Anyone who knows Michael Ray knows the Eustis, Florida, native has a deep love of country music and a genuine appreciation of its history–two traits that were passed down from his beloved grandfather. So when it came time to name his sophomore album, which released June 1, he just had to title the project, Amos, in honor of his granddad.
“I’m always thinking about him,” Ray tells SLN of his grandfather, who passed away in 2015, shortly before Ray made his Grand Ole Opry debut. “Some of the songs that are on the record are on the record because of what he taught me and what he turned me onto–some of the traditional guys that I was raised with way before my generation. It’s what paved the way for country music and where we are. Growing up it is what I did all the time, but I had no clue that it was paving the way and how much it would help me now.”
Ray developed his musical skills performing in a band with his grandfather. Amos taught his grandson to play guitar when he was nine and began bringing him on stage. During his teen years, Ray performed four nights a week with his granddad’s band. By the time he moved to Nashville, he was a well-seasoned entertainer with a loyal legion of fans in his home state.
Since signing with Warner Music Nashville, Ray has earned two No. 1 singles, “Kiss You in the Morning” and “Think a Little Less.” His new single, “Get to You,” is currently climbing the charts. Yet, Ray admits to being nervous about the old sophomore slump as he went in to make his second album. “The saying is true: you’ve got your whole life to make your first one, weeks to make your second one,” Ray says. “You do kind of have that fear of, ‘Am I picking the right songs? Am I writing enough songs?’ I wanted this record to be a reflection of the last two years of growth.”
Ray credits producer Scott Hendricks with helping him craft a record he’s proud to share. “I’m a better singer from working with Scott Hendricks,” he says. “He not only is a producer of mine, but he’s a great friend and a great guy, but for me where he shines as a producer is when it comes to vocals. I always joke with him. In the middle of cutting vocals, I go from loving him to hating him, loving him to hating him. He might say, ‘That was great, but I just didn’t believe it.’ When you leave, you really know that song.”
Surprisingly, Ray didn’t write any of the 11 songs on the record. “It’s all outside songs,” he says. “We were out on the road so much and the album snuck up on me. I was writing at much as I could, but we were getting these songs that I was just relating to. I feel like if I write every song on the album or one or none, it’s all about what I can relate to. Sometimes you go through something so close to you that it’s kind of hard to write about, and you are in Nashville, Tennessee, where the best writers are and the songwriting community has always had my back. As long as they are writing songs, I’m listening and I think it’s the artist’s job to make the best album you can make.”
“Get to You” was written by Abe Stoklasa and Pavel Dovgalyuk, but the powerful lyric about a man trying to hold on to a relationship that’s unraveling is one he could relate to immediately. “I was going through a breakup at the time that wasn’t expected and it was definitely rough,” he admits. “We were together for almost two years. I thought it was going to be the whole deal and it didn’t turn out that way. I always joke now if you’re going to make a country album, get married or get single. You’ll get material real quick.”
“What we have to do is bare our soul,” he continues, “and for me it helps me talk about it. It’s our job to be that vulnerable. Hopefully, it will help somebody else to either fix something or maybe to break something off. I shared my story and people heard ‘Get To You’ and saw the video is kind of an autobiography of what actually happened, so it was living that moment and being open. It helps the connection with the fans.”
The singer will be strengthening that connection with his fans as he hits the road on tour this summer playing a variety of fairs and festivals. Then this fall, he heads out with Old Dominion on their Happy Endings World Tour. “For me the more I get to know them, the more they get to know me,” he says of his fans. “We’re all on this journey together.”
Ray knows his grandfather, Amos, would be pleased with the journey he’s on. After all, he prepared him for this time since he was a little boy. Just what does Ray think his granddad would say about the album that bears his name? “He would love this record,” Ray says with a big smile. “He would love the guitar riffs and he would love ‘Summer Water’ and ‘Her World of Mine.’ Those are the songs that he would I think gravitate to. I think as a whole he would love it. He’s where I got my work ethic from, him and my dad. They taught me that when you put your name on something, make sure it’s something you want forever. When you are making an album, those are things you think of for sure.”
Ray is so happy to have the opportunity to honor his grandfather and celebrate his legacy with his new album. “It means the world to me to be able to have the platform and fans and the team that allow me to do this. It feels incredible,” he beams. “At his funeral, the one thing that stuck out was the procession. My grandfather made minimum wage, worked 50 years at a phone company and his procession was almost three miles long. He was a guy that everybody knew. He was the guy who was there for everybody.”
“I wanted to be able to tell that story and tell his story and to let people know what started this whole thing,” Ray continues. “He got out of the Army and started passing this on down to all of us, so because of him I’m doing this. I’ve got a cousin who is touring the world in a Christian band and another cousin who is touring in Texas and it all leads back to him. It all leads back to him passing it down, so I love being able to tell his story and to honor him one more time at this magnitude with something that he always wanted to be a part of. Now he’s the biggest part of it.”