We have the honor today to sit down and do Spotlight – Nicole Rayy. We talk about where she’s been, where she’s going, country music, and the women that made us. Nicole Rayy is an amazing advocate for female empowerment. We get to talk about the current country landscape, and how she is using her platform to inspire other female musicians in the country scene.
How did you first become interested in music? Was it with friends, family?
I don’t ever remember a time when I wasn’t interested in music. I don’t come from a musical family, but even as a baby when music was played you could find me dancing along. Growing up I was very passionate about music, taking vocal and piano lessons and joining all the school musicals. Music has always been a very important part of my life and how I express myself.
Something I really admire about you is that you’re very candid about the difficulty in deciding whether to stay or drop out of university to pursue music. Can you speak a bit more about that point in your life?
After a year of University, I made the decision to drop out to pursue my music full time. It was a difficult choice because I didn’t want to disappoint anybody. I come from a family who went to University, got a degree and got a job; so that was the path I thought I was supposed to take. After a year, I knew my mind wasn’t focused on studying and there was something else calling me. I am grateful my family was so supportive of my decision.
You really hit the scene big with your breakout EP “Only Everything” back in 2012. What was the moment that you realize “hey, I’ve made it/I’m living my dream”?
I have had so many “wow I’m living my dream” moments in my career! In the beginning, one of those first big moments was hearing my song on the radio for the first time. My song “She Don’t Know That Much” from my EP “Only Everything” was my debut single at radio. I was sitting in my apartment with my boyfriend and my two roommates and we were playing board games, when they featured my song on Country 93.7. I remember thinking “Wow I can’t believe I am really doing this”.
In case you were not interesting enough, you have performed in China several times. What it the country music scene there like? What is the story on how that all started?
My experience in Shanghai all started because my parents were living there for 2 years. When I went to visit them the first time the “World Music Festival” was on and I immediately wanted to find out how I could get involved. After sending in my music to be considered for the festival I didn’t really think I would be chosen, however I was so excited when they invited me to take part. The response that I have had in Shanghai has been absolutely incredible. I was invited back to perform 4 years in a row and they truly make me feel so loved when I am on that stage. I still can’t believe that all the way on the other side of the world there are people who know the words to My music!
You released the single for “All Woman” earlier in the year, can you tell us a bit about that track and what it means to you?
All Woman is the type of song I have been wanting to write for a while now. I write a lot of songs about relationships, and how other people have influenced my emotions, but I wanted to write a song about how I feel about myself. All Woman is an anthem about what it means to be a woman to me. It’s not about defining yourself as one thing, it’s about embracing all aspects of what make you the original powerful woman that you are.
Mainly I wanted to write this song to express my feelings about being a woman, but I was also inspired by the inequality women in country music are facing. There is a lot of talk right now about how things are not equal for females in the music industry, but I know this is an issue that extends past the music community and into many other fields of work. It makes me so happy to see woman coming together to support one another and rise up to fight against this inequality. I was hoping this song could be an anthem for this movement. A song to remind women that they never have to put themselves in a box, that they can be whatever they want to be and accomplish anything.
Following that, you released “Broken Boys” back in August, and you just dropped the video for it. The lyrics are so wonderful but sobering. What was the decision process in releasing that, and was there any resistance to it?
I was so excited to release this song, and so was my whole team. I think the reason this song is so relatable is because of those sobering lyrics. The lyrics are what really pull me in to a song. My first listen through of “Broken Boys”, written by Dave Thompson, Emma-Lee & Meghan Patrick, I immediately fell in love with the honesty of the lyrics. It’s always been very important to me to sing from a place of honesty, so when I record a song written by someone else, I want the lyrics to be relatable and say something that I would say myself; this song definitely does that.
Something that drew me to you and your music was how vocal you are. You are raising and empowering women’s voices in the country music scene. I grew up on the Dixie Chicks, Sara Evans, and Reba. Who were some of the women that really inspired you growing up?
There were so many that still inspire me to this day. I grew up listening to many talented women from the Dixie Chicks to Kelly Clarkson. Women with powerful voices who always stand up for what they have to say. One of my biggest inspirations is of course the queen of Canadian country, Shania Twain. The thing I always admired most about Shania is that she wasn’t afraid to be herself. She always pushed boundaries with her sound and her image. I know a lot of people didn’t like her when she first appeared on the scene because she blended genres and wore crop tops, but she never apologized for it. Women who just go for it and are unapologetically themselves are the women I look up to.
Tell us all about HarmoniaFest. This was the first year, and it is such an amazing concept. Boots and Hearts just released their lineup for 2021, and it is so male dominated!
HarmoniaFest was a dream come true! It was a concept I had been working on for quite a while. I was so frustrated seeing festival after festival lineup of mostly male artists. I wanted to do something to bring women in country music together. There are so many talented women in this genre! What came out of the day is an even stronger female community and platform for theses talented women to be heard.
Hopefully HarmoniaFest shed more light on the inequality in the industry and will help support the movement towards giving more opportunities to deserving female artists in the future. I may be dreaming big, but HarmoniaFest is definitely something I would like to make a yearly event. I was inspired by Sarah McLachlan’s Lilith Fair and I would love to have HarmoniaFest travel across Canada and showcase as many amazing female artists as possible.
Writing for Hidden Beats, I interview country musicians a lot. This summer I got to speak to the women of Nice Horse, for example. I love listening to female country artists because I find there is a wider variety of themes. What are some key differences you find between female and male country artists? (can either be contemporary or generalised throughout history)
I agree, I think one of the biggest differences I find between female and male artists is the range. Not only on the scale of notes they can sing but also the diversity in the songs. I find female artists really dig into their emotions and open up in their lyrics. They have songs that cover such a wide variety of topics and life experiences. I especially love lately the songs from females all about self-love and empowerment.
Female musicians are finally taking back the narrative and raising their voices. Most male country musicians are experimenting with more rock and roll sounds or hip-hop. Do you think that country music overall is evolving into something better, or something different?
I think that is something so special about country music is that the heart of it is in the storytelling aspect of the lyrics. That allows artists to push the genre with the elements of the music. Country music has always been evolving, even Dolly Parton was considered to be too pop for country at one point. As an artist who appreciates so many genres of music, I appreciate pushing boundaries and incorporating other genres into country. I am excited to see where country is going especially with women raising their voices and making waves.
As a woman who has been in the industry for several years, what are some words of advice you want to share with newer female artists?
The best advice I can give is if you don’t believe in yourself then how can you expect others to believe in you. This business can knock you down a lot, there will be always people who say no or don’t like your music, so you always need to be your biggest cheerleader. Don’t let anybody tell you who to be. Be confident in who you are as a woman and as an artist and always let that shine through and be the backbone for all the decisions you make in your career.
Are you still going to be doing “Girl Talk” over at the Moonshine Café in Oakville, or is it moving online? For those who aren’t aware of Girl Talk, can you explain what it is?
Girl Talk was started to give myself and other female country artists more opportunity to perform. I wanted a place where established female singers and songwriters could come together to perform and also to talk, open up and be honest. I am definitely hoping when things open up again that I can bring Girl Talk back to the Moonshine Café. In the meantime, I have started a second showcase for women called “All Woman Music”. I have taken this showcase online, with live Facebook shows every month featuring female artists across Canada and the US.
Covid has really highlighted the invisible workload women take on and are expected to carry. What are some words of encouragement you would like to give to readers?
I think this time in the world has been difficult and a little scary for everyone. What we are “expected” to do is a dangerous way of thinking. The message I am trying to spread with “Broken Boys” I think really highlights how I feel about this issue. We all have our own baggage and trauma in life that we have to deal with and it is always nice to have a partner to help us with it. But we can’t help people or expect things from them and put that above our own happiness. The only expectations we should have for ourselves is self-improvement and self-love. Learning how to cope and love ourselves is so important, especially right now. The focus should be on doing things to make us feel good and normal.
As things reopen, are there any local recommendations for spots you want to shoutout?
Since it is the home of Girl Talk and a place I have been singing since I was 18 years old, I have to give a shout out to The Moonshine Café. It is a truly special venue that welcomes live music every night of the week. John, the owner, always make the artists feel so special. He gives us a place to work on our craft and share it with an audience. This venue is actually facing a possibility of shutting down right now due to Covid. I would be devasted to see that happen. There is Go Fund me campaign going on to save it and if you are in a position to donate please do!
Spotlight – Nicole Rayy is a wrap. Big thanks to Nicole for talking the time to chat with us.
Check out all of Nicoles music on streaming platforms. (Click the picture)
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