WHEN Gretta Ray started piecing together her debut album, she realised she had a problem.
It wasn’t an album at all.
“It was an EP staring me right in the face,” Ray says.
The 20-year-old Melbourne singer-songwriter admits she “had this romanticised idea of a debut album, which you can get very attached to.
“But considering that I’m not that consistent a writer and I’m a huge perfectionist, I wasn’t actually getting that many songs out.”
Thankfully, the decision to release those songs as an EP has worked out just fine, withHere and Now reaching number two on iTunes earlier this month.
“That was probably the most surreal moment for me,” Ray says.
“It’s pretty mind-blowing, to say the least.”
Ray must be used to having her mind blown, considering her achievements over the past two years.
She’s supported the likes of Paul Kelly, Vance Joy, The Rubens and James Bay, played Falls Festival and Splendour in the Grass, and has just finished her first solo tour.
The Here and Now tour has begun. To everyone who came to our sold out Melbourne show last night, your energy was wild, wondrous and indescribably mind blowing. I LOVE you for filling that room and singing every word at the top of your lungs. 💜📷: Dylan Martin for @BeatMagazine pic.twitter.com/FAzKQU8E6E— Gretta Ray (@grettaraymusic)
On top of that, her debut single Drive won a spot in the top 30 of Triple J’s Hottest 100 in the same year she finished high school.
But since Drive — a dreamy pop song borne of fantasies about hitting the road with a lover — brought her regular national airplay and a host of fans, she’s made a concerted effort to pump the breaks.
“Once I recognised that people were tuning into my music and analysing the lyrics, and connecting to the songs … I just really wanted to give back as soon as I could,” Ray says.
“But you do need to take time in terms of coming up with new ideas and putting out new music. Because if you don’t, it’s not going to feel like it’s your strongest work.”
A “huge perfectionist” by nature, Ray’s recent successes have forced her to change the way she approaches music.
“Song-writing used to be a hobby, and it wouldn’t really leave the space of the bedroom or my kitchen — where I would play songs for my parents,” Ray says.
“Now, I naturally go into the writing process and go … ‘well, people might hear this.’”
Determined to make every word and note count, Ray tinkers endlessly. Even after hours of crafting what she suspects is a final draft, she often makes changes during the 11th hour of the songwriting process — in the vocal booth.
“I don’t really call a song totally finished until it’s been solidified in a recording,” she explains.
The release of Here and Now — which Ray describes as “much more pop-influenced” than her debut EP, which “ended up being classified as indie-folk” — has brought relief, as well as excitement.
For now, a tour is taking her away from the songwriting process she’s come to know as “work” and quite literally into the arms of fans.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the people that come to the shows, meeting them afterwards at the merch desk, and hugging them and thanking them for all their support. That’s my favourite part of the show,” she smiles.
“That’s always really fun, because we can all just hang out and be friends and it’s awesome. It’s this huge adrenaline moment. I’m so excited for that.”
That desire to connect with fans might surprise those who had her pegged as an introvert, given the introspective nature of lyrics such as the following, from When We’re in Fitzroy, the first track on Here and Now.
“I was hook, line and sinker nested inside your head
This sweet-toothed over thinker to your right lies in your bed”
“Sometimes I feel like I am an introvert, but then when it comes to performing and getting a chance to meet all those people who’ve supported this, I’m falling over myself to connect and say thank you,” she explains, before asking her manager, Charlotte Abroms, for her thoughts.
“I would say most of the time, you’re pretty introverted,” Abroms tells Ray.
“But then when it comes to stage presence and interacting with people, you’re really extroverted. And I do think you need some alone time, which is where all that observational lyricism comes from.”
“I’m so in love with words and language that I still get excited when I’m writing,” Ray adds.
“That’s disassociated from what anyone else is going to think. My joy is playing around with those words and making them the best they can be.
“And also the fact that if I’m drawing from experience — that’s very therapeutic. I think any writer would say that.”
— Gretta Ray (@grettaraymusic)
Having grown up “immersed in music”, with experienced Melbourne musicians Rebecca Barnard and Shane O’Mara among a host of family friends who Ray says “influenced me as a writer and encouraged me to start my career” from a fairly young age, it seems she was always destined to take this path.
“All of these people have been like family to me but they’ve been musicians for years and years,” Ray says.
“I actually met Paul Kelly at the 18th birthday party for Rebecca Barnard’s son. We reconnected all these years later and he probably had no memory of who I was.”
With her whole career in front of her, and no shortage of mentors to call upon, one piece of advice has remained a constant.
“Something they’ve all been saying over the duration of these very exciting past two years — which has been really reassuring — is, ‘you don’t need to rush into anything. Take your time. You have plenty of time.’”