Heartbreak Baby: The Artistry Of Gretta Ray

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Before any hellos, how are yous, or small talk at the beginning of our conversation with Australian artist Gretta Ray, she has an excitable glint in her eye – “oh my God. I mean, have you seen the news?” Yes, we have – no one needs to say what ‘the news’ is, because surely we both watched the same wobbly live stream 40 minutes ago as Taylor Swift announced ‘1989’ (Taylor’s Version). It’s a fitting intro to Gretta, because as she reveals throughout the rest of our conversation (which does of course turn to her second album ‘Positive Spin’, which when we speak is out imminently itself), she’s able to write so universally appealing and touchingly relatable songs because she feels very close to her fans, in the sense that she is and has been a fan too. 

“It’s crazy. It’s so special, like, I dedicated my whole childhood to investing in artist projects that I admired, and fixating on records or particular songs. It’s very surreal,” Gretta says, on how it feels to be that person so adored, admired, and related to. “I think what’s beautiful about it is still, even in a sense where it’s my music and my project, I still really feel like there’s something in the way that we communicate that is just an ode to those who came before. And because [my fans] are my peers, for the most part, we get to talk about the music – mine, or music in general – and just celebrate that together. It doesn’t matter that I’m the writer, performer, or they’re the audience members. It feels very humanising in that sense. We have so much in common because of how they connect to the songs and the lyrics, and that’s just what I grew up doing too!” 

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On ‘Positive Spin’, Gretta negotiates and renegotiates between the person she is now, mid-twenties and finding her way, achieving things she set out to and resetting her goals whilst on the way, with that girl who grew up looking up to people who did that on their own records. But it wasn’t the deliberate aim of the album to do that – just an organic representation of what Gretta was going through. “It wasn’t conscious! I think that only when actually going into the campaign and promotion, I realised how many throwback references there are, and that there’s a lot of discussion in the lyrics of adolescence and ageing. That wasn’t really intentional.”

“But I think that’s just the nature of writing; so much was happening in that three year period, so it does feel like I’m putting out a decent chunk of my early to mid twenties into the world. Some of the songs have undertones of things I’m not feeling so intensely about any more, but they’re really important for me to say for that younger version of myself.” 

The process has been somewhat healing in the things Gretta is discovering she wants to say, too. “Something that’s been really interesting about this particular record has been being true to addressing what time has gifted you, in terms of having the time to reflect on personal scenarios or feelings, and then arriving at this kind of resolution with that emotion, and realising that OK, there’s the message that I need to solidify in the song. My last record was called ‘Begin To Look Around’, and there was this real sense of discovery, but it’s so naive. Whereas here, I feel like I’m further along. I would never have imagined at that point what I would uncover in writing this record.” 

Of course, her self-discovery is one that’s being released for us all to project all over and consume at our leisure, but that’s not something that Gretta is afraid of, although she does feel very vulnerable. “What’s most rewarding is seeing how [‘Positive Spin’] is moving other people. And how they’re using the songs to incorporate those messages into their own lives in their own early to mid twenties.”  

“’Dear Seventeen’ was a really surprising one, because I had this idea in my head that it was really specific to me, but then my fans were talking about how relatable they found it, which was fascinating and not something I’d expected! Just because there are certain lyrics that are very specific, but they hear it, and then they just think of whatever their equivalent version is to that milestone, which is really beautiful. It was really special seeing all that. Very uniting. I know how that feels when I’ve listened to other people’s music with the same kind of story.” 

Being labelled ‘voice of a generation’ is quite a high-pressure tag to get slapped with, especially when, like Gretta, putting the music in front of those who are going to love and connect with it comes after you’ve poured out your own heart and own experiences from a distinctly introspective standpoint. But at the same time, there’s no denying that her songwriting, despite its specificities and surface-level separation from anyone’s life but hers, taps into something universal. Her approach, and the effectiveness, relatability, and specialness, then, maybe comes from something much deeper: we’re all feeling in the same way. And Gretta is the best one out of us at writing songs about it. Voice of a generation feels too sprawling for the specificities that Gretta is writing about, but Gretta is certainly putting into words something a lot of people are comforted to hear. 

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‘Positive Spin’ is out now.

Words: Ims Taylor