10 Questions with ... Michael Ray
August 9, 2015
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Raised in rural central Florida an hour from Orlando, but worlds away, Ray grew up hunting alligators and fishing for tarpon at the end of white sand dirt roads. The child of a family full of musicians, he began his professional career before he was a teenager, started playing in bars and clubs as soon as he could drive and hasn't let up on the pedal since. Ray's debut single, "Kiss You In the Morning," was released in February and is now # 1 on the singles chart - making him the only debut solo male artist to reach the top of the charts this year. He will be performing the #1 single on Good Morning America this Tuesday (8/11). Named one of Spotify's Spotlight on 2015 Country artists, the Eustis, FL native released his 12 song debut album last week (8/7), which he worked on with hit producer Scott Hendricks. Ray continues to grow his following as part of the Kip Moore tour this Fall.
1) Michael, thanks for taking the time to chat with All Access! We know life has been a whirlwind lately. You've had a lot of success with your debut single "Kiss You In The Morning." Can you give us the background of how a boy from Eustis, FL ended up with a major label record deal? What got you to this point?
Growing up in a small town in Central Florida, my family had a classic country band called The Country Cousins and there were always guitars lying around the house. I started to play when I was 9 years old - joining into the band with my grandfather and playing around town 4 nights a week. As I grew as a singer and learned how to entertain a crowd through my teenage years, I began the back & forth trips to Nashville, just trying to learn more. I moved to Nashville 6 years ago, along with my entire band. As we were getting settled there, a music competition TV show called The Next contacted us - and I ended up winning that competition - which ultimately led me to my record deal with Warner Music Group.
2) However, before your major label deal, your hometown station-WPCV/Lakeland---was playing your music. Where were you when you first heard your music on that station, and how did they get ahold of your music in the first place?
It was probably 2010 and I was opening a show for Jason Michael Carroll at Boots N' Buckles. WPCV afternoon personality Sara Michaels introduced herself that night after the show and I gave her a cd. The next day I was driving down the road when she played a track from that album, and that was the first time I had ever heard my music on the radio. I will never forget that moment.
3) You've been on radio tour, and from everything we're hearing, radio loves you. Before your record deal, were you familiar with what a radio tour was? What was the most important thing you took away from your radio tour?
I have other artist friends, so I always knew what a radio tour was - and that it was an important thing you did along the way. So I always hoped I would get to have a radio tour - because I knew that meant the dream was happening. The most important thing I feel I took away from that was making friends and new relationships that we all would build on for many years to come.
4) Speaking of Country radio, you're working towards a #1 song right now. If you achieve it, you will be the first debut male artist with a #1 single in 2015. That's amazing! Did you expect that kind of reaction from radio and their listeners when you first released "Kiss You In The Morning?"
Obviously it was dream from the start, but it's kind of hard to "expect" that when you're on the front end of a single and no one knows who you are. Then when you see your name sitting at the top of the chart alongside names like Zac Brown Band, Luke Bryan, and Frankie Ballard....you start rubbing your eyes wondering "Is this REAL??" No really....is this real?? I can't believe it but it is such an amazing feeling.
5) You worked on your debut album with legendary producer Scott Hendricks. What was it like working with him, and what overall "feel" does this album have?
It's incredible to work with a history-making producer who has 60 number ones under his belt. He knows his way around a song while allowing the uniqueness of each artist to shine through. The overall feel of the album we created embodies who I am, where I've come from, and has a little bit of all of the people who have influenced me along the way. I always dreamed about making an album my entire life and have tremendous respect for the people who came before me that have allowed me the opportunity to make my music today.
6) You just went to your hometown on Friday (8/7) for your album release party. What emotions did you feeling heading back there, and can you tell us a little bit about the event?
It was very surreal when the plane landed and I knew that all the people who have helped and supported me were waiting right here in the town we grew up in. And all of this is happening on a day where my song is sitting at #1 and the album is on the store shelves of the hometown Wal-Mart where I shopped as a kid. I woke up and did about 40 phone interviews with radio stations across America and then two Walmart instores where I signed probably 2000 autographs on Friday! Then after that, my family threw a party with hundreds of family & close friends at a local Eustis restaurant. Adrenaline took the place of sleep...so I thought that this might all become a little more "real" with a little bit of rest, but I am still unable to wrap my head around how surreal this all feels right now.
7) You co-wrote "Run Away With You" with John Rich, and it's currently on the chart in the top 25. Having both your single, and a song you co-wrote on the chart, do you watch the chart like crazy or do you prefer to find out that information through your label, management, etc?
Little bit of both. I actually grew up watching the charts anyhow - studying the artists & their songs with my grandfather. Now that I actually have a song on the chart - I watch it even more! Sometimes I try to stay away from it, but that's hard because I have a lot of friends with songs on the charts. I like to watch what's going on and congratulate them as well.
8) You're getting ready to join Kip Moore this Fall for his "Wild Ones" tour. Can you give us some details on what fans can expect from that show when they see you at one of the stops?
Anybody who's ever been to one of our shows knows we bring a high level of energy. Everything that I have will be left on the stage, night after night. Everywhere we go, we try to bring an experience to the stage that the audience hasn't seen before.
9) You recently got to fulfill your lifelong dream of playing the Grand Ole Opry. Can you explain that night to us and what it was like?
It was a special night indeed. I had a lot of family & friends who made the trip in from Florida. Being able to pay tribute to my grandfather on the biggest stage in Country Music was a night that I will never forget. I played my grandfather's guitar - the one that he played for 50 years - on stage that night and covered one of his favorite songs, Porter Waggoner's "Green Green Grass of Home". That was a song I grew up playing with my grandfather - and then to look over and see my dad & uncle standing on the side of the stage next to Ricky Skaggs....now that's a moment!!
10) Most people in your generation grew up with many different musical influences-Country, R&B, Top 40, etc. What was in your CD player? Expanding on that, what made you want to go the Country route out of any of the other genres?
My CD player has everything from Gene Watson's Greatest Hits to Green Day. I grew up playing a lot of classic country but remained a fan of ALL music. I was raised on Country Music and feel like it tells a story people relate to - it's real in that way - so that's what I always connected with. For me it was never an option - there was never a choice made to go a particular route. I just always made the music that came naturally for me and sang with the voice that I was given.
We read that Garth Brooks was one of your first concerts. If you could join Garth at one of his tour stops this year, what song would you want to come out to sing with him on?
Garth was my very first concert In Orlando in probably 1998. I always thought that "Learning To Live Again" was such a well-written song, so that was always my favorite Garth song. The lyrics & the melody of that tune are timeless in my opinion - so if I had the opportunity to ever join Garth on stage for a song, Garth, if you're reading this, know I'm ready!