“In the event you take heed to one thing and you’re feeling nothing, then there’s no level for it to exist,” Sam Ray informed American Songwriter.
This assertion got here because the conclusion to a proof of his strategy to creating instrumental music, however nonetheless it acts as a pleasant introduction to the artistry of Sam Ray. For the previous decade, Ray has been creating and releasing an impressively excessive amount of high-quality music with quite a lot of bands, initiatives and names.
Arguably, his best-known work to this point comes from his seminal lo-fi band, Teen Suicide — who modified their identify to American Pleasure Membership in 2018 — however that’s not Ray’s solely notable mission, not even shut. He additionally spearheaded the indie-pop band Julia Brown, who garnered a cult following for his or her 2016 album An Abundance of Strawberries. There are different initiatives too — Starry Cat, mad dads, heroin occasion and cute boy kissing sales space simply to call just a few. He’s even labored as a collaborator for a lot of artists, together with his spouse, Kitty. Consequently, even Ray’s followers can have a tough time retaining observe of his wealthy and colourful discography… however for a lot of that’s a part of the attract. See, all through all of Ray’s completely different initiatives there’s a frequent thread: an indescribable feeling that lands someplace between nostalgia, melancholy and euphoria. Maybe one of the best demonstration of this phenomenon comes from Ricky Eat Acid, one other one in every of Ray’s solo initiatives.
Since 2010, Ricky Eat Acid has been constantly releasing experimental digital music that’s as melodic as it’s textural, emotive as it’s transportive. Now, in 2020, Ray is utilizing the mission as an outlet for a few of his most interesting work to this point. All through the month of Might, he launched two new Ricky Eat Acid singles every week by way of Fairly Wavvy, every of which captures that magic aspect which makes a Sam Ray track so particular.
Ray described the brand new singles as from “throughout, each by way of time and by way of how they had been made. They’re kinda all tied collectively by being outcasts from any correct mission or report — these are the songs that don’t slot in.” In that manner, the singles virtually act as an encapsulation of Ray himself — eclectic, emotive, impressionistic and immaculately nontraditional. However, even past that lofty thematic stuff, these singles reveal the technical aspect of Ray’s artistic course of.
“For instance,” he started, “the b-side from the primary week of singles, ‘Massive Lengthy Truck Full Of Horses’ — I’m very glad that I lastly obtained to make use of that identify — was initially speculated to be for a track with vocals that Kitty was making. She requested me if I might take her demo and flesh it out into one thing, so I began doing that however we didn’t like the best way it ended up mixing collectively. So, it was ‘Massive Lengthy Truck Full Of Horses.’ It felt type of empty, however I preferred that, it was cool. The a-side to that single — ‘Taking part in God With My Palms On Fireplace’ — is completely completely different. It’s one thing loopy that I made to play at reveals. I had enjoyable messing round with chopped up piano samples I recorded.”
This sort of course of is frequent in Ray’s work. He builds upon issues, trades issues round and generally even revisits older songs to make revamped variations of them.
“‘Blackberries’ I wrote final 12 months,” he mentioned. “It belongs to a lineage of songs that stem from the primary track I ever put out as Ricky Eat Acid, ‘Offended Clouds,’ which is similar actual sort of factor with the piano and a really related construction. Just a few years in the past I made a track referred to as ‘Strawberries’ that was an replace to ‘Offended Clouds’ however higher due to the brand new stuff I had realized learn how to do. Then, after I made ‘Blackberries’ it felt like an replace to ‘Strawberries.’ So, it’s type of a pleasant little trio of songs that each one go collectively a decade aside.”
“That’s how these items go,” Ray continued. “Every one in every of these songs — each a-sides and b-sides — is one thing completely different or orphaned. This mission is made up of some songs that no one’s ever heard and a few songs that possibly 10 or 20 individuals have heard on varied cassette compilations from all through the years. This can be a good solution to get all of them out. They’re all issues that I actually love, so it’s good to have the ability to spotlight them quite than simply slipping them underneath the door into the world.”
Juggling as many initiatives as he does, there may be usually a artistic blur between all of them. Engaged on his personal exterior knowledgeable studio setting permits Ray’s course of to be a bit extra fluid than the normal path. Consequently, his artistic progress is usually mirrored by the crossover between his initiatives.
“Typically I do begin issues with a mission in thoughts and I’ll end it and it’ll be what I supposed,” Ray mentioned. “Different occasions it’ll be the overall reverse. There’s a Teen Suicide track referred to as ‘Smoke Will get In Your Eyes’ that began as a make-it-just-for-fun type of track for Ricky Eat Acid. I used to be messing with drum breaks and samples, that type of factor. However, I had these couplets in my head for months that I didn’t know what to do with, so I began singing them over it and it match completely. I cleaned up issues right here and there to make the vocals slot in and it turned ‘Smoke Will get In Your Eyes’ — which ended up being the primary observe from that Teen Suicide releasee [2016’s Bonus EP]. That type of factor occurs lots, and it occurs each methods. Typically I’ll begin a track for American Pleasure Membership / Teen Suicide and it’ll snowball into one thing the place it’s like ‘okay, this appears like one thing I ought to deal with with out vocals’ or one thing.”
Nonetheless, this course of goes past simply taking a track written for one mission and utilizing it for one more. As Ray defined, all of his songs share an analogous DNA, and even little issues like sounds and methods can bleed from one report to a different.
“For instance,” he mentioned, “An Abundance of Strawberries by Julia Brown was written and recorded across the similar time as Three Love Songs by Ricky Eat Acid. I used to be engaged on each information concurrently and each are constructed out of the opposite.” For Ray, that might manifest in quite a lot of methods. Typically it meant that recordings or samples supposed for Strawberries ended up changing into important elements of songs on Three Love Songs. “I might take a vocal half with guitar or strings or no matter on it — generally they’d be remoted, however generally they wouldn’t be as a result of we recorded issues on tape — and I might stretch it out in every kind of the way,” he mentioned. “I’d manipulate it, pitch it, clear it up or soiled it up, make it backwards, forwards, quick, gradual, elongated, no matter, however the two would turn out to be entwined with one another. Neither report might exist with out the opposite. I take advantage of these two albums for example, however that course of is fixed. I’ll begin a track for a mission — generally I’ll even end a track for a mission — however then it’ll find yourself changing into part of one other mission. It’s messy, nevertheless it’s a great type of messy.”
Possibly that quote — ‘it’s messy, nevertheless it’s a great type of messy’ — is one of the best abstract of Ray’s creative philosophy. In a manner, what’s so profound about his artistry is it’s similarities to life itself — there’s an indescribable magnificence that emerges from the bustle and confusion. Typically the top end result isn’t what you had initially supposed, nevertheless it usually can show to be extra real, extra lovely, extra significant… okay, that could be a little bit little bit of a brand new age-y stretch, however nonetheless, this does harken again to that frequent theme in Ray’s work.
“All the Ricky Eat Acid stuff that’s out there may be simply the stuff that I’ve preferred sufficient to launch,” Ray mentioned, “there are one million songs I’ve made that imply nothing. They sound like failed experiments. Another person would possibly like them, I don’t know, but when I’m placing one thing out it’s as a result of it touches on that particular aspect. Even when it’s only a piano onto tape hitting six notes — I prefer it as a result of it appears like while you’re making an attempt to recollect one thing from a dream however you overlook increasingly more as you attempt to recollect all of it. That’s what music is to me.”
“We’ve performed the whole lot that may be performed,” Ray continued. “There aren’t any new melodies, there aren’t any new scales, there aren’t any new notes. We’re not going to make a track that sounds not like something that’s ever been made earlier than — that’s for dangerous Danny Boyle motion pictures. So, what makes a track stand out? There’s gotta be one thing there. It’s very exhausting to explain, it’s intangible. The closest I can get is that you just bear in mind one thing. It doesn’t fairly really feel nostalgic, it’s not something you probably did with anyone or a misplaced love or one thing. It’s like while you’re 20 years previous. You get up at a stranger’s home and also you stroll exterior. It’s early spring and it’s heat out. There are bushes simply starting to blossom, they’re turning pink within the gentle. There’s a breeze bringing within the scent of a restaurant simply starting to cook dinner for the day. You’ll be able to scent it, however you don’t know what it’s. You hear individuals speaking someplace, however you don’t know what they’re saying. There’s simply one thing about that little second that sticks in your head, even while you don’t give it some thought. Then, eight or 9 years later it hits you once more and also you bear in mind the whole lot about it. You bear in mind the way it felt, you bear in mind the way it smelt. It turns into extra significant as a result of it’s a reminiscence and also you’ll by no means get it again. Time isn’t linear, however we’re positive as shit not going again to any reminiscences from our previous. So, you may write that off, smoke a joint or no matter and it’s gone. Or you may really feel unhappy all day — err, not ‘unhappy’ however some feeling you may’t describe. That occurs to me lots, it’s been occurring since I used to be a little bit child. For me, the one solution to get by way of it’s to take a seat down at a piano or a pc and attempt to make one thing that sounds precisely how that second felt. Then possibly after I take heed to it I’ll get the identical feeling once more.”
Even the Kristofferson-esque story Ray tells about waking up and strolling down the road provides a glimpse into his capacity to seize a reminiscence. Listening to the whole lot in Ray’s canon from fuzzy Teen Suicide tapes to the glitchy hi-fi sound of some Ricky Eat Acid tunes, that aforementioned ‘feeling’ is continually current.
“I write plenty of songs with phrases too — I don’t usually write them about myself or about my life, however all of them try to recall some feeling from my life,” Ray mentioned. “They are often purely made up, or a story, or some compilation of various reminiscences from individuals I do know. There are songs that I’ve that are simply overhead conversations or individuals’s Fb statuses that I attempt to repurpose into one thing approaching bizarre, bullshit poetry. On the finish of the day, if it feels important and essential, if it appears like I’ve to make it, then one thing about it’s worthwhile. Ten years later, I’ll nonetheless really feel the identical manner about it. It doesn’t matter if the track is about me. I’m not writing a track about heroin as a result of I’m on heroin — and I’m not on heroin, I’ve haven’t been for eight years — that’s simply the track. Songs are songs. The subject of it, the title of it, no matter. It may be private, it may be solely impersonal. However in it, both the music or the phrases or no matter, there must be some urgency. That’s important to me.”
Maybe a few of that philosophy got here from a few of Ray’s influences. Whereas one might not guess it when listening to a few of his harsher or extra eclectic materials, Ray is kind of the connoisseur of ‘songwriter’s songwriters’ and cites them as a big inspiration — chief amongst them is none apart from the late nice Townes Van Zandt.
“Out of all of the songwriters ever — and there’s a bunch — there may be no one who I’ve tried to emulate greater than Townes Van Zandt,” Ray mentioned. “There was a protracted time frame the place I might go to sleep each evening to a playlist I manufactured from Townes Van Zandt’s Reside on the Outdated Quarter the place I eliminated all of the jokes and talkin’ blues songs. It’s simply him and his guitar and I feel it’s his most interesting work. Each track on that album is one of the best model of that track. That impressed an album I made referred to as i blew on a dandelion and the entire world disappeared and the method of constructing it in all probability saved my life.”
Different writers Ray mentions are Leonard Cohen (“his lyrics, his writing and his manner of utilizing phrases is simply phenomenal”), David Berman (“you get the sense that the whole lot he’s writing is a deeply private piece of trauma, nevertheless it’s not — but he did the whole lot so authentically”) and Randy Newman. “Lots of people don’t get Randy Newman as a result of they only consider Toy Story or his goofier songs,” Ray mentioned, “however Randy Newman is an unbelievably good songwriter, particularly for creating a way of place and time. He might put extra particulars and characters and setting into 4 strains of a track than anybody. I feel Randy Newman might write about any metropolis on Earth that he’s by no means been to and one way or the other nonetheless make it sound like he’s lived there for 50 years. Each character he makes up appears like somebody he’s recognized for his whole life. It may be humorous shit, it may be deeply, deeply lovely. My favourite factor is when there’s one line in a track that’s only a punch within the intestine above another, and he does that so properly.”
That capacity to make one thing that’s each humorous and deeply lovely is definitely one thing that Ray himself has practically perfected. All of his initiatives stroll that very same line because the legendary writers he talked about above — the road between humor and grief, magnificence and despair, pleasure and sorrow. Whereas we have a tendency to consider these items as separate, opposing concepts, life reveals us that they really are typically two sides of the identical coin.
“There’s a Teen Suicide track referred to as ‘Neighborhood Drug Seller’ that everybody all the time assumed was a joke at first due to the character of it,” Ray mentioned. “Individuals all the time appear to assume that the songs the place I’m joking are lifeless critical and the songs the place I’m critical are jokes… however, I’ve all the time mentioned that is the funniest track I’ll ever write due to what it’s about. It’s one of many solely songs I’ve written that’s fully and really taken from my life with no embellishment or no matter. I feel it’s lovely. It’s about once we had been youngsters and we’d purchase all types of painkillers from the neighborhood plug, this different child our age named Taylor. He obtained his provide from his dad, who additionally bought painkillers. He lived on the prime of the hill and he would experience his bike down, meet us on the gasoline station and promote us medication so we might all get excessive. Then, he went to jail as a result of he was ‘biking underneath the affect,’ no joke. After he was lacking for every week or two we discovered that he had been locked up. We had been solely youngsters, like 18 or 19. We went to his dad to seek out out what occurred to Taylor and his dad was telling all people ‘yeah, he’s staying along with his mother.’ Then, after a month glided by he was saying ‘yeah he went on trip along with his mother to Hawaii.’ However, we knew that he was in jail ready for trial. His dad wouldn’t put up the cash for bail as a result of he was capable of steal all of Taylor’s prospects and make twice as a lot cash. As a result of we had been all a bunch of addicts we stored shopping for medication from his dad though we felt horrible about it. It was a type of issues the place each single particular person concerned was mendacity to one another though all of them knew the reality. No person might name the lie as a result of it was the shaky basis for a nasty however essential factor. None of us had been going to enter withdrawal, it sucks. It was this mutually horrible state of affairs that was being held up by all people’s collective mendacity to one another and themselves. However… it’s kinda humorous, is the factor.”
That capacity to take the tough realities of life and switch them into one thing thought-provoking, humorous or simply fulfilling to take heed to is a present of Ray’s. It’s a reward possessed by Van Zandt, Cohen, Newman and Berman too. Whereas none of them ever had large, mainstream successes… that wasn’t actually what they had been capturing for within the first place. No, they’re enjoying a for much longer, extra significant sport.
“That’s all the time been the road,” Ray mentioned. “A brand new artist comes out with a brand new pop track and it sounds good. Then, the track blows up and is big for 2 months till nobody remembers it. However on the similar time, there’s the type of music that twenty years in the past you’ll be sharing on combine CDs or cassettes, buying and selling it round, listening to it on Bandcamp, music that’s not ‘on the market’ in the identical manner as the large pop track. However when you come throughout it and it hits you, you then’re going to carry onto it endlessly and cherish it. That’s the distinction.”
And for a lot of followers of Ray, that ‘distinction’ means the whole lot. Whereas he isn’t precisely a family identify, Ray’s work has had an incredible affect on the indie world and on the lives of his many followers. From sleepless nights on the brink of demise to summer time afternoons lazing within the solar, Ray’s music lives within the hearts and minds of hundreds. It lives within the posters on dorm room partitions, the tattoos on weary pores and skin, the mp3 information in some obscure ‘Bandcamp downloads’ folder buried someplace on a laptop computer. It’s lived there since Ray started releasing music a decade in the past, it lives there now that he’s releasing these new singles and it’ll proceed to stay there lengthy after we’re all gone.
Take heed to the ultimate two Ricky Eat Acid singles from Might — “Wet Day, Wet Day, Wet Day” and “Out For Blood On the Frozen Sea” — under: