By BRUCE DENNILL
Singer-songwriter Alexa Ray recently released her new single, Begin Again, ahead of a new album, Fearless due in September 2020. “I think we all fantasise about being able to turn back the clock or push a reset button on life. Fear often cripples us and sometimes it takes tremendous courage and fearlessness to move on from the familiar. Although I left the song an open question, no matter how much we wish to reverse the clock, you can’t live your life wanting to redo the past. They’re lessons learned so we can live better tomorrows,” she says.
“Influence” is a loaded, often misunderstood concept. An artist may sound similar to another but have no knowledge of them, or be a super-fan of someone whose output is completely different to their own. Who or what was the artist, album, song, era or scene that initially mapped out the road to you becoming a musician?
There have certainly been a number of influencers and artists that have helped shape me over the years and that list continues to change as I grow as an artist. If we’re going back to my roots in terms of becoming an artist, I actually started out training to be an opera singer. My mother listened to classical albums, which is how I was introduced to the genre at a young age and grew up listening to the greats. I specifically remember Kiri Te Kanawa and her album The Definitive Collection as well as Kathleen Battle’s Grace – those were the biggest influences on me at the time. I remember idolising every note and how pure and emotionally raw it was. I was in awe of how someone I had never even met could inspire and move me to feel so much and I wanted to do the same for others. At the time, Charlotte Church was the hottest young classical artist around, and I think seeing that she could do it gave me the fire and inspiration that I could do it too. So I decided at the age of eight that I wanted to train as an opera singer.
Has that changed over the years? If so, how and why, and what are you currently exploring?
Totally. I feel like I’ve come miles from my opera roots. After studying classical voice and graduating university with an undergrad degree, I sought to do what I had trained so hard for, and when I landed my first role, I hated it. I remember being so nervous for every performance – but not in an energising way. I was paralysed, worrying about making a wrong move. I felt restricted, and that I had way more to give creatively than the opera world had room for. I remember telling myself “this isn’t fun anymore” and falling into a bit of depression because I knew I wanted to do music but didn’t know where I belonged musically. The classical world was great in giving me a solid foundation, but I needed to find my own voice. This started me down a rabbit hole of listening to everything and anything to find “me”. That’s when I stumbled across the world of TV and film soundtracks. I loved how it had classical elements but integrated hybrid sounds of synths and electronics. It wasn’t until I started to write that I really found myself and it was surprising to see what came out, because what I thought I wanted to write and what I actually wrote was very different. I realised I’m not just a singer – I’m an artist. And there’s a big difference. I want to share experiences, stories and create something for listeners to enjoy and respond to. I find that as I continue to grow as an artist and gain inspiration and experience new things, it helps your music evolve, and you can hear the change in my music over the years. I’m constantly looking to push the boundaries and am inspired by singers such as Aurora and Kerli at the moment. Vocally, I’m exploring more of the pop realm and am currently fascinated by synths, which you will hear in my upcoming album Fearless, which has a lot more electronic cinematic production in comparison to past albums I’ve co-written.
Name one song you wish you’d written or one you’d like to be known as the definitive interpreter of. What makes that song so important?
I wish I had written Happy Birthday, but only because it’s the highest-earning song of all time. But seriously, I’m a sucker for good lyrics. I think word painting is so powerful, and I love the use of alliteration and the way certain words work together. There are a lot of great songs and lyricists that do this. I think songs are personal, so for that reason, I don’t know if there is a song I wish I wrote because it wasn’t my story to tell.
In production and arrangement terms, what are facets of your music and the music you love most by others that you feel are crucially important in terms of creating the mood you’re after or supporting the message of your song?
Each song I write tells a bit of a different story, so I do feel it’s important to use the right instruments and arrangement to depict certain feelings that will vary from song to song. In general, I love lots of bass and huge epic cinematic productions that have come to be my signature. I don’t know that it’s crucially important to getting a message across, but I’m a pretty dramatic person, so the bigger the sound the better, but that’s a personal preference. I tend to have a bit of a dark soul, so I do gravitate towards a lot of dissonance and crunchy chords to bring out the feeling of unrest. A lot of what I do as a topline writer is listen for cues – is it major or minor, does it resolve, is there an question and answer? Often film and TV music is so expressive that there is already a story in the music before I even put words to it, so I often am listening for the story and putting it into words.
Which aspects of your music do you prioritise? For you, would you rather have that your lyrics, your melodies, or your vocals or instrumental work are the are the most memorable parts of your songs?
That’s like a chicken or egg sort of question – that’s tough! I feel like all the elements are important in making a solid song. I often work with a team when writing and feel like working with others who specialise in areas you don’t helps to create a better final song. I think in terms of order I would put melody first because if it’s not catchy, no-one is going to listen or remember it. After that the production, then vocals, then lyrics.
What’s your favourite piece of gear?
What is the story behind Begin Again – the genesis of the song, the people involved, the muse behind its creation?
The album is a motivational and uplifting collaborative collection with South African producer and composer Randall Jermaine. The melody and lyrics were written by me and recorded and engineered in Toronto by Dajaun Martineau. Begin Again is about salvaging a broken relationship – can we just begin again or have we gone past the point of no return? Pressure and expectations often weigh our shoulders and make us feel trapped and numb to what we want or need. Begin Again depicts both the internal struggle and fear of starting over.