Contributed by Sullivan Dildine, AMF Intern
Kharon Spearman once wrote of Ray Prim: “At heart, he’s a rapper trying to convey deeper meaning through words, but he understands the limitations in both himself and his chosen singer-songwriter medium.” It makes sense, Ray’s life-long passion for music first began with hip-hop when the then-teenager started taking interest in the top-shelf rhymesayers of the early 90’s: Nas, UGK, Scarface, and Biggie Smalls. “I swear, if I could do it, I’d be a rapper,” claims the longtime Austin resident from Poughkeepsie. “Making something sound good without sounding corny is such a skill.” But Ray’s unique sound is the product of a wide range of influences. He actually lists Depeche Mode as the inspiration for getting into music at all, after witnessing them live at a concert in Houston. On top of that, Ray said he knew he wanted to integrate strings into his sound when he saw Damien Rice perform at Bass Concert Hall. This eclectic taste seems to play a large role in what informs Ray Prim’s songwriting, and the sonic variety is only enhanced when coupled with the remarkably diverse and talented group of musicians Ray collaborates with.
Since leaving his first project, heavy rock band 7 Stones, Ray Prim’s main collaborator has always been Mike Robledo, also known as Mexican Chocolate. The unlikely pair met while working together at IBM; One day Prim happened to hear his co-worker singing to himself. “I was like, ‘Man, is that you singing? Why don’t you come sing with me?’” It wasn’t long after that Prim dubbed him Mexican Chocolate. “He’ll always say that I’m the better singer between the two of us, but it’s not an ego thing,” says Robledo. “He’s going to do whatever’s best for the song. As the songwriter, whatever’s the best way for somebody to feel the message or get to the perspective he wants you to hear, that’s what he’s gonna do.” This ability to trust in the musicians around him is part of what makes Ray Prim’s sound so hard to define. Violinist Christina Steele said of Prim, “When he writes the song, there are no string parts, so we go into it together and experiment, which for me – as a classically trained person – is a new concept. There’s an element of freedom and almost, like, fearlessness, because it’s okay to make mistakes. Sometimes this is how you stumble upon something cool.” After six impressive full album releases, each fresh with new perspectives, Ray Prim has perfected the art of stumbling into cool sounds.
Recorded on his home turf at Ghetto Lounge Studios, Ray Prim’s most recent album Unconditional, is a perfect example of the utterly unique sound he has worked so long to culminate. Moving effortlessly between folk, funk, rock, and soul, this sweeping saga is characterized by anthemic harmonies and eclectic arrangements that constantly keep the listener guessing. Whether it’s the King’s X-style soul rock of “When Hope Lets Go” or the bluesy harmonica on “When It Don’t Feel Right”, the work is a musical odyssey full of twists and turns, and Ray Prim wouldn’t have it any other way. The man himself crystallized his refreshing approach perfectly when he said “I know it’s probably hurting me, but I told myself when I quit 7 Stones, ‘I’m not going to write or not write a song because it doesn’t fit a certain way or an audience.’ At this point in my life, I want to make music that I want to hear – what I want to play in my car.”