Gretta Ray perches on her friend’s rooftop. Magpies and cockatoos crow and unleash throaty warbles in the background. “They’re all just hanging out,” she laughs. Currently in Sydney, the rising pop artist basks both in the morning sun and the glow of her new duology, “Bigger Than Me” and “Readymade,” two impossibly addicting pop tracks about her love of writing and creating.
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Where “Bigger Than Me” pops and fizzes like a can of soda, “Readymade” looks inward with a more sobering, soul-probing performance. The contrast is stunningly bright, and not one she fully intended at the start. “I think it was also a little bit of a coincidence,” she says, considering such a duality as an omniscient presence in her life.
“You can really sense my own coming of age in a lot of the new music. I am learning that two truths can exist in the same space and that it’s OK to change your mind. I think I’ve done a lot of that in certain situations and feelings over the past couple of years,” Ray tells American Songwriter over a recent Zoom call. “Allowing myself to do that has allowed me to grow as an individual. I’m really lucky to have songwriting as a way to capture those life lessons.”
One of the most important lessons arrived in working with collaborator Dylan Nash, co-writer and co-producer behind “Bigger Than Me.” Always challenging her own perceptions of writing, Nash “jumbled around the structure of this particular song so many times” before discovering a configuration that seemed to work best. “I have a strong stance in my songwriting sessions, especially when I’m writing for my project.”
“I really admire these kind of writers/producers who will be like ‘I’m just going to turn the laptop away from you for a second.’ And then they’ll jumble up the verses and structure of the song. I’ve been very protective of my craft since it’s been such a private thing. But being able to compromise and consider other options has also been really important.”
Following a slew of co-writing sessions in the UK, Ray came home one night and gazed around her living room. Guitars clung to the walls, surrounding an organ in the middle of the room. “It was a room just filled with instruments,” she remembers of how “Readymade” planted its seed. “I fixated on this idea of coming home from a very upbeat connection and meeting lots of people to being alone with my creativity.”
With such artists as Taylor Swift, Phoebe Bridgers, and Dua Lipa mining life’s vast stretches of loneliness, darkness, and mental reassessment, women have largely been at the forefront of challenging and changing the conversation. Ray fashions her own place within such a space, as well—and she has plenty to say regarding the enormous difference in expectations put upon women compared to men in the industry.
“It’s not like I think having expectations about the quality of one’s work is overall a bad thing. I love watching an artist grow and change. Watching Dua Lipa kill her sophomore record campaign and learn how to dance—she’s an absolute undeniable star now. The songs were always undeniable but she’s so much more clearly in her body now,” she says. “I look at that and one one hand, I’m incredibly inspired by that work ethic. By that same token, it was definitely quite jarring to see all these tweets being like ‘pop girls, take notes! She’s raised the bar!’ But how about men take notes.”
She continues, “I love watching a massive stadium show, like the Taylor Swift Reputation Tour, and seeing that work ethic pay off, and I love listening to folklore and seeing that her writing is the best it’s ever been. But at the same time, I also really wish there were a space for women to do something similar to what they’d already put out and be able to comfortably do that and not have to impress every single time. I don’t think that pressure is on men.”
With her new duology, the first of many coming this year, Gretta Ray joins the ranks of some of the most promising pop acts of 2021. Given her backstory, it’s not a surprising development. Originally from Melbourne, she began writing songs when she was a wide-eyed seven-year-old, drawing to her parents’ taste in music, from Joni Mitchell to Missy Higgins and James Taylor.
“The day I got a keyboard put in my room, which I didn’t know how to play, I started figuring out sounds,” she says. “As soon as I had the instrument, I started writing songs. It was a bit of a hook, line, and sinker moment. Then, I didn’t really stop.”
Ray later learned guitar and piano. “I have very vivid memories of only knowing how to play two chords and then trying every possible song I knew just with those two chords,” she says, laughing. “Up until a few years ago, I’d written all of my songs completely by myself. I think you can hear in my older music that I definitely had some sense of structure. I think that has improved since I’ve been writing with a lot of other people.”
This is only the beginning for Grett Ray, and the future of pop has never looked better.