© Brandon Ray, used with permission
Brandon Ray is finally getting some well-earned attention after several years of supporting A-list entertainers like Taylor Swift, Brett Eldredge and Kip Moore. Rolling Stone has Brandon listed as one of the top ten country artists you need to know in 2016, and he’s on the big stage at Country Thunder this year that takes place in Florence, AZ on April 6. AXS was able to catch up with the singer/songwriter before leaving for Country Thunder for a telephone interview. Here are the highlights:
AXS: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
BR: I’m from a small town in West Texas. I’ve been playing music since I was 13. I wanted to be a baseball player, but I had to have a couple of surgeries on my foot and I was laid up for almost a year. At the beginning of that, I bought a cheap guitar and an amplifier and watched Stevie Ray Vaughn videos over and over. I learned to play guitar and started writing songs of my own. That’s how it kind of all started.
AXS: So, you started out playing rock music?
BR: I did. I grew up listening to all different types of music that included rock, blues, jazz, and country. I always listened to George Strait, Garth Brooks to name a few. With my brothers, I listened to Metallica, Mellencamp, The Eagles. My dad loved Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jimi Hendrix, and all that kind of stuff. I grew up in a melting pot of music.
AXS: One article quoted you describing yourself as "Motown Mellencamp." How did you come by that label?
BR: (Laughing) Yeah, my music has the energy of Motown, but it also has the grassroots and attitude of John Mellencamp. Growing up in Texas, we worked so hard and we really had nothing. We’ve got banging guitars and my music has rock and roll with a heartland attitude.
AXS: You are from Texas and you elected to go to Nashville instead of Austin. Why Nashville instead of Austin?
BR: I actually started a rock band with my brother. When I was 18, we moved to Dallas. We did three years working tours and did 250 gigs a year, just traveling nonstop. We grew up around country music. That was my first love, but we were trying to break in the rock music scene. We had a deal out in LA, but before we knew it, our bass player quit, our guitarist quit. We were kind of stuck. It was just me and my brother left of the band. The band broke up. Every time I traveled through Nashville, I made so many friends there and wrote so many songs. There was just a lot of love there. So, I thought I would make a stab at country music. I moved to Nashville in 2009 with a goal of getting a songwriting/publishing deal within the first year. I started playing guitar for a lot of different artists like Brett Eldredge. I did the Taylor Swift ‘Red’ tour with him. I played with different artists like Chuck Wicks. I was on the road with different artists trying to make their dreams come true. I got offered the guitar slot for Florida Georgia Line and I was excited about it, but I had to turn the offer down. I moved to Nashville to make this thing happen for myself, not somebody else.
AXS: You are presently working on an EP?
BR: Yes, I have two singles out now. One is “American Way” and the other is called “That Could Be Us.” We are in the process of recording a brand new EP right now. We are working on the whole project as we speak. I’m hoping that in May or June we will have this completed.
AXS: Have you written all the songs for this project?
BR: Yes, I write most of my stuff with other co-writers, like Kip Moore and many others.
AXS: What is your favorite song that you have written?
BR: Oh, that is a tough question. There are a lot of songs I like. A new song I am coming out with is “Leave a Mark” that we were working on the other day. It will be on the new project. It is about while we are here, let’s do what we can to leave a mark or leave a legacy. We must do all the things we were meant to do and live life.
AXS: What is the best advice you have received from someone in the music business and who gave you that advice?
BR: Oh, that’s a pretty good question. I would have to say Keith Urban. It’s been crazy and a blessing to get to work with him. He told me, “Don’t ever be afraid to speak up. If you are not comfortable with something or it doesn’t sound like you, you’ve got to speak up because the biggest thing you want to put in your music is yourself. You can’t fake real. So many people contrive their songs or contrive the attitude they are singing with. It’s important to be true to yourself in what you do. That’s all you need to know.” Since I have done that, it has opened so many more doors than I have ever imagined.
AXS: Great advice for sure. That leads into the next question. What is in the future for Brandon Ray?
BR: Next up we will be releasing our next single and the EP project. We will continue to be on the road. Last year we did about 150 shows opening from everybody from Kip Moore, to Martina McBride and Jon Pardi. We are looking to support guys like Keith Urban and Brett Eldredge again this year. We are going to open up shows again and we want to get into new territory. We want to put smiles on people’s faces. We, as singers and entertainers, are here for that reason. To take people’s minds off their troubles and give them 45 minutes of happiness and forget about what is going on in their lives. I’m very excited to play Country Thunder as a solo artist. I’m hoping to make new fans and make new relationships. I want to do bigger and better things and hopefully come back.
Brandon Ray’s set is tomorrow at 3:30 p.m. on the main stage. Don’t miss the opportunity to see this great artist in action. For detailed information and the schedule for the entire weekend at Country Thunder, please click here.