenges of being on the road will present themselves in the future when I embark on bigger and longer tours, which will also serve to be very exciting and fun I imagine!
Gretta performing on her Here and Now tour
Have you learned anything about life on the road and stage prep that’s taken you by surprise?
Loading in and loading out takes much more time that I imagined it would.
Did you face a challenge on tour that helped you grow a lot in little time? Where are you trying to take things for this next run of dates?
I was quite naive when I first started touring as a part of Japanese Wallpaper’s band. I loved being a part of that tour so much, but it occurred around a period of time wherein I won triple j Unearthed High, so I suddenly went from being someone as a part of that band who no one recognised, to this newly exposed artist. People were a little more interested in wanting to interact with me as well as Gab after shows, and although their attention was rewarding and I was so grateful that they enjoyed my music as well as Japanese Wallpaper’s, at times I was a tad overwhelmed. I was inexperienced when it came to directly engaging with fans and I took the responsibility of connecting with them very seriously. So once we’d packed up the merch desk, I would ask myself a million questions in my head: “Did I say the right thing? Should I have shaken that person’s hand or hugged them instead? Did I tell them I appreciated their support enough?” I feel like since then, I’ve always wanted to prioritise those unique relationships that I develop before, during and after a show. Getting to be on the road as my own artist and meet members of the audience in that space has been really helpful in terms of me growing and becoming more comfortable with how I present myself and connect with those people.
Between your commitment to finishing school last year and your determination to continue evolving as an artist, where do you trace your ambition to? Self-evolution is an admirable goal—why do you think it’s become a core driver for you?
That’s such a great question. I think the reason behind why I’m so fixated on constantly learning and developing as an artist and person is pretty simple - there’s always room for improvement. I have been asked from time to time whether or not I believe there will be a moment where I think I’ve “made it” in this career. (I barely even know what that term means, really) It is so difficult to envision that moment ever existing for me because I’m always wanting to be a better writer and performer than I was the day beforehand, I’m almost weirdly addicted to putting myself under pressure in that sense. Sure, I look around during a show and think to myself, “This is unbelievable, I’m so grateful I get to do this,” but I’ll always be looking for what’s on the horizon, what more I can learn, how can I grow myself into the best possible artist I can be.
You have 30 seconds to choose a song for karaoke. What’s getting played?
A Taylor Swift song. Like maybe one from her earlier records. I only did karaoke for the first time recently so I don’t have a go-to karaoke song, but yeah. Any Taylor Swift song gets played and I will sing every word without fail.
Does a blank page excite you or make you nervous?
That definitely depends on my state of mind/mood. More often than not it would excite me, because I feel like I always have some emotion or concept to ponder on and scribble down some thoughts about. I think if I were in a room with other writers and we had a blank page in front of us though, it would for sure make me sickeningly nervous. Sharing the earliest stages of my ideas with others is something that I’m still working on feeling comfortable with; the process of songwriting has been a very private part of my life up until really recently.
Do you feel proud of your Aussie roots? What’s the most common misconception foreigners have about the country and its music scene?
As a musician, yeah! I live in Melbourne and am very proud to be a part of it’s music scene. I think when it comes to the Australian music scene on the whole, a common misconception that some may have is that there isn’t a lot happening and there aren’t that many artists on the rise. But there is SO much happening here all the time and so much great music being worked on and released. I feel like there’s a shift occurring at the moment in that regard though; there is a lot more Australian music being exposed to other parts of the world, to places such as the U.S and the U.K. There are so many people I know killing it in this industry and it's one of my favourite things in the world to observe them grow and receive the recognition they deserve for their hard work and talent.
AWAL Insights™ Into Gretta Ray's Journey
- Gretta's focus track "Radio Silence" from her newest EP "Here and Now" has already earned over 400,000 streams and 210,00 listeners since release earlier this month.
- Gretta's music has seen massive support from Spotify's New Music Friday, and The Pop List, plus a ton of popular Apple Music playlists such as Best of the Week, The A-List: Singer/Songwriter.
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