Michael Ray is reintroducing himself with his first collection of music in three years, the seven-song EP, Higher Education, released on Friday, August 27th. Throughout the project’s seven tracks, two of which were written by the singer, Ray showcases who he is, where he came from and the lessons he’s learned along the way. The EP finds Ray being “100 percent, unapologetically” himself, something he achieved through reflection and time at his home in Florida during and following the hard year of 2020.
“I think having things said, having things talked about that aren’t true, as well as 2020 as a whole — I think for me, I was like, ‘I’m not going to let this beat me. This ain’t me,’” Ray told Sounds Like Nashville in an exclusive interview. “And in the middle of it, I was like, ‘Well, hell. If I survived all that, let’s go.’ If we’re going to beat this, then I’m going to be myself during it and I’m going to let people really know all of me.”
In keeping with the theme of showcasing his authentic self, the EP features “Just The Way I Am,” a song that finds Ray singing about the down-home ideals in which he believes. Although Ray didn’t write the song (it was instead penned by Michael Hardy, Ben West and Josh Miller), the singer says every bit of the tune is true about him.
“It’s me, it’s the people I grew up with, and it’s that song that we will crank on the boat or in the truck and just have it and sing and really create that moment,” says Ray.
Ray also addresses the hard things in life, including the fleeting aspect of it, in the EP’s fourth track, “Picture.” This tune, co-written by Ray, David Garcia and Michael Hardy and inspired by the death of Ray’s Uncle Terry, reminds listeners to make the most out of life and treasure time with loved ones.
“So take every snapshot while you can / And tell ‘em that you love ‘em while you got the chance / And make sure that you take it in / Cause one day all you’re gonna have with them is a picture,” sings Ray.
In the EP’s high-flying title track, “Higher Education,” Ray is joined by Kid Rock, Lee Brice, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and Tim Montana, who praise the real-life lessons they learned from the “school of hard knocks.” While Ray didn’t write this tune, he had similar a “higher education” in the form of lessons passed down to him from people like his grandfather.
The project also features Ray’s latest single, “Whiskey And Rain,” the slow-burning “Holy Water,” the earnest and traditionally-leaning “Live Without You” and the reflective “Didn’t Know I Was Country.” As a whole, Ray says the EP displays his true self more than any record before it.
“I feel like if I was to give a record to somebody and go, ‘Hey, if you really want to know who I am, as an artist and as a person, listen to this one through seven,’ it would be this record,” shares Ray.