Friday (June 25) was a busy day for Ray Fulcher.
Fulcher got his start penning hits with and for Luke Combs, and although the first success he found in Nashville was as a songwriter, he’s always kept one eye on the goal that brought him to town in the first place: To release country music in his own voice, under his own name. In February, he made a major step in that direction when he signed to Black River Entertainment’s artist roster. On Friday, he took another massive turn towards recognition as a performer, as he not only made his Grand Ole Opry debut, but released three new songs, one of which will head to country radio.
And while Fulcher admits he gets butterflies stepping onto a stage like the Opry — “If you’re don’t, you’re not human,” he says — he tells Country Now that he’s feeling pretty sure-footed about the steps he’s taking in building his artistic identity. After all, his gut has seldom steered him wrong before.
“There’s this certain feeling that I can’t really put into words or pin down what that feeling is, but I just kinda know it when I feel it,” Fulcher explains, when asked how he decides what songs to save for himself versus what songs to pitch to other artists. “I always have this certain feeling about a song that I think would be for me.”
His newest three-song package — “Girl In It,” “Way Out” and “Bucket List Beers” — each fit that bill for different reasons. “Each one is kind of a different side of me — but not every side of me,” the singer elaborates.
“Way Out” speaks to his relationship with his Georgia hometown, contrasting the drive he once felt to move away from it and try his look in Nashville, alongside a simultaneous pull to stay in the place he loved.
“I always wanted to write a song that embodied that push and pull, that tension. So the hook of that song is, ‘Why would I ever want a way out?’” he relates. “It’s the kind of thing where it’s like, it’ll make you cuss, it’ll make you, like, ‘Man, I wanna leave.’ But the second you leave, it’s like, ‘What am I doing?’”
In that song and all his songs, Fulcher tries to strike a balance between fresh lyrical perspective and relatability. That’s also something he honed in on in “Girl In It,” a song that he’s also planning to make his new single at country radio.
“I really wanted it to be ‘trademark’ me,” he clarifies. “That means, in my mind, whether it’s fast or slow, I want it to be heavy on lyric and really have something for the listener to grab onto, find themselves in…I wanted it to be a big sing-a-long, I wanted it to sound good when you had your windows down going down the Interstate, but also I wanted to make you think a little bit and find yourself in it a little bit.”
The third new song, “Bucket List Beers,” is one Fulcher started with Combs, with the idea that it would end up on one of Combs’ records. But before they finished writing it, Combs released “Beer Never Broke My Heart.”
“After that, it was kind of like, he had his big beer song, so we never really got to finish it,” Fulcher explains. But he kept coming back to the song, and after Combs gave Fulcher his blessing to finish it solo, he did so, inspired by a conversation with his dad, who was celebrating his retirement.
His writing relationship with Combs has been a learning experience, and one that undoubtedly added to the confidence he feels now in trusting his gut to make good choices about his musical career. Having co-written hits like “When it Rains it Pours,” “Does to Me” and “Even Though I’m Leaving,” he’s gotten a front-row seat to the journey a song takes from the writer’s room to the top of the charts.
“I think for me it was just — over time, writing the best songs, picking songs, noticing things I liked…sometimes it’s phrasing, sometimes it’s melody. It’s always an idea that I love, and hopefully it’s sung in a little bit of a different way,” he explains.
“The interesting thing that I had to do — because I loved all these songs I wrote for Luke and because so many of them were also very me — I had to figure out how I could still be me and write these songs I love but it be different than what we’re doing for Luke,” Fulcher points out, adding that he hopes fans will see the differences for themselves if they compare the new music he’s releasing to Combs’ discography.
“You can maybe find some common feelings that may come, or maybe there’s a type of song here or there that’s similar, but the goal is that they don’t feel very similar at all,” he adds.
But Fulcher doesn’t sound too worried. A practiced songwriter who’s gotten used to moving by instinct, he’s learned that the best career moves are ones that he doesn’t have to overthink — the ones that come from the gut.