For Gretta Ray, creativity isn’t a pastime, it’s a battle cry

gretta ray

For creatives, it is an incredibly difficult practice to self-analyse one’s creative flow. At just 23, Gretta Ray has achieved what takes many artists a lifetime.

Creativity is a stream and inspiration hits when it wants. For many of us, it’s so easy to be caught in the momentum of creating. However, the ability to look independently at your own artistic process is an achievement in consciousness, self-awareness, and wellbeing. On her latest release, Gretta Ray does exactly this.

The Melbourne-based songwriter has always been able to capture the common denominator in her work. But on Duology One (the first of a series of duologies she plans to release in 2021), she spins creativity into a rallying call. Fresh off the release, we caught up with the artist to hear more.

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HAPPY: Congrats on the new single! You must be so excited!

GRETTA: Yes, it came out the day after they released the first Duology.

HAPPY: Yeah, amazing! How does he feel to have everything out?

GRETTA: Really good, I think particularly with the single, Bigger Than Me, it was a long time coming. We wrote that song here over two years ago and I think, ever since that session, just because it was such a great writing session, we’ve really wanted people to hear it and we’ve been working on the production better and tightening things up for so long. Finally having it out in the world and having a video alongside it that I love so much, it’s very rewarding.

HAPPY: The music video looks like it would have been so fun to film. Could you tell us a little bit about that experience?

GRETTA: Yeah, yeah so we shot the video over three days. The main big day was the second day with all the kids and the extras and everyone. Basically, Josh, the director, and I had planned the brief in a way that the whole video would represent creative collaboration, in a metaphorical sense. So in terms of all the dances and the extras starting off as builders and just making something together and then all coming together and copying each other’s movements and emulating each other’s little patterns in the choreography and stuff like that, that was all very intentional and aims to reflect how you can inspire people and people can inspire you. I think that creative collaboration is a constant. I think that I just fell in love with all the dances and the extras. I was so honoured to be working with all of them and it was really really hot in the warehouse.

HAPPY: Yeah, I can imagine [laughs].

GRETTA: There was no airflow, it was 30 degree days, in Melbourne.

HAPPY: Oh god…

GRETTA: They did so well, they were sweating so much and they still gave it their all. They just made jokes about it, they were incredible. So yeah, it was really lovely to meet them and so nice to dance again. I have a bit of a dance background, I’m not a dancer, but I’ve been wanting to find an excuse to explore my dance for years and working with them was the most perfect reintroduction to that world.

HAPPY: Was this project Josh’s baby or was it a bit of a collaborative process between both of you?

GRETTA: It was collaborative, basically with the Bigger Than Me music video, I rewrote that brief I think maybe five times.

HAPPY: Yeah, wow!

GRETTA: Because I first wrote it as a set in London because I thought that I was living there at the beginning of 2020, and thought that I was going to stay there and do a lot of the creative content there. And then that didn’t work and I came home and things kind of settled down here for a bit. I was like “oh maybe we’ll do a different brief” and then we had more restrictions and I was like “ok, less people” and then it was just like barely anyone and then after a while, I was like “I just have to can this for now,” you know?

gretta ray

GRETTA: I rewrote it so many times and finally, when it was time to explore working with directors on that, and I sent over one of the briefs to Josh and he came back with his version of it. So yeah, it was a collaboration between both of us but I absolutely loved the spin that he put on it and I loved what elements of my ideas that he wanted to incorporate into it. It was really great to work with him. He was super thorough, really attentive, and it was a massive shoot. There was so much that needed to be focused on and organised and you know, like the consistency of the paint and all of that. We had one take with the kids putting the paint on themselves and stuff. You only get one take!

HAPPY: [Laughs].

GRETTA: But yeah it was a great crew, the whole crew, Welcome the Machines are just really great.

HAPPY: Amazing. How long did it take to film the whole thing?

GRETTA: Most of the clip was shot on that second day and we were on set from like 8 am to 8 pm.

HAPPY: Shit [laughs].

GRETTA: So there was that. Then the other two days were just shots of me walking places and stuff, so they took less time. But yeah, I mean, it’s really just to be able to have experiences like that. In-between takes, I’d be standing with the kids and they’d be singing the chorus under their breath and stuff. I would just be thinking “remember like two years ago when that melody was just a mumbled idea between my co-writer and we had no idea what that song was gonna be and now I get to make this thing for that song.” So it’s just like, yeah, when you look at the journey of the thing that you’ve made and to have so many people involved… Before I did this whole artist project thing, I grew up doing a lot of creative extra-curricular activities like choir, dance classes, and pop-up groups in high school. So my love for group work is very ingrained. It was great to re-explore that in the video shoot.

HAPPY: And like you said, it’s almost giving a little bit back to that whole experience that you grew up with.

GRETTA: Totally. I definitely feel like it ended up being like an ode to all those people.

HAPPY: That’s so beautiful. Tell me a little bit about the idea to release this as a dual release.

GRETTA: Yeah. Well, that kind of came about, I was kind of wanting to find an interesting or creative way to release new music, ’cause I’ve been working on quite a lot of it over the last couple of years. I’ve been very in the thick of co-writing and something that I noticed, and my team noticed, that I had been doing and had done in the past was unintentionally writing the songs naturally in duos. I think that just came down to you can write so many songs about one experience but there often two quite clear distinct versions of me singing about the same thing but it will be from a different emotional angle. Like a different take. I think when I was writing all of my new music, I was going through some stuff and so I was changing my mind about how I felt about things pretty consistently and so it just unfolded into these pairs.

GRETTA: The first time that I did that in a very intentional way was with two songs on my previous release, which was an EP called Here and Now and those two songs were Radio Silence and Time. They were both about a breakup and one was really a devastating breakup song and the other one’s more kind of optimistic and melancholic and reflective and so, I think that those two truths can exist in the same space. So, basically once we realised that I was like, “well maybe this is how we should have my audience hear the new music,” and then we can get a chance to spotlight all the songs and really get into telling the stories behind them. I think with the traditional release of like, in terms of how people often put out large bodies of work, for example, you can often get like two songs and then the full thing comes out… I think a lot of stories can get lost in the way that people don’t — music especially now, with people’s attention spans and how music has been digested, pop music in particular.

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HAPPY: Yeah.

GRETTA: I love lyrics, I love storytelling, and the term Duology is usually just for books, which is why I chose to use it ’cause, you know, my stories are the things that are at the forefront. So, yeah, and then basically I can’t say how many new Duologies will be within the Duology collection at this point, but they do have different themes and so this Duology line is very much about my relationship with creativity.

HAPPY: Yeah, amazing. So you said that through the two songs you’re tracking a bit of an emotional journey?

GRETTA: Yeah, 100%. ‘Cause I think as much as I’m such an advocate for creative collaboration, at the same time, I definitely have this very protective thing about my art and my creativity. It can be shared and sharing it is the most rewarding thing ever but also, I’ve had so many moments over the past couple of years working in this industry where I’ve been like “oh, I actually only have me right now.” Which is like a very humbling, necessary feeling. I wanted to find a way to sing about that in a grateful perspective and when I was in London pre-COVID in 2019, ’cause I’m often back and forth to the UK and I was doing a lot of co-writing sessions.

Things were pretty hectic and busy and the place that I was staying. I would come home at the end of these really busy, collaborative days to this living room that has heaps of instruments in it. It’s this beautiful space with all these guitars on the walls and an organ and I was just like it’s just me and my little melodies that I’m singing into this empty apartment space. It’s just me and the instruments again and, you know, I think that I’m always gonna return to that. It’s just my one-on-one relationship with music and creativity. So the song Readymade, which is the B-side of Duology 1, that is very much a love letter to that private relationship that you have with creativity.

HAPPY: Yeah. It’s also a very mindful topic to be writing about considering it’s so easy to just get caught up in the process of creating that you’re not actually considering what you’re doing and actually paying attention to it.

GRETTA: Totally. I think that this industry has a lot of very – there’s just a lot of doors that you could very easily walk through or paths that you could go down and I think that something that is so important is: a) finding your people who are gonna ground you, but also just those feelings – ’cause at the end of the day, this is your thing and you can have an amazing, loving, incredible team that are gonna help and support you and your audience and that’s all really valuable but also – it’s kind of like what people say about romantic relationships. You can’t really commit to being the one until you love yourself first. It’s the same kind of thing.

HAPPY: Exactly. Yeah, I know that’s incredible. So there’s definitely more duologies on the way?

GRETTA: Yes, there will be more duologies, which I’m really excited about. I’ve loved these last couple of weeks, like getting to tell – I’ve been wanting to talk about this for so long!

HAPPY: [Laughs]

GRETTA: So, so long.

HAPPY: Unleash, go for it!

Gretta Ray

GRETTA: Being able to have them released this way and really dig deep into what these songs mean to me and just that idea of what I hope they mean to other people, was just something that really excites me. And getting to play around with the aesthetic and the visuals for each duology because, to me, in my head, they’re all different colours and they take on different – yep, so yeah, I’m stoked to keep rolling it out this way.

HAPPY: Yeah amazing. Do you have any certain themes in mind for what you’re gonna explore or is it more of a in the moment, just kind of happens?

GRETTA: I mean, the themes of the duologies are pre-planned, so we just took a look at a lot of new music that I’ve written and were like “hmm, where do these fit?” There’s definitely certain songs and certain duologies that I’m particularly excited for people to hear, but I really do think that they all have something different about them. And I think what’s been so nice about how I’ve recorded a lot of new music, ’cause there’s been a lot of co-production or additional production so a lot of the new music I’ve been working with Robbie De Sa, who’s based here in Sydney, but we’ve been using the stems from demos. So if it was a writer/producer that I wrote this song with in London, there’s often something in the demo, sounds, and stuff that I really love and attach to.

So they’ve been sent to Robbie and we’ve beefed up the sound production, made it more lush. I think it’s just been nice to kind of – ’cause it’s taken a long time to start releasing new music because of the pandemic and everything. And some of the songs people are gonna hear I wrote in a time where I was a real fresher, like trying to find some sense of self and really leaning on music in a way that I like just didn’t even know what I needed to do. I think like when you’re 12 and writing songs and pretending to be Taylor Swift you’re like “music is like really therapeutic” and I’m like “you don’t know what therapeutic means, like you don’t know!” And then like, something happens, something really pivotal happens and you’re like “oh shit! I need this so badly, hey.”

HAPPY: Yeah.

GRETTA: So I’m really excited for people to hear songs that show that more I think because it’s just really shaped me into the 22-year-old that I am now. So, yeah, and it’ll be really fun to talk about that and those experiences and yeah. I’m very lucky, it’s a really cool job.

HAPPY: Yeah, oh my god I was so excited to hear all these.

GRETTA: Thanks so much! I’m excited to play them, oh my gosh.

HAPPY: Yeah, do you have any shows lined up?

GRETTA: I don’t have any shows lined up currently but we are beginning to talk about things now that the live music scene is amazingly, quite happily, opening across Australia, which is amazing to see. But again, a lot of new music to teach a band that hasn’t played together in over a year.

HAPPY: Yeah, wow.

GRETTA: And a slightly different sound. Like the genre is much more pop now, obviously. Yeah, so I think things will change and I think there’s a lot of work to do but like, I’m up for the challenge, I’m excited about it.

Gretta Ray

HAPPY: Yeah, totally. That’s so exciting. For you, do you see songwriting as something that you do in the heat of the moment or is it more of a reflective thing?

GRETTA: It’s interesting, ’cause I’ve been doing so much co-writing over the past two years and I never did that up until 2018. And it’s been so good ’cause I’ve just learned so much about structure and pop songwriting formula and all of this stuff that I was really fascinated by it but couldn’t really do. And I think you set-up a session like you go “oh, I’ve got a session today.” Sometimes you’ll be on your way to a session and you’ll be like “I don’t know what I’m gonna write about today”. For example, with the Bigger Than Me session that we had setup, I had no idea, no pull until I arrived in that room that I was gonna write about creativity. Even though it had been something at the back of my mind that I wanted to write about, it was a number of things that inspired that session and our commitment to writing about that topic. It was me listening to Heard It in a Past Life on a bus on the way to the session and being like “I love Maggie Rogers”. She’s so gracious in how she talks about her music career, her music is incredible, I love it. I was reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, so if I had not been reading that the song definitely did not exist.

HAPPY: [Laughs].

GRETTA: One of my co-writers Ned Philpott had just watched her TED talk, that was just such a crazy coincidence. We listened to Maggie Rogers’ EP and were fascinated by that production so like all of those pillars, those were the things that confirmed that we were gonna write about this. But all that being said, and that’s like a really exciting thing ’cause it’s so collaborative, but you know, when I’m going through something or fixated on something or someone, every thought visits my head in song. So I just make sure to always write those ideas down in notebooks, or record them in voice memos and then when I go to those sessions, ’cause I just find co-writing a lot easier and more rewarding now, I’ll bring up that stuff that I’ve kind of banked. So that’s kind of how it’s working for me at the moment.


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HAPPY: Yeah. It’s so rare that all of those things just come together in that one session and it just ends up being what it is.

GRETTA: It’s like – oh gosh, I think it was in that Zane Lowe interview with Harry Styles about Fine Line. He says something – I can’t remember exactly his metaphor about surfing, you have to have songwriting in the sense that you don’t just get a great wave every time, you’ll do like 10, and then you’ll get a really good one. And then that’s so good that you go back for more and you keep practising and I was like “that’s so true”. I was really fortunate to have a lot of really amazing sessions over the past couple of years but in terms of that feeling of like “oh my gosh, it’s all working, it’s coming together”, that isn’t how every session goes and when it does it just renews that deep love for it, the love that I sing about in Bigger Than Me and I just love it so much and it just yeah, it’s constantly refreshed. Which is like the coolest thing.

HAPPY: Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for the chat!

GRETTA: Thank you too. Great questions!


Duology One (Bigger Than Me / Readymade) is available now. Grab your copy here

Photos by Charlie Hardy
Interview by Emily Elvish