Interview with Jack Gray
photos by Allegra Messina
When we speak to Jack Gray, he’s looking at a lot of blue: a rich LA sky reflecting in the surface of a pool. It’s the perfect place for contemplation. For him, his music is full of color, but he always comes back to blue.
“When I make sounds on my laptop when I'm producing I totally just envision what color it is,” he describes. “If something is a weird color, I'm like, ‘I don't know about you’, or maybe it's a good weird, and I'm like, ‘Okay, that's interesting. That’s actually cool, I'm gonna keep that.'”
The Australian native’s music feels like a duality. It has a softness that pulls the listener in, yet it has charged currents bubbling to the surface to keep things interesting - all with a pop sensibility woven in. In three words, it’s blue, electric, and deep. “I like to think that some of the songs are inspiring. And for me, blue's an inspiring color. Then we're gonna go electric. There's a lot of electric guitars, a lot of electronic sounds, and just the vibe of electric…I feel like I hit on that a little bit. And deep; I like to talk about deep things as well.”
A singer, songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist, Jack Gray is a quadruple threat - or maybe even more - living and breathing music. “I grew up in a musical family, so I was playing instruments from the day I could walk,” he explains. “My dad was a drummer, my uncle was a bass player, my mom played the keyboard, and my grandmother as well, so I was just learning these instruments obsessively my whole life. It was kind of just, not that I was forced to do it because I love it so much, but really I was just surrounded by it. How could you not be fascinated by all these things and want to learn all about them?”
At only 20 years old, he's accomplished a lot. “I never really considered myself a singer until high school when I started doing gigs,” Jack continues. “Then when I left school, I got a laptop and wanted to learn how to make little bedroom demos. I would spend, and I still do to this day three years later, every single day, pretty much all day, on my laptop in my room with my little studio set up making sounds and making beats. It truly is my passion and it's all I want to do.” He insists that it all starts with self-motivation. “No one's going to make this happen for you. You just gotta go, go, go. It's all about the songs. If you can produce, you can do it all. Get a laptop, write songs every day, work harder than everyone else, and you'll make it happen.”
It’s easy to hear how he’s involved in every step of the process with his songs, creating an authentic unity of sentiment and texture. But the five singles he’s released so far seem to be a rainbow of different musical shades. He attributes this to his multitude of influences and an endless intrigue for exploring them. “My dad loves these 80's hair bands, like rock and roll, and my sisters love crazy pop music, and I like this really alternative stuff; like indie folk, alternative pop," he says. "When I first started figuring out what I wanted and what I wanted to sound like, I realized I actually didn't want to sound like anything. I want to not box myself in and just make shit that I think sounds cool and not even worry about, ‘does that sound like a Jack Gray record?’”
Almost as diverse as the sounds Jack invents are the ways in which his songs originate. “It's just different every single time,” he observes. “Sometimes I just make a drum beat, then lay a guitar part down and kind of get a vibe happening…put some ear candy in there so it sounds nice, and then start writing. Or sometimes, I'll have a line in my head and I'll just get the acoustic guitar out and write a chorus, then make a beat, record the chorus in, flourish it a little bit, and then write the verse. It could start with a bass line. It could start with a synthesized sound. Every song is its own unique experience. I want to find a vibe [of what I’m feeling at the time] and just go with it fully; not try and jeopardize anything because it needs to sound like another song, you know?” But still, he has a soft spot for electric guitar, calling it his “baby”.
On top of it all, his voice has an effortless purity to it, floating into place on the right words. He’s a natural storyteller, with uninhibitedly honest phrases. “I grew up in Australia, and Australia has great alternative music; everything's layered in metaphors and whatnot,” Jack remarks. “I was always trying to be super ambiguous…you just end up, like, not knowing what you're talking about. I have developed this conversational way of writing just by understanding that people [didn’t] actually know what I [was] saying in my music. I feel like there's a real message in my songs now and I'm telling the stories in a cool way.”
He’s not short of stories, either, detailing the inspiration behind his song “Red Rental Car”. “My friends and I went to a music festival in Australia called Splendour In The Grass, and we went back to the camp area where everyone was having fun and getting ready to go into the festival. My mates hired this red Toyota Camry, and they had all the doors open blaring the speakers. They were like, distorting; I reckon [they’re] totally blown now. And there were six people on the roof of this car with Doc Martens on, jumping and drinking and screaming and I thought it [was] hilarious. We went on and saw amazing bands and just had the time of our lives. The next day we [went] into the studio [to write a song] and we were going through our videos on our phone from the night before. We found a video of people jumping on the car. So yeah, that was a pretty funny experience and I'm glad we got to make a song out of it.” The finished track, more laid back than one might expect, has a longing for that sense of euphoria.
In another of his singles, “My Hands”, he even conceptualizes a friend’s relationship, simply yet vividly capturing the complexities of interactions. “When it's a situation that happened to you, obviously it's a little bit easier because you can reference specific things and paint the clearer picture, but it's not super hard for me to write about other situations because I can kind of put my own spin on it. Thanks, bro, for having a broken heart and letting me write a song about it. I appreciate it,” he laughs.
Jack’s most recent release, “Take Our Time”, tackles the realities of long distance relationships, showing one of the most vulnerable sides of his music. “I was lucky enough to go on the road and do my thing [around the time that] my friends were heading off to college. It was at that point that I realized how hard long distance relationships are. And every moment that you spend with them, you're just like, ‘that's not enough’. Because it's not long, you just want to make every second last and really take your time with that person."
“Take Our Time” will be the closing track on his debut EP 'Nights Like This', set to be released May 31. “These songs are just a display of what I've been thinking over the last two years. They're a collection of songs that I feel best represent me and what I've been going through.” A track that he feels particularly connected to is “Bullet”, he tells us. “It's about suicide, and the town I grew up in, and a lot of experiences that I went through. It's really, really close to me…I can't wait to share it with everyone.”
But Jack is already thinking ahead to the next thing. “I’m just so excited to have a body of work out for people to hear and hopefully stick around. I’m super pumped about the next record - that's already underway. [It’s] just going to be an evolution on all the sides that I've shown on this first EP,” he says enthusiastically. We’ll be ready for more of his stories, and the unexpected palettes that might surround them.
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