Multi-talented troubadour, Ray Wills is about to drop a new EP later this month. An ambitious project, mostly recorded, mixed and released in lockdown, this merits further investigation.
We first encountered Ray Wills in 2018 at Liverpool’s Across The Threshold Festival in the Baltic Triangle.
At the time we marked his set as being one of the stand outs from the weekend and the crowd he drew in Unit 51 was well rewarded. We wrote then: “Tight guitar playing and complex rhythms from his drummer, we can’t really decide if it was jazz, rock, blues, indie or what, such was the wealth and breadth of influences at work here. But it was awesome and it drew one of the biggest crowds at Unit 51. “Music’s a beautiful thing and it brings people together in harmony. Literal harmony”.
Since then we’ve been following what’s he’s been up to on Facebook. When we saw that he’s planning to drop a new EP, to be called Time on 27 January 2021, we decided to fire up Zoom and find out some more.
P3dro: Where are you and what are you doing?
Ray Wills: I am in Reading, at home. I was discussing some business plans. One of my good friends has come over and were talking about more stuff. Well, she’s doing her mad thing. We need to widen our horizons. People need to take risks and life is short. There’s a fear and you may fail, or whatever, but there’s no point if that stops you – you need just to go for it.
P3dro: Excellent. So are you going to give us any clues as to what you’re planning?
RW: Ha! Until we’re [ready to go] I don’t want to say anything.
P3dro: So, the new EP is coming out soon.
RW: Yes, yes. It’s called ‘Time’, to be released on 27 January.
P3dro: Are you pressing it as vinyl?
RW: Nah. I don’t know anyone who can do that. It’s going to be on all the main [digital] platforms. I’m excited for it, because it’s more truthful. I’m never [usually] too blatant about feelings in my songs, but these are quite blatant, in a positive kind of way. They’re inspired by Drill Music, but with a different twist on it.
P3dro: You seem to get your influences from all over the place. You draw from a wide range of sources.
RW: Yeah, my Mum played all kinds of music around the house. She was a jazz singer and played bass. She would play all kinds of different artists to me, like Erykah Badu, Lizz Wright, but also Foo Fighters, Nirvana. And then I got into Jeff Buckley a lot, Radiohead.
My Mum took me to a Snarky Puppy show at Hammersmith Apollo a few years back and I thought that was inspiring, jazz-wise. They’re a mad band of musicians, but they’re awesome.
P3dro: Was the new EP all done on your own, or were you collaborating with other people for it?
RW: Yeah. There were two producers I worked with. One of them has a verse on one of the songs. It’s mainly been produced by a guy called MP Beat, who is based in Surrey and is a good friend of mine from Uni.
It’s been mixed and mastered by Jessrain, apart from one track called ‘Aura’. I’m lucky to know these people. I’m quite blessed.
P3dro: When was it recorded?
RW: One of them was recorded mid to late last year. And the rest were done late last year.
P3dro: How did you manage that, during lockdown?
RW: Very easily. It was all done in my room, here. I record the vocal and the vocal takes and then send them off. The producers would then send the beat stems back to me and I’d send it all off to Jessrain. He’s my main boy. He has a lot of faith in me.
P3dro: How has lockdown been? Have you been able to get out and play gigs?
RW: No, not at all. But it’s given me time to work on my craft. Last December  is when I started to work on production – I’ve been releasing things all the time. [After this EP], I’ll have something for next month too. I made my first self-produced project in May. Since then, I’ve learned more about production and beat making.
I’ve had time, obviously. There have been lots of negative feelings all around the world. But for me, the way I’ve tried to deal with it was to slow down, catch up and develop myself as an artist as well as a person. I’ve been exercising regularly, I’ve been more mindful and more aware of my consciousness. I’ve also tried to read more as well.
P3dro: How easy, or difficult has it been to get motivated to get things done?
RW: Some days it’s hard. Some days it’s harder to write. But those days when it’s hard to write music, then I’ll record verses, I’ll make a track, I’ll play a bit of guitar. So, then I’m writing in my head at the same time as producing.
I mean I’m not very good with musical theory. I have zero knowledge of that. So, I go off my feelings. How something sounds and how it makes me feel.
P3dro: So, you’ve never had any formal [music] training?
RW: No. Obviously, there were music classes in school. We’d get given sheets of paper with notation for pianos and stuff, but I was way too hyperactive to be able to sit down and learn it that way. So, I had to figure out my own way in a sense.
P3dro: So, did you teach yourself to play guitar?
RW: Yeah. To play guitar, to play bass and the drums. I started practising playing drums on my knees. I’ll get two drum sticks, so my left knee would be the hi-hat and my right knee would be the snare. And then when I stamped my foot, that would be the bass pedal. It was very DIY.
I feel like it served me well as I think I do things differently and that translates to my production as well. Even though I’m influenced and inspired by things that are going on, because everything is. It’s a variation and a variation and a variation. For me personally, it’s a bit different, a bit more quirky.
I do take a bit of pride in that different approach. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
P3dro: How does your writing process work? What comes first, the music or the vocals?
RW: I’d say the music. Sometimes I might just write randomly, but more often than not it’s the music first. Obviously, that’s affecting how I feel. And then the words come out to accompany the music and do it justice.
P3dro: We were listening to the 5010 EP you released last year. That seems quite chilled?
RW: It was. It was inspired by mainstream Trap Music and artists who are inspired by that. It was less of the rap influences, but there are shades of them. That was the first self produced project. But now I’ve learned more. And my engineer, well, he’s also learning more, so we’re both growing together. It’s an ongoing process.
P3dro: So, do you have any plans to get out and do gigs? Can you even begin to think about playing live?
RW: I’m keeping my eye out. If there’s something there for me, whether it’s doing a hip hop inspired show or me doing a rap inspired show, or whether it’s me doing just a guitar show, then [I’ll do it]. I miss it a lot.
But when it’s time, then I’ll be even more poised. So, the more time I have in isolation and lockdown, is the more time for me to prepare. When I can go out there, then there’s no doubt.
P3dro: When was the last time you did play a gig?
RW: January / February last year. I played a show with some good friends of mine – they’re a rap group called Go For It – and Kayncee at Chalk in Brighton. Yeah, that was good fun.
P3dro: What are your options in Reading [for playing gigs]? Is there any kind of scene there?
RW: There is a music scene, but it depends on the venues, and that’s more difficult. At the moment, I’m not too connected into it, which I don’t have an issue with, but then again it would be nice to get more connected. That’s just something I have to work out for myself.
I’ll upload beats and if people like what they hear, then they’ll come to me.
My sound is quite different. The people in the industry that we look up to, well, they’re there because they did something different.
Even with the EP project, it’s very Drill inspired, using similar techniques, production wise, but it’s very different in terms of the vibe it gives out. And also, the message I’m portraying. The list of songs is: ‘Aura’, ‘Time’, ‘Chance’ and ‘Love’.
Because a lot of Drill Music is about being on the streets and people talking about the situations they’ve been in, the hardships they face. I understand that – when you live that side of life, it’s intense. But, for me, on this project, I wanted to convey a more positive form.
So, for example, ‘Aura’, the first song on the EP is about a beautiful woman, but also not feeling like you need to have sex with her. You don’t need to talk about how outwardly pretty she is. It’s more about co-existence, peacefully with this person, instead of being hungry.
In ‘Chance’ I’m talking about inner demons, but not giving into them and to go down a different way.
It’s easy for artists – we’re emotional beings, well, all human beings are, to fall into repeated patterns of behaviour. And there are so many people giving out that message. I don’t wanna do that. I want to paint a different kind of picture.
P3dro: So, you’re taking the style of Drill and putting your own take on it?
Yeah. When you listen to this project, you’ll see the difference. There’s a different message. But the music is more calming to the ears.
P3dro: You say you’re not that connected to the music scene in Reading, is there anywhere you do feel connected musically?
RW: Erm. I have friends around the Crawley, Gatwick area. But in terms of being really connected to a scene, not really at the moment. It may be different. In 6 months we may be having a different conversation. But at the moment, I’m just kind of alone. People aren’t used to different, but, we’ll see. There are options.
P3dro: When we saw you play in Liverpool a couple of years ago, it was very much a stand out performance for those kinds of reasons, you didn’t fit into any particular category.
RW: I appreciate that. I think that’s how I am as a person. I think at school I irritated a lot of people. Not on purpose, but I was very honest with how I felt and how I carried myself. I wasn’t argumentative, but I was very much an individual. Some people appreciate that. But others go: “Who’s this guy?”
But that’s brought about long standing relationships. Maybe with fewer people, but it makes me more appreciative.
P3dro: Recommend a band or an album we should be listening to right now.
RW: There’s a guy called Masego, who’s mad. Not just as a singer, as a musician, as a producer. He can do it all. It’s gorgeous to see.
And you should check out the Go For It boys. They’re cool.
And, keep an eye out for me, man!