About a year ago, Ray Wilson released his first full length album, Troubadour. Last year at this time, Ray had a mindset of hopefulness. He bought one thousand physical albums and he envisioned himself selling a few and giving away the rest. His ultimate goal was to get his music in front of as many people as possible so that he could do the thing he really loves: playing live shows.
“I was just hoping that the album itself would open more doors for me to be able to get out in front of people and perform the songs,” he said.
And his plan worked. He was able to play more live shows in 2015 than ever before in his music career. He was able to go on a mini tour where he played in multiple states. His extensive amount of live shows helped him grow as a musician and gave him the confidence to write new songs.
“One live performance is worth 20 rehearsals,” he said.
Ray Wilson and his Band
But something changed after Ray released Troubadour, something he never expected. When he debuted his album, he envisioned himself playing simple solo shows with only his acoustic guitar. He had no desire to work with a full band. He was a part of bands in the past and for various reasons, it never worked out.
“Some of the greatest people I look up to had no problem sitting on stage with an acoustic guitar performing their songs.”
Then out of the blue, Ray made a decision to acquire a full backing band. He sent the word out and some talented musicians became a part of his band quite rapidly. Ray doesn’t regret his decision to bring in a band because it allows him to play in a wider variety of venues. He also views this band differently than his previous bands. Since Ray has an album under his belt and a full catalog of songs, they are able to listen to the songs and know how they should be played or sang.
“These guys are really dedicated and hardworking and they’re all about these sets of songs. They are putting all of their musical talents into this and using their own time to practice and get to the band rehearsals even though it’s tough when you’re an older musician because we all have responsibilities and jobs. One of my guitarists is a single dad. He has to balance and work with his son. To me that shows a level of dedication that I haven’t been able to plug into in the past,” Ray said of his band.
The evolution of his songs
Through playing so many shows and bringing on a band, Ray has brought a new dimension to his songs.
“When I perform them for people, each time the song develops ever so slightly. A new note is played, a verse or chorus is played just slightly different and the song evolves. It’s honestly not the same song it was during the last performance. That’s one of the beautiful things about music as an art. If I was a painter I wouldn’t go back to an old painting and take out a brush and adjust it. I hope musicians worldwide are thinking about that. Don’t let your music or a song be set in stone. Let it take on a life of its own and let it evolve.”
By viewing his music this way, he allows himself to enjoy playing the songs live over and over again. For him, the music never gets old. “I’m chasing that evolution. Performing them live is almost like a new experience and there are new people that are hearing it for the first time and that’s really exciting for me.”
His favorite song to perform live has been Rebel (in Faded Old Jeans) because of its energy. Ray and the band have turned Rebel into their opening song because it has a fast tempo that gets the crowd excited. When Ray was working in the studio over a year ago, he and producer Mason Smith added a few vocal effects at the last minute that Ray says “are a blast to perform live.”
Putting out an album has not been without its challenges. One of the controversial aspects of Ray’s album release was his decision to give it away for free to anyone who wanted it. “I've gotten a lot of flack from musicians for doing that but I absolutely believe that giving it away put it in front of more people than putting a price tag on it would have accomplished.”
Ray believes that this is the ultimate goal of art. He said that "music and art are meant to be consumed and it’s meant to make a connection between the consumer and the creator of the art."
“Breaking down boundaries is the goal.”
People who received the free download code often would pay for the album anyway to support Ray’s music so he knows that giving it away was the right decision. “It got a relatively new artist in front of fans worldwide, when otherwise it wouldn't have.”
For Ray, the most rewarding part about putting out an album has been fans’ reactions. Even a year later, fans are messaging him on Twitter and sending him emails to tell him how his music has touched their lives. “Even if I had made a lot of money on album sales I know that would have failed in comparison to how my music is touching people's lives and how people are relating to the songs,” he said.
One particularly emotional story is about a girl in France who had an estranged relationship with her father. She heard Ray’s music, thought it was something her father would like, and sent it to him. The music was able to rekindle the connection between daughter and father. The girl still sends updates to Ray to let him know how her mended relationship is going.
“There’s lot a of blood, sweat, and tears that goes into writing songs and performing them buts it’s all worth it when someone lets you know that’s what your hard work did for them.”
Ray has also had his music streamed and sold in over 50 countries worldwide, his songs are in regular rotation on KACV FM 90, KPUR 107.1, and soon to be on KWTS 91.1, and has been featured on many internet radio stations including the popular Bright Sky Radio, and EGH Radio. Ray's song "Misty Waters" was also named one of the Texas Panhandle's top 100 songs of 2015 by New Slang Lubbock.
At this point, Ray isn't focusing on putting out a new album, although he isn't opposed to the idea. Creating an album is a huge undertaking that requires recording, mixing, mastering, album designing, deciding song orders, and of course, paying for it. However, there are plenty of new songs in the works. Ray believes that the opportunity to turn these new songs into a recorded group of music will one day present itself and when that opportunity arises, he will certainly take advantage of it.
For now, he is happy to perform live shows, write new songs, and watch his music (as well as himself) evolve.
“I believe that songs never stop evolving and an artist never stops evolving.”
Here are some photos of Ray Wilson's live shows and other adventures from the past year. All photos by Kayla Smith Photograhy.