Ray Scott Is Bringing Back Traditional Country Music With New Album
Country fans who complain that traditional country music is dead evidently haven’t heard the music of Ray Scott.
The singer-songwriter made quite a stir with his third album, ‘Rayality,’ which he released independently in 2012. Using alternative marketing methods that focused on the internet and satellite radio, Scott ended up selling several hundred thoudsand units — a feat practically unheard of in the current industry climate, where even many major label releases are consistently under-performing.
Scott released a new self-titled album on Oct. 7, produced once again by Dave Brainard, whose credits also include Jamey Johnson, Brandy Clark and more. The men have partnered for a new label, deciBel Nashville, to release and promote the project, which features a wide mix of songs that are sure to please not only fans of traditional country, but fans of well-written songs from a unique perspective.
Taste of Country caught up with Ray Scott to discuss his new album, the ever-changing music business and his unique place in it in the following interview.
There’s a whole new business plan underlying this new album, is that correct?
Yeah, you know, the last record we did . . . obviously I’ve been independent for a while, but the last record we did, we just kinda did what we could with it. We didn’t really have any sort of a label infrastructure or investment or any of that kind of thing. This time around, after the success of ‘Rayality’ and ‘Those Jeans,’ which was created largely with XM airplay — we sold 200,000, and we were put in a position to actually have a little bit of leverage, so we were able to kind of make a plan.
We knew there was an audience out there, we knew there were people who were interested. We had a little bit of ammo, I guess you could say, when it came to making a plan for a new record. And using the information that we had, the analytics that we had from the last go ’round, we were able to make a plan for this one, and put some things in place … some publicity, and secondary radio.
This is your second record with Dave Brainard. Do you see this as an extension of the material from ‘Rayality’? Was any of it created around the same time, or is it a shot in a different direction for you, or a little bit of both?
It’s a little bit of both, really. The songs on this record range from being a year old, to . . . there’s one on there that’s probably 10 years old. A lot of it is, it’s a collection of songs that I knew people have requested. My A&R process has always been going out and trying material out on people and seeing what their response is, and kinda picking from that stuff and seeing what makes the most sense as a whole body of work.
We always want to make sure that no two songs sound the same. This record in particular, I really set out to make it different. Every song is its own vignette, really. No two really sound alike. No two are thematically alike. There’s maybe a reference to drinking in a handful of them. [Laughs.]
We were able to go in, and we weren’t on the clock in a big studio trying to get tracks laid in three hours or two sessions. We had time to really hammer away at it and do some things that were unique and original, and add some production ideas and techniques. It’s the first time I’ve ever used a string section, and the first time I’ve ever used a banjo on something. There’s numerous firsts with this one. It just came from the freedom to think it out and try some new things. This was definitely a little more mapped out and planned.
"I haven’t really sat down and made a master plan to write songs that I’m gonna get mainstream country artists to record."
What is your writing process — do you start with a title, start with chord progressions . . .?
There’s really no set method to the madness. I’m not like a lot of writers in Nashville in that I don’t necessarily subscribe to showing up every day at 10 o’clock to co-write with one or two people. That’s not necessarily the process that excites me. I’ve done it before, but when it comes to writing material and recording it for myself, a lot of times the best things for me are the things that come out of nowhere, and I’ve learned to take advantage of the moment when it does come.
I do write a lot of things. Usually my albums are filled up with about half songs that I’ve written by myself, and that’s kind of a rare art these days in Nashville. But a lot of my big heroes of the past were people who sat down and wrote alone a lot.
It seems like you get a lot more original material that way. A lot of the stuff that you create for yourself, you wouldn’t necessarily go pitch to any other mainstream act.
Exactly. Generally I’m probably the only person that’s gonna record a handful — the majority of my material, really, especially over the last two or three years. I haven’t really sat down and made a master plan to write songs that I’m gonna get mainstream country artists to record. I’ve had a few cuts over the years, and that’s been great, but I kinda got back to a place a couple of years back where I just wanted to write for the pure enjoyment of the originality factor, and whatever comes from me, I don’t sit down and think, ‘Okay, let’s write something for Luke Bryan or Jake Owen.’ Or any of those guys.
I’ll sit down and write something, and if those guys like it, then great. If they want to record it, that’s great. I think right now, Jake’s actually got one of mine on hold. But it wasn’t a product of my sitting down and saying, ‘Okay, what are they doing on the radio today? Let’s do that.’ I never do that. I’ve never really done that.
That’s one of the reasons that I got turned off of co-writing in the first place, years ago, is because sometimes I would go and get with successful writers that were having hits and radio play, and sometimes I’d feel like I’d go in there and I’d wasted an idea with one or two of these guys, just because they were purposely trying to take it into that middle-of-the-road radio kind of thing. That’s never been the kind of music that really moved me from any kind of an artistic standpoint. It just seems to be watered down and homogenized. And that’s all well and good for what it is. Obviously that stuff sells really well, but it’s not really what trips my trigger.
When you were on a major label, did you find that was a major challenge? I would have to imagine that a major has to push you more toward the middle, just by the very nature of marketing to a mass audience.
That was the case. I was actually really lucky to be in the position that I was when I was with a major, years ago. They pretty much allowed me to make the record I wanted to make, and I did that, and it was very indicative of who I am from start to finish. That was a really great experience, freedom-wise, when it comes to being a new artist and being given that much rope. So I was able to do that.
What happened was, we put out a single that was very polarizing, and it didn’t really fly at radio. So after that happened, even though we were selling really well, some of the guys there were kind of second-guessing what I was doing and wanting to pull me more toward the middle, and that’s when things went belly up a little bit, between that and politics and new regimes coming in, that kind of stuff. It sorta went south.
But that was kinda what was meant to happen. Coming from where I’m coming from musically, it never would have worked, because I’m not really someone who can adhere to somebody else’s plan. It’s extremely difficult for me to do stuff that I didn’t write myself. And that’s not because I have a big ego about it; it’s just the way I see things out of my window is a little different.
‘Papa and Mama’ stands out on the new album as a really unique song. What on earth inspired you to write a song about that topic?
[Laughs.] I’ll be honest with you, I really don’t know, except for in the corner of my mind, maybe hearing stories like this.
I’ve always loved those old murder ballads, Johnny Cash and whatnot from way back when. They’re telling the dark side of real life. There’s a beauty in that, there’s a realness in that, a grit in that. I just miss that in music today. There’s been a number of songs like that that I’ve written, but there was just something about that one. Even though the lyric is extremely dark, there was a feel to the song that sort of lightened it up a little bit. I love that kind of stuff. I could make a whole record of those types of songs.
"It’s not necessarily about trying to do whatever it takes to be a big star; it’s about trying to find a way to make a living doing it exactly the way I want to do it. "
‘Tijuana Buzzkill’ is based on a true story, is that correct?
Yes, actually from start to finish it’s true. I got thrown in jail in Tijuana, Mexico when I was a lot younger. At the time it was the scariest night of my life, but now it’s funny. Everything in the song actually happened, right down to getting my foot peed on by a guy in the cell next to me. It was an interesting evening, I’ll tell you, and it’s funny — the same thing happened to another guy I knew here in town, so he could totally relate to the story.
That’s the oldest song on the record. I actually had recorded it in a live version to go toward my second record at Warner Bros., and that second record never happened. So all of these years have passed by, and I just re-recorded it. I think it’s a standout, and another first on that song, it’s the first time I’ve ever used any kind of horns. I love that part. That was Dave Brainard’s idea.
The first single is ‘Drinkin’ Beer.’ It’s a little bit lighter.
Yeah, I wrote that with my friend Tony Mullins. Tony has had some success as a songwriter over the years. We were hanging out at his house one day, and he’s got this really cool pond and clubhouse. It’s a neat little place, and I thought, ‘Man, this would be a good day for drinkin’ beer.’ And it kinda just turned into that. He started playing that quirky guitar riff, and it ended up being a song, probably within about 30 minutes. It’s just a fun one to play, and I thought it was a good introduction to this album. I kind of see it as an onion, and that’s the first layer. After that you can get deeper into stuff.
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As an independent artist, do you find that the internet helps more, or hurts more in terms of helping get your music out there vs. piracy?
I can see both sides of that. In my position, even though I own my masters and I’m able to make money from record sales — unlike many people signed to a major — I don’t expect the numbers to be absolutely huge. We did very, very well for an independent, especially with no infrastructure, last year with the ‘Rayality’ record, and ‘Those Jeans.’
But the internet helps, because obviously you can make people aware of it. Piracy happens. I honestly have no way of knowing how many people out there are paying for my music, as opposed to one paying for it and then burning a CD for five of their friends. I have no idea, and I don’t necessarily want to worry about it. At the end of the day, my goal is to get out there and work more, and have more people come to live shows and buy merch. That’s pretty much what keeps artists alive these days.
I’m lucky enough to have a lot of success in the UK and Eastern Europe, too, in the last two or three years. I just had my fourth No. 1 over there. ‘Drinkin’ Beer’ has been No. 1 for five weeks in the UK. So everything is an opportunity, and after a while, as an artist you just have to really learn how to pursue ways to keep it up and keep it alive. Generally a lot of times for artists it’s feast or famine, and we’ve figured out a way to make it work for us on a level that makes it worth continuing to do. It puts a little bit of money in our pockets, but by no means does it line our pockets.
Where I grew up, people would sometimes use the phrase, ‘It’s good work if you can get it.’ I kinda see it as that. It’s not necessarily about trying to do whatever it takes to be a big star; it’s about trying to find a way to make a living doing it exactly the way I want to do it. And that’s kinda where we’ve gotten with it, so that’s a proud place to be in. Right now it’s all about keeping the train going and making that true 10 years, 20 years from now.
Is there anything else you want to say about the record, or any touring that you have coming up?
We’re just adding dates all the time, and anyone who is interested in coming out, I would say request it at your local club or wherever the venues are. We’re reaching out to a lot of people right now, a lot of dates are being added to the calendar. This is kind of more of a grass roots type approach, and we’re not too good to go anywhere.
Now that the new album’s out there, as much support and word of mouth that we can get on that from people who want their country back, I think this is a nice option for them. That’s kind of been our goal, is to give people an alternative to some of this stuff that’s maybe not necessarily what they think country’s supposed to be. I know there’s a lot of those people out there that feel that way. I guess this is pretty much for them.
Quit Complaining About Modern Country Music
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