About Jenny Ray
Jenny Ray Bio
Growing up in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the mother church of R&B, rock, and soul, and where Aretha Franklin, Rod Stewart, The Rolling Stones and dozens of other artists have flocked to record hit after hit over the past 50 years, 17-year-old singer-songwriter Jenny Ray is very much the girl next door. Next door, that is, to world class facilities and musicians who made it possible for her to record a phenomenal debut album, You Can’t Make Me Care, at age 15 with local legend and Grammy Award-winning songwriter/producer Gary Baker. From Muscle Shoals to Nashville and New York, Jenny’s fun and feisty stage persona has captivated crowds drawn in by her electrified brand of energetic “rock-pop,” muscular melodies and the earnest emotional expression of an authentic southern teenager.
“Ask all 5-year-old’s what they want to be when they grow up, and half of them will say an athlete or rock star,” Jenny says. “And almost all of them eventually decide those dreams aren’t plausible. But not me.” At 9, Jenny began voice lessons, later picking up the guitar and began to study songwriting. When it came time to enroll in high school, Jenny’s mom encouraged her to leave the traditional classroom and attend school online, freeing up several hours a day to work on her craft. “My parents’ mindset was always that if you want to do something, do it. Nothing is beyond your reach. You can do anything if you work hard for it.” As Jenny dedicated herself to music, her mother began learning all she could about the music business, while her father educated her on all kinds of music, from Bach and Beethoven to Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul & Mary, Miles Davis to Edith Piaf. On her own, Jenny explored rock, pop and alternative artists, drawing inspiration from The Sounds and Tegan and Sara as much as Blondie, The Pretenders, and The Beatles.
Shortly after Jenny made her decision to attend school online, her demo made its way to Gary Baker, a Muscle Shoals resident who had written several #1 hits (“I Swear,” among others) and worked with artists including the Backstreet Boys, Jessica Simpson and LeeAnn Rimes. Baker was impressed with Jenny’s talent, and took on the challenge of developing it. Writing and recording her debut album under Baker’s tutelage turned out to be an amazing learning experience for Jenny, akin to completing a Master’s Thesis in recording at the remarkable age of 15. Hidden in plain sight in downtown Florence, Alabama, Baker’s Noiseblock Studios provided a state-of-the-art recording venue for the 10 original songs that comprise You Can’t Make Me Care—all of which Jenny co-wrote with staff writers Matt Johnson, Josh Haselton, and Rob Collier, who helped her to better focus her writing. For string orchestrations, Baker arranged a session with the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. “Standing next to this 6-foot drum, hearing my music played by world-class musicians, I just stood there and cried. It was absolutely life-changing,” Jenny recalls.
The ultimate “ah-ha” moment arrived, however, when Jenny staged a hometown concert at the Shoals Theater to celebrate the release of her debut album in November 2008. She assembled a band of local musicians, rehearsed like mad, designed artwork, ordered t-shirts and keychains, and generally “acted as if this album were going to be sold to millions and millions of people.” Other than a couple of acoustic sets and school show choir performances, Jenny’s CD release concert marked her first public performance. “Me, on stage, performing my music to hundreds of people…it was just incredibly exciting. I knew then I had to find a way to make this my life.” Jenny continued working with her band to polish her live act, and largely on the merit of her album, began booking gigs at storied Nashville venues like 12th & Porter and 3rd & Lindsley, and at Arlene’s Grocery and The Bitter End in New York City. “Playing out live has helped me to find my strength,” Jenny says. “To get more personal, to convey more emotion, to heighten the energy level.”
Jenny has begun to achieve new heights in her songwriting as well. “It’s a totally different mindset, writing for the sake of writing, than when you sit down with a group of writers to come up with songs for a CD. I still co-write, and it can be very therapeutic to churn up those emotions, but it’s much more freeing to write whenever,” Jenny explains. “I can write when I’m feeling emotional, when it’s really fresh in my mind.” A natural storyteller, Jenny’s considerable powers of observation led her, as a child, to make up movies in her mind; now, her creative impulses surface in lyrics about life and love that are refreshingly honest, yet strikingly mature. “I write a lot of songs about everything,” Jenny says. “All my songs are based on genuine emotions, what humans go through on a daily basis. But I do tend to explore relationships more than anything else, because they’re a big part of my life right now, and they’re relatable to everyone.” Whether writing from her own experience or borrowing inspiration from the people around her, Jenny has an uncanny ability to relate universal themes from a 17-year-old’s perspective.
By the time Jenny was ready to record her new 5-song EP, Motion, she was able to draw from her significant live performance and songwriting experience to create a highly personal project. Rather than the album dictating song selection and sound, Jenny’s live set lists and arrangements helped shape the new collection. This time around, in hopes of capturing the energy, emotion, and excitement of her live show, Jenny recorded the album with her own band and tapped her musical director and keyboardist Rob Collier to produce. “Rob just knows how to take what I have in my head and transfer it to music. When I go to him with an idea and want it to have a certain feel, he can communicate that exactly to the players…he’s an amazing translator,” Jenny says. They recorded drums, bass and vocals at The Nutthouse in Sheffield, Alabama, a re-purposed old bank with a huge metal safe in the back, freely experimenting with sounds to achieve a more electronic, guitar-driven, aggressive rock production. “Having so much more control over this project, I feel very attached to the final product. I’m finding that little details that may have slipped past me before can make a big impact.” She’s finding, even more, her true voice as an artist, songwriter, and entertainer—and that makes the biggest impact of all.