There’s a handful of ways to get on Music City’s radar. The first is to win a talent TV show – with American Idol, The Voice and Nashville Star accounting for some of the biggest names in the country music scene. The other, is to play every dive bar around until someone notices you. Michael Ray did both.
Michael was inspired by country music greats like Johnny Cash, who went from radio station to radio station, hoping they’d get their big break. After putting in his time, he went on to win the talent competition, The Next: Fame Is at Your Doorstep in 2012, mentored by Big & Rich’s John Rich.
Growing up in Florida, his grandfather – who his latest album, Amos, is named after – taught him to play the guitar at 8 years old during his parents’ divorce. After learning his first chords, he got bitten by the music bug. The encouragement didn’t just come from his grandfather, but his whole family who supported Michael in his career.
He released his first album independently in 2010, and with two studio albums under his belt, he’s going into the next phase of his career. We caught up with Michael to hear all about his country music journey so far, and what it’s really like being engaged to another country music star…
“The bottom line is we’re all human and travelling takes its toll on you, some days you’re sick, some days you’re missing home and everything you go through that people don’t talk about. But, when you feel that connection when you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel, that moment makes it all worthwhile.” – Michael Ray
Taylor Magazine: So… talk to us about your journey as a music artist. How did you begin?
Michael Ray: I played every bar and every club all through Florida. I moved to Nashville with five of my band members in a two bed, two bathroom apartment. There were a lot of ups and downs, but my heart was set from the beginning. When I was younger, every weekend, I was playing with [my grandfather’s] band so I knew it was something I wanted to do.
Taylor Magazine: Tell us more about your new record, what we can expect and how did this record come together?
Michael Ray: I know what I want to say on this record, so I already have the walls built up, this is where I’m at in my life right now, and this is what I want to say, and we need this type of song. It all starts with a song. When you’re making a record, whether you write or cut it, it’s like a puzzle. You get halfway through and go ‘Oh, I need this style, or this kind of song.’
Taylor Magazine: Who have you worked with that has been really inspirational to you?
Michael Ray: I’ve been writing with Brandy Clark recently, who I’ve always been a big fan of. It was pretty great writing and hanging out with her. I got to know her as a person, and would love to work with her again, whether that’s writing or performing a duet.
Taylor Magazine: Who else would be your dream collaboration?
Michael Ray: I grew up with 90s country, so performing with Tim McGraw would be really cool.
Taylor Magazine: So, who is on your playlist at the moment, who are you listening to?
Michael Ray: My music playlists are the strangest thing cause it’ll go from Hank Williams to current artists. There’s a lot of really great music out there, like Travis Denning, who’s a buddy of mine and was a writer on ‘Her World Or Mine’. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Hardy at the moment who is an up and coming artist. I’m a big fan of Runaway June too.
Taylor Magazine: You’ve recently performed in the UK, how was it performing in a different vibe to the US?
Michael Ray: Honestly, it felt like home. As an artist, it was great to see everyone singing every word, the response has been amazing. The fans are so respectful, and passionate about the music. I encourage any artist to go over and play there. I was like: ‘Holy crap, my music has made it this far! People are singing album cuts and know my story!’ I’ve taken that energy, and channelled it into all of my performing, particularly at something as big as Stagecoach.
Taylor Magazine: Talk to us about your relationship with Carly – what is it like both being involved in country music?
Michael Ray: I trust her opinion so much. I’m such a fan of hers as an artist and her mindset and vision. But she’s also so honest, and she will tell me the truth cause she wants me to succeed. It’s great having a smart, knowledgeable artist by my side that isn’t afraid to tell me when something’s not working.
“I trust [Carly’s] opinion so much. I’m such a fan of hers as an artist and her mindset and vision. But she’s also so honest, and she will tell me the truth cause she wants me to succeed. It’s great having a smart, knowledgeable artist by my side that isn’t afraid to tell me when something’s not working.” – Michael Ray
Taylor Magazine: When you’re not making music or on the road, what do you like to do?
Michael Ray: Carly and I are real homebodies. We love to hang at the house, work out and walk the trails at home. We’re doing stuff to our house at the minute too, so that’s keeping us occupied!
Taylor Magazine: Do you have a favourite song that you’ve written, or one you love to perform?
Michael Ray: ‘The One That Got Away’ is just such a fun part of the set that we know is always going to be good. ‘Her World Or Mine’ has also become that intimate song for us, which is really cool to see the crowd connect with it and hear their stories. When I see a connection, whether that’s the crowd singing back to us, or I’m in a store and someone comes up and tells me how important a song is to them, it’s special.
Taylor Magazine: What would you say is the most challenging thing about what you do?
Michael Ray: The bottom line is we’re all human and travelling takes its toll on you, some days you’re sick, some days you’re missing home and everything you go through that people don’t talk about, but when you feel that connection when you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel, that moment makes it all worthwhile.
Taylor Magazine: What advice would you give your 16-year-old self?
Michael Ray: I’m watching my nephew grow up, and we all battle that ‘I want to be 25 now’ feeling, but you never get to go back. I’d tell younger Michael to slow down, be confident and know that it’s all going to work out.
Taylor Magazine: And lastly, what has been the highlight of your career so far?
Michael Ray: Playing The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, for sure. I always dreamed about that moment. Standing on that stage, you feel like you’ve made it – or at least pretty close.