Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Local music lovers are often surprised there aren’t hundreds of people at Harrison Ray’s concerts – because there should be.
Each show is wildly different and incredibly entertaining. An audience never knows if he’ll be performing with an electric or acoustic guitar, banjo or omnichord.
Ray is a skilled master of melody, songwriting and challenging lyrics. He’s also a fine picker of stringed instruments with a distinct, fluid guitar style.
Ray’s gift for telling stories comes through in his songs, in person and during off the cuff remarks between songs.
“This song bought me my first Winnebago,” he recently told an audience at The Tin Roof in Charleston.
“The songs sort of appear,” Ray said. “I’ve never purposely written a song. It seems like this thing telling me what I need to hear. They come from some other place. They’re otherworldly. Something else is speaking.
“Once you put something into words you’re still watering down feeling . . . Laughter is the greatest weapon. Make it funny.”
“We live in a world that’s trying to throw us off / We live until we fall in an old wooden box,” goes the chorus of his song “Old Wooden Box.”
Ray’s songs have haunting, surreal melodies.
Ray grew up in the small town of Olar, but has lived around Charleston for more than a decade.
“I write about my childhood quite often, at least my version of it. It was equal parts a flea market, a farm and a fantasy diverse in color, character and content.
“If you take a pear tree and stick it in the middle of the most defiled piece of property it will produce the sweetest pears.”
Ray remembers growing up around fig trees, maypops and blackberries.
Ray recorded his 11-song LP in his home studio. He said recording is a more accurate depiction of what he hears than playing live.
Most of the album tracks are sparse, but many have reverb-drenched guitars, keyboards and percussion played by Ray and friends.
“You should play for the song, not the glory. People always want to overplay.”
Fans in France and England have bought Ray’s CD, he said.
He plans to start working on a new album in December during a retreat to Olar to write and record in a home built in 1888.
“It’s an old home I was raised in. That’s where most of my songs come from. There’s a ghost in there.”
Ray is happy to say his songs have supernatural themes.
“I was born in the country and I used to see UFOs all the time,” he said on a recent night while introducing a song. “I thought I would get abducted.”
“A prophet in the corner selling her soul / Thought about Jesus and UFOs,” goes the first line of “There is Love.”
Ray said his biggest musical influences are Syd Barrett, Neil Young and Creedence Clearwater Revival. He’s also quick to cite his favorite writers and philosophers – Henry Miller, Charles Bukowski and Alan Watts.
“If you’ve got good friends, you don’t need money. If your friends got it, you’ve got it.”
Ray will perform Thursday from 7 – 9 p.m. at Coastal Coffee Roasters, located at 108 E. Third North Street. Ray’s music can be heard at reverbnation.com/harrisonray.