Interview: Michael Ray’s Fans Gave Him the Courage to Be Vulnerable on ‘Amos’
It isn't as though Michael Ray has ever not been honest in his music. But for a country artist in the mainstream spotlight -- especially one coming off the high of his successful self-titled debut album in 2015, with its chart-topping hit, "Kiss You in the Morning" -- it's natural to feel a bit self-conscious about being in the public eye, and to be a bit selective about which parts of his personality and life to spotlight and which to keep private.
Ray says that his sophomore studio project, Amos, focuses on being honest with listeners about all aspects of life, and sharing stories that he hopes fans will relate to. The album drops Friday (June 1).
"Coming into the first record, a lot of things were new to me, obviously," Ray explained in a recent chat with The Boot. "As I've gotten older over the past couple of years, I've become a lot more confident in who I am, and I want this record to show that."
In the fall of 2017, Ray used social media to open up to fans about his struggles with anxiety. Later in the year, after he was arrested for drug possession and a DUI, the country singer also apologized via those platforms, saying that he hoped to eventually regain their trust. Clearly, it hasn't always been easy for Ray, but he says that opening up about what's going on in his life -- both the good and the bad -- has been a uniquely cathartic experience, and something that he could never have done without the support of his fans.
The fans just give you the confidence to be yourself ...
"The fans just give you the confidence to be yourself," Ray goes on to say. "It's funny how sometimes they'll feel like they get so much from us, but we get even more from them. They give me the confidence to be like, 'You know what? I don't always have to be the cool guy. I don't always have to show that one side of me where everything's great and everything's fine.'"
When he realized that he could speak frankly with his fans about the things in his life that he was struggling with -- not just the fun parts -- Ray noticed that the responses he was getting back from his listeners weren't just empathetic; rather, he was encouraging fans to share their stories with him, too. He says that seeing how people relate to his songs, and how those songs impact the real-life situations of the people listening to them, adds meaning to the music.
"I went through a breakup in the middle of making this record. There's a song on the album called "Her World or Mine," and I hear stories about how that song has helped people," he explains. "Maybe somebody has a person where they thought that relationship was over, or it's helped somebody to call that person that they were kind of on the fence about. People have told me they've called someone and been like, 'I heard this song, and it made me realize I don't want to be in that position. It's not worth it being without you.'"
In keeping with the personal nature of the album, Ray titled Amos after his late grandfather, who, Ray explains, taught him his first lessons about loving and playing music. The artist recalls, "He's the one that started the family band. He was a guitar player. He taught me my first chord when I was nine years old, and I was playing on the road with him four nights a week from then on. He taught me about Porter Wagoner and Ray Price. He also taught me about the importance and significance of the Grand Ole Opry, and why you have to hold a place like that at a certain level, why it's not just another stage."
"For whatever reason, while we were making this record, the same question kept getting asked of me: 'What got you into music?' When I thought about that, I was like, 'Well, s--t, it was my grandfather. It all started with him,'" Ray shares. "I view it as a way to honor his legacy, and it's been really cool to hear the stories of other people's grandfathers or influences. It doesn't have to be a grandfather, but somebody that believed in that person, and who supported them like my grandfather did me."