Weekly Discovery: Boo Ray

Photo by Geoff Moore

Nashville artist Boo Ray cut his teeth in the honky-tonk setting of local bars around town, honing a sound filled with both traditional Southern grit and something of an outlaw vibe. On his new album Sea of Lights, he offers his own distinct take on outlaw country — which has become a popular niche in recent years — and provides listeners with a carefree collection filled with songs that offer plenty of hollerin’ and foot stomping.

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Splitting his time between Nashville, Los Angeles and Athens, Boo Ray brings a bit of California to Southern music. Below he discusses his work and new album with American Songwriter.

You recently released a new album, Sea of Lights. When did you begin work on that album, and what was the process like?

I started working on that album mid-September, on the day I got the call from my great friend, producer Noah Shain. He’d just acquired that old Ampex tape machine [the actual Ampex MM1000 tape machine that recorded Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline and the Nashville-era Cash records] and said, “Get out here, let’s cut a record on you.” We scheduled the sessions at his studio in downtown LA for December. We gathered up an incredible all-star band and tracked 10 songs in two days. It was wild and wooly and fast and furious.

Sea of Lights was recorded live to tape. Was there more pressure recording it that way?

I felt the pressure on the first couple of takes standing in a room of heavy cats (drummer Steve Ferrone [Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers], bassist Paul Ill [Christina Aguilera], guitarist Sol Philcox-Littlefield [Jake Owen], Dallas Kruse on Hammond B3 and pedal steel player Smith Curry [Taylor Swift], plus backup singers Todd and Troy Gardner), but then the music captured 100% of my attention and any fear or hesitation faded away.

What was it like recording it on the same tape machine that Bob Dylan recorded Nashville Skyline on? 

The tape machine is like the master instrument and the producer is the mechanic/alchemist/wizard that pulls all the right levers and turns all the right pressure valves to keep the entire contraption operating. The band, the tape machine and producer being the contraption.

What was it like working with producer Noah Shain?

Well, Noah and I are good friends and have been working together on and off since ’06 so we were on the same page from get go. Making records is definitely collaborative to me, so it’s all about communication.

Where did you draw your inspiration for the album’s songs? 

The songs on Sea Of Lights cover a pretty full emotional spectrum for me. I had a run of pretty tough luck prior to getting that call from Noah. So for me, the album’s an expression of gratitude, an exploration of new territory, and it’s a sorrowful lonesome blues too, at the same time.

You had some great musicians accompanying you on your album. Did you handpick the musicians yourself to create a certain feel for the album?

I made some calls to see who was around and everybody was available. Steve Ferrone, Paul Ill, Noah and I have all been friends for years. My great friend Sol Philcox flew out with me from Nashville to play guitars with me. I dig the fact that it took two Englishmen to make this “redneck rock and roll” band. Steve and Sol are both Englishmen. Steve’s from Brighton and Sol’s from Suffolk.

Outlaw country seems to be making a comeback lately. What is it about the genre that appeals to you?

I like the values the genre seems to have: The song is everything, vocals warm and wailing, drums stout, bass thumping, and guitars whining and growling… Yeah, man, count me in. What’s not to like, right?

Sam Outlaw: Tenderheart